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.