Now that we're after the draft, it's time to say some more things about the players the Titans drafted. I covered Chance Warmack on Friday, so next up is the Titans' second-round pick, wide receiver Justin Hunter.
Andrew covered some of this when he wrote up the Hunter pick, but the former Vol standout could be anywhere from a great player to Yet Another Titans Second Round Receiver Bust. Mike Munchak noted in an interview he was the top receiver on the Titans' board, which is completely believable. Even people who are more skeptical of his NFL future mention names like Randy Moss and A.J. Green in terms of his raw physical talent. Why, then, did people like Matt Waldman and Optimum Scouting rank him the 12th-best receiver in the draft class?
Simple. Hunter is a project for wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson. As Waldman chronicled here and here, he has plenty of work to do to be a good wide receiver. Waldman compared him in a sense to Stephen Hill, but Hill's rawness as a prospect stemmed from playing in Georgia Tech's triple option offense with an unsophisticated passing game. Tennessee ran a dropback passing game (more or less) and had its receivers run a route tree. That Hunter is not more skilled at his technique is because, if you believe Derek Dooley, Hunter did not put in the hard work needed to be a better player. Reading the various scouting reports and watching Hunter drop entirely too many passes in 2012, Dooley's contention is completely believable.
One of the recurring themes of the discussion since Hunter has been drafted has been the need for him to get bigger. Listed at 6'4" and 196 pounds, the Titans have reportedly indicated they want him to be at 205 and to eventually play at 210, which is where Moss is listed (Green is listed at 6'4", 212). Hunter expressed confidence he would be able to add the weight in a radio interview. The reason the Titans want him to add the weight probably is the physicality of the NFL game. Beyond the technique flaws related to physically catching the football profiled by Waldman, a persistent theme in the scouting reports about Hunter is insufficient physicality, both in terms of preparing for and establishing the catch.
In a radio interview, Hunter indicated the Titans plan to play him at multiple wide receiver spots, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains noted in the press session on draft night, but will be starting him off at the Z, or flanker position. My immediate reaction to this, as it was immediately after the Titans selected Hunter and indeed my reaction to any major wideout move as I noted back in February is this means goodbye to Nate Washington. We'll see later if that is indeed the case.
What's a reasonable expectation for Hunter as a rookie? I won't be confident in this until we get to the cutdown to the final 53. Suffice to say it'll be a lot higher without Nate Washington around than with Nate Washington around. His size could make him a good red zone threat, though lack of physicality and an inability to establish position meant a player like Jared Cook, who was even bigger than Hunter, was a complete zero in the red zone.
A major cautionary note: the history the past ten years of wide receivers selected at the top of the second round is, for the most part, not very pretty. We will see about Brian Quick, but outside of Jordy Nelson there is not a single player on that list since I would characterize as "good" since the Bengals took The Receiver Futurely Known As Ochocinco in 2001. Obviously past performance is no guarantee of future results, but the Titans took a gamble on a player at a spot where the recent track record says good players do not normally come. He can be, like Nelson, an exception to that trend, but he'll need to want to be. Good luck, Mr. Jefferson.
"As a tall (6'4"), thin (195 pounds) receiver, he inevitably drew comparisons to Randy Moss, though of course there are a lot more guys who look like Randy Moss than there are guys who play like him. "
One more thing to add. I know this is from a different post, but I wanted to address the athleticism. Technically, we don't really disagree. You're right. Since 1999, there have been 62 receivers that were 6'4" or taller that participated in the NFL combine.
However, add sub 4.45 speed and that list narrows dramatically.
Further, Justin Hunter led all receivers at the combine this year with a 39.5 inch vertical.
His Broad Jump? The best posted by a WR at the combine over the past 15 years (he's tied with 2008 prospect Jerome Simpson).
The point to illustrate is that, like Stephen Hill last year, Justin Hunter provides a unique and rare skillset. He doesn't just look like Randy Moss. He moves like him as well.
Link to combine data: http://nflcombineresults.com/
@Super_Horn Yeah, I'm not questioning that Hunter's a good athlete. He has some special qualities, like the 40 and the broad jump, though his short shuttle time wasn't very good. If you include 6'3" guys who were not more than 210 (my query, since that's about where Hunter may project), you also get with sub-4.4.5 Louis Murphy, Devin Aromashodu, Javon Walker, Marcus Easley, Todd Watkins, and Gerald Williams.
The draft position argument was aimed at people who argued Chance Warmack was a good pick because first-round guards normally pan out well. At the end of the day, we're dealing with individual prospects with their own strengths and weaknesses and, well, we'll see.
"A major cautionary note: the history the past ten years of wide receivers selected at the top of the second round is, for the most part, not very pretty. We will see about Brian Quick, but outside of Jordy Nelson there is not a single player on that list since I would characterize as "good" since the Bengals took The Receiver Futurely Known As Ochocinco in 2001."
Correlation does not imply causation. Open that list to picks after 4 and the pool improves considerably. http://pfref.com/tiny/YFIlQ
I think Hunter is a physical freak that might have surfaced as a top 15 talent if he didn't get injured in 2011. His route running is more polished than he gets credit for (even if there's still room for work). Real problem with his technique is he lets the ball get into his body too much, something that will need to be addressed if he's going to translate at the next level.
Further, even Waldman will admit that his evaluations are based on limited information (ie. lack of medical and interviews). I'd like to think the Titans had positive information in that regard that influenced his position on their draft board, but that's speculation. Even then, it's obvious that the Titans had a different grade on Hunter than Waldman/OS.
No question, this is a high risk, high reward pick, but I think it's calculated. And, if the vertical game is going to be a focal point of this offense, he fits.
Titans released Hawkins today - I won't be surprized if they release another WR from 2012 roster after training camp gets done.
The only thing that bummed me out about the Hunter pick is that I really wanted Tank Carradine and Charles Johnson.
Both of whom were taken with the picks we traded away.