Carlos Dunlap has started only two games in his three seasons as a member of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals. But the 6-6, 280-pound defensive end needed only two plays to showcase his unlimited potential that earned him a five-year contract extension that is worth $40 million.

Dunlap has made two game-breaking plays in his brief career that showcase his freakish athleticism.

Last season, Dunlap put an exclamation point on the Bengals’ victory over Baltimore when he tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage, intercepted it and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown.

In 2011, he sprinted like a running back when he returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts.

“I feel my best football is ahead of me,” Dunlap, a former Fort Dorchester High School and University of Florida star, said Tuesday during a teleconference. “My goal is to be the best player at my position. I’m not there yet, but I am working at it and feel I am headed in the right direction.”

Dunlap has played 38 games in the NFL and has recorded 87 tackles, including 20 sacks. If there is a knock on Dunlap, it’s that he can’t stay healthy.

He missed part of the 2011 season with a hamstring injury. He suffered a knee injury in a preseason game against the New York Jets last year and missed the first three games of the season.

“I wouldn’t relate my injuries to my conditioning,” Dunlap said. “I’ve just had a string of bad luck.”

When healthy, Dunlap has the potential to be all pro. The left defensive end has a long wingspan, runs well and is quick to react. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said signing Dunlap was critical. “One of our key offseason goals was to continue signing and extending our key players, and the signing of Carlos is another positive step,” Lewis said in a press release. “Over his three seasons with us, Carlos has continued to progress and develop. He has demonstrated the ability to be productive as a three-down player, and we are glad to have him committed to be a part of our future.”

Dunlap was working out Monday when his agent Drew Rosenhaus informed him a deal had been struck.

The contract makes Dunlap a wealthy young man and exceeded his dreams.

“You couldn’t have told me when I was 14 that I would be in this position,” he said. “The Bengals took a chance on me (in the 2010 draft) when everyone else passed on me. I’m just excited about playing football. I am looking forward to the season. I am excited about this team, especially the defensive line.”