Former Vol wide receiver Justin Hunter has struggled to find his way in the NFL since he left Tennessee early and was taken in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. But he is making some early waves in his new home of Pittsburgh so far.
Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report listed the biggest standouts of all 32 NFL teams this offseason thus far, and he believes Justin Hunter has been the biggest standout for the Steelers.
“With Antonio Brown, the reinstated Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers and rookie Juju Smith-Schuster, the Steelers depth chart at receiver would appear to be a tough nut to crack,” Davenport writes. “But Justin Hunter is doing his best to make himself hard to cut.”
Davenport points out that Hunter has made some “wow” plays in Pittsburgh’s OTAs and has been using his athleticism and leaping ability to separate himself from others. But Hunter’s work is far from over.
“Strong OTAs aside, Hunter still faces an uphill climb to make the roster,” Davenports states. “But if he’s having his lightbulb moment, the Steelers receiving corps could be even more stacked in 2017.”
As Davenport says, the Steelers are loaded at receiver right now. Antonio Brown is widely considered one of the best receivers in the NFL right now, and Martavis Bryant was on his way to becoming another star receiver before serving a suspension last season. Sammie Coates had a breakout second season in 2016, and Eli Rogers also broke out as both combined to catch 69 passes for 1,029 yards and five touchdowns.
Finding a spot on the roster won’t be easy for Hunter, especially given how he’s perceived by many in the NFL. Hunter was taken with the second pick in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, and he flashed his potential in his first season with the Titans. But Hunter failed to produce consistently after that and has bounced around the league since parting ways with Tennessee after the 2015 season.
Hunter hauled in 18 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, averaging nearly 20 yards per reception. But his efficiency dwindled in his next two seasons as he combined to catch just 50 passes for 762 yards and four scores in 21 games in 2014 and 2015. Hunter was signed but never played for Miami in 2016, then he was picked up by Buffalo where he caught 10 passes for 189 yards and four touchdowns.
But Hunter has a clean slate in Pittsburgh, and so far he’s using that to his advantage.
The Steelers signed Hunter to a one-year deal back in mid-May of this year. If Hunter can make Pittsburgh’s roster, he will be the fifth former Vol on the Steelers’ roster for the upcoming 2017 season. He would join offensive lineman Ramon Foster, defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, and newly drafted quarterback Josh Dobbs and cornerback Cam Sutton.