Justin Hunter: The Most Maddening Wide Receiver In The Draft

As anybody who follows me on twitter knows, I’m a huge football fan and a bit of a Draft geek. With the Draft rapidly approaching I’ve been in a state of hibernation if you will.  The last month or so, if the NCAA tournament wasn’t on I was most likely watching video of various prospects.  Tonight, I was looking at Wide Receivers for a freelance piece, and I came across Tennessee’s Justin Hunter…..or should I say the most maddening receiver in the 2013 class?

Let me first start with the positive.  Before you even watch Hunter run a route, his physical gifts jump off the screen at you.  At 6’4″ and 196 pounds, his build starts to remind you of this guy you may have heard of, Randy Moss.  He’s got great length with 33.25″ arms, and good hand size at just under 9.5″.  Then you get to his athleticism.  He’s can out jump most with a 40″ vertical, and can be an absolute game breaker with blazing sub 4.4 speed, and that’s all before you actually watch him play.

When he’s on the field he can be absolutely dominate.  At times he runs exceptional routes, cutting with purpose to create maximum separation.  He uses his hands very well to beat press coverage, and can even get down field and block when called upon.  He’s a YAC machine, breaking tackles and eluding defenders on most of his receptions, and he uses his body extremely well to shield off defenders.  Oh and don’t get me started on Hunter in the redzone…..he’s virtually impossible to bring down inside the twenty, shaking defenders with ease, and fighting for every inch as he extends the ball towards the pylon.

At times he shows great awareness to adjust to the ball.  One instance of this that stuck out to me was a pass late in the first quarter against Troy.  Hunter adjusted to a throw that was about three feet above his head, and a foot or two behind him reaching back and essentially batting the ball into position so he could make the catch for the touchdown.  Hunter also has a solid route tree, showing the ability to run stop and goes, posts, corner, curl, and jet routes with good precision.  Most of the time he stabs the ground well and cuts hard leaving the Defensive Back guessing.

But I did say that Hunter was maddening, and if you’ve been paying attention I’ve been using the phrases “most of the time”, and “at times”, and therein lies the problem with Hunter.  He’s not consistent.  In fact, in that same game against Troy, Hunter began the game dropping an over the shoulder pass on a fly route.  Not only did he drop an easy pass, but it was a walk in touchdown where Tennessee’s Quarterback Tyler Bray played the ball right in his hands with Hunter in full stride.  With all the incredible acrobatic catches Hunter makes, seeing him drop such an easy ball is disheartening to say the least.  Hunter’s only consistency problem isn’t just with his hands either.  No, it seems his entire game suffers from it.  For no apparent reason his routes get sloppy, and he gives up on routes only to have his Quarterback look his way again, and Hunter not be able to recover quick enough.

But the most alarming thing to me, is his lack of awareness at times.  On numerous occasions I’ve watched Hunter under run the route on conversion downs.  Whether it be a curl, jet, post or any other route, when you have to move the chains you must run your route past the sticks.  At times, Hunter does the exact opposite, stopping several yards shy of the line to gain for a first down.

Is it a problem with awareness?  Is he bored?  Does he check out of games?  Maybe he’s just preoccupied thinking about what color Bentley he wants to buy?  Only one person knows the answer, and he’s likely had to tell numerous teams what it is.  Whatever it is, it’s enough to drive a Draft geek like me to madness.  I look for certain things when I’m watching Wide Receivers, and Hunter has all of them in spades.  He has every tool that you hope to see in a number one play maker, and you can certainly see ability that could make him an incredible Wide Receiver at the next level.  But you can also see flaws that could be the difference in being good but never great instead of special.

With the first round of the Draft less than a week away now Hunter will certainly be a prospect to watch.  Can he go in the first round?  Absolutely, and he probably will.  But whatever team takes him may be taking a risk that these issues are in the past, and that he will play full speed every down after his big payday…..

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