The 2013 NFL Draft class gave us two talented but raw wide receivers from the Tennessee Volunteers program in current Tennessee Titans “X” wideout Justin Hunter and Minnesota Vikings “How should we use him?” receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Both are coming off of very disappointing 2014 seasons, and both could even face competition from rookies, as the Titans spent a second-round pick on Dorial Green-Beckham and the Vikings took a flier on Maryland product Stefon Diggs.
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Hunter’s situation is the more precarious, and it goes beyond the fact that the Titansd rafted a more talented receiver (than both Diggs…and Hunter) in the second round. Because while Patterson can at least hang his hat on a promising rookie season as a return specialist and gadget player, Hunter only has 46 career receptions in two seasons and a bevy of drops to show on his resume.
There’s no questioning the fact that Hunter has some serious talent, because his combination of size and speed makes him a formidable deep threat. After all, he did average 19.7 and 17.8 yards per reception in his first two seasons, respectively, becoming a favorite downfield shot option of rookie Zach Mettenberger‘s.
Hunter looked so good last offseason that many believed he would break out in his second season, but he finished 2014 with the league’s second-highest drop rate (20%, per Pro Football Focus). Titans quarterbacks had just a 58.8 QB Rating when targeting him, but at least he can say four wide receivers were worse, with Patterson rounding out the bottom of the list (46.9 despite having a better QB at the helm).
And even though he averaged plenty of yards per reception, he only caught 21.4% of all passes thrown at him of at least 20 yards in distance, which was “good” for the seventh-worst clip in the league. That can be a bit misleading (especially since the stat is a victim of small sample size for most receivers), but it doesn’t deviate from his other poor numbers.
The Titans tried to push Hunter mentally last season by forcing him to wear a “JAG” jersey, but that evidently didn’t spawn a big 2014 campaign from the former Vols star. This offseason, the Titans are serving up some even tougher love to the 24-year-old, and I’ll let head coach Ken Whisenhunt take it from here.
“At some point, you either get it or you won’t be in this league anymore. That’s the natural order of the NFL.”
That’s what the former Arizona Cardinals head man, who is in his second season in Tennessee, said, via the Tennessean’s David Climer.
Basically, this is it for Hunter, and Whisenhunt knows it. Hopefully Hunter knows it, too, because there’s a reason why the Titans drafted a receiver with an even more impressive size-speed combination at No. 40 overall (despite said player’s character concerns). If Hunter didn’t feel motivated by the Tennessee Titans tactics last offseason, then he had better feel the pressure of having to compete with an even more naturally gifted receiver in DGB, who is currently seen as the favorite to win the “X” job with No. 2 pick Marcus Mariota at the helm.
Sep 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter (15) against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
There’s no point in mincing words here, because the Titans sure as heck didn’t. Justin Hunter has been a disappointment ever since the organization selected him in the second round of the 2013 draft, and Whisenhunt knows he doesn’t owe him anything.
DGB is a guy that was actually drafted under the new head coach, so he might not bother to wait around for Hunter if he doesn’t put it together this offseason.
Justin Hunter has every single tool he needs to be a really good receiver, and even though it would be more ideal to give him more time to develop, Whisenhunt knows that the pressure is also on him to put the best team he can on the field.
To his credit, Hunter understands this, “Going into my third year, I’ve got to improve. I can’t falter in any part of my game.”
“Any part”. Any. He’s right, and he knows that it’s time to put that 6’4″ frame and 4.44 forty time to good use. His tools aren’t far off from DGB’s, but he was even more raw coming out of college than the former Missouri/Oklahoma receiver.
Hunter has to cut down on the drops and look at the finer details of the game, because he may finally have an opportunity to play with a quarterback who possesses terrific ball placement in Mariota.
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