The fantasy football community typically embraces positive trends with open arms. Whether it is the running back with vast receiving skills or the substantial wide receiver who produces touchdowns on a weekly basis, we love to follow suit by finding young players who fit these molds. A player who has everything the fantasy community desires is Titans receiver Justin Hunter. Standing at 6’4, 203 lbs, what’s not to like?
The first thing skeptics will point to is Hunter’s quarterback situation. Obviously, Jake Locker doesn’t come with an overwhelming comfort level, but he isn’t quite as bad as people make him out to be. He is somewhat inaccurate, but a wide receiver built like Hunter can mask that deficiency to a point. Hunter’s catch radius (78” wingspan) gives Locker a large target to hit (or at least get close to) and they both should develop a good rapport with one another during training camp. Health is the primary concern with Locker, because without adequate health, he isn’t going to be on the field to create any type of connection with Hunter. Locker is currently recovering from a Lis franc injury, but is scheduled to be ready for camp. Understandably, this issue is what may keep people weary of Hunter. Use that to your advantage and hope the current owner is one of those nervous guys.
Anyone who watched a Tennessee Volunteers game in 2012 saw Cordarrelle Patterson lighting up the football field, but Patterson and fellow Vols receiver Hunter both had first round grades going into the 2013 NFL Draft. While Patterson did go in the first round to Minnesota, Hunter fell to the Titans in the second round, supposedly due to his lean frame and somewhat inconsistent hands. The torn ACL from 2011 didn’t help Hunter’s draft stock, but his 2012 season showed he was working past the injury. He was drafted to replace Kenny Britt, because he was set to be a free agent in 2014, but he ended up getting more work as a rookie than expected because Britt fell off the face of the productive map.
Though Hunter didn’t explode onto the scene like fellow rookie wide out Keenan Allen, he did have quite a few plays that made people rewind their DVRs. The most notable play was probably Hunter’s first career reception against Keenan Allen’s San Diego Chargers. With essentially no time left on the clock, Locker heaved up a 34-yard bomb in Hunter’s direction, and using his tall, lean frame, he elevated over a defender and came down with the ball for a game winning touchdown.
The primary difference between Keenan Allen and Justin Hunter’s rookie campaigns was opportunity. Allen started 14 games last season, while Hunter did not start a single one. The offensive snap totals reflect that, as Allen totaled 1,081 snaps and Hunter racked up a measly 340. Is that due to differing talent levels or is it due to a coaching staff being unsure of how to use the talent? The answer may not be clear cut, but it does go noted the Titans coaching staff was relieved of their duties after the season and ex-Titans Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains wasn’t considered worth keeping by the front office. It is interesting that despite not getting the overall opportunity of Keenan Allen, Justin Hunter had a better Points Per Snap rate – this may mean a couple of things. Hunter was more of a big play receiver, whereas Allen was more consistent with his playing time, even though it may have yielded a slightly lower PPS rate. Also, with more snaps under Allen’s belt, it isn’t realistic to assume he’d produce points regularly given the variables in game situations. When on the field, Allen saw 18.6% of the Chargers targets, and Hunter saw 12.1% from the Titans. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to know Hunter was doing something with his very limited snap count.
You may have heard that ex-Chargers Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is the new Head Coach in Tennessee and he’ll also be acting as the Offensive Coordinator. Whisenhunt and Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy were responsible for reviving Philip Rivers’ career last season by implementing an offense that revolved around short, safe passes (7.9 yards gained per pass attempt). That last stat should perk up the ears of all you Kendall Wright and Dexter McCluster owners. As for Justin Hunter, who averaged 19.7 yards per reception, his niche in the new offense is yet to be determined. Although Keenan Allen had 14.7 YPR in Whisenhunt’s offense last season, so the sky shouldn’t be falling for everyone thinking Hunter is strictly going to be a deep threat. In fact, Hunter will have an opportunity unlike any he had last season. He will be the day one starter on a team that, by all accounts, will be heavily weaving pass plays into the playbook.
Something that could throw a wrench in this article is if Ken Whisenhunt were to draft a quarterback of his own, instead of riding out the past regime’s pick. Now, that wouldn’t be the worst thing ever, but Whisenhunt doesn’t exactly have a good track record with finding a viable quarterbacking option on his own via the draft. We all remember the debacle in Arizona and there aren’t exactly any good veteran options like Kurt Warner still around in free agency, so if Whisenhunt is thinking straight, he should keep Locker for the 2014 season and make him prove his worth. Additionally, Whisenhunt signed a five-year contract with the Titans, so theoretically, he has some time to build this team the way he visualizes it.
Last season, a Nate Washington trade rumor was floating around that proved to be erroneous. Fast forward six months and now there is a rumor of Washington being a possible cap casualty. Until Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports some solid facts on the situation, we should move forward as if Washington is going to be on the team in 2014. That isn’t necessarily a negative either, because Hunter is still a raw wide receiver in the early stages of his career who could use a mentor like Washington. Kenny Britt is long gone. Damian Williams is gone and Justin Hunter has been presented a golden opportunity. There is also an opportunity for fantasy owners to snag Hunter while his price is fairly affordable.
Hunter’s March Average Draft Position (ADP) is WR36 (76.7 overall), or one spot ahead of Roddy White. For reference, in January it was WR31, and in February he was the WR33. As you can see, his price is slightly dropping. The time to buy is now, while people are fascinated with the incoming crop of wide receivers, but debatably, Hunter could easily rank in the top four of this rookie class. While there is some serious receiving talent entering the 2014 draft, don’t be in mindless awe over the shiny new toys, because they are just that – shiny and new. When the price for receivers like Justin Hunter and DeAndre Hopkins drops, (Hopkins’ February ADP of WR15 decreased to WR20 in March), their value increases.
As the season approaches, the offensive scheme of the Titans will become much clearer. Coach Whisenhunt has done his best to keep a tight lid on his plans for 2014, and that is smart, but it really can drive the predicting minds of fantasy football aficionados insane. During this pre-draft moment in time, “facts” are as sturdy as Marcus Lattimore’s broken leg. They’re not. We want to believe these coaches when they speak about a high octane, pass or run heavy offense, but we can’t. Everything has to be taken with a grain of salt. The only thing that can be trusted is our eyes and our gut, and when you see Justin Hunter using his tall frame to leap over defenders for touchdowns, something clicks. Something deep down tells you to make every attempt to acquire Hunter for your dynasty team before it is too late. I’m not saying to sell the farm for some Hunter stock, but be willing to overpay a little in the short term for the glory of owning him in the long term. In the end, it could end up being a bargain.