August 31, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) reacts to a call in the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at the Georgia Dome. Tennessee beat NC State 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft Preview: Justin Hunter

There’s a good possibility that the Tennessee Volunteers will end up with four former wide receivers taken in the NFL draft later this month.

One of the four receivers that’s guaranteed to be taken is Virginia Beach native Justin Hunter.

Hunter, along with fellow wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and quarterback Tyler Bray, declared for the NFL draft after his junior season at Tennessee.

The former All-SEC second team member has seen his draft stock rise since the NFL draft combine in February. Hunter ran a 4.44 in the 40 and impressed scouts with a 39.5 inch vertical jump and 136.0 inch broad jump. The broad jump results shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone, Hunter is a former USA junior national champion in the long jump.

Hunter initially fell on draft boards due to his inconsistency catching the ball, among other weaknesses.

The talented wideout understandably had some rust coming into 2012, he missed most of the 2011 season after suffering a torn ACL against Florida in the third game of the season. Hunter struggled at times in 2012 with the aforementioned drops and also with route running. Hunter’s routes weren’t as crisp as they were before his injury and at times they could even be labeled as sloppy.

Hunter also has struggled at times in the run-blocking game, which is something that will drive offensive coordinators crazy. As a young receiver trying to make a name for himself in the NFL Hunter will have to become an efficient run-blocker.

Outside of the above mentioned weaknesses Hunter has some great attributes.

First off is size and speed.

Hunter’s size and speed is not something that can be taught. 6’4″ receivers that a run a 4.44 40 are just not hanging around waiting to be drafted, there aren’t many of those guys. Hunter also has great length, which provides an enormous catching radius.

The second attribute that makes Hunter an enticing draft prospect is explosiveness.

As a true freshmen in 2010 Hunter averaged 25.9 yards per catch, showing he has plenty of big play potential.

Hunter will have to improve on his consistency if he wants to make a splash in the NFL.

The lack of consistency is something that could be absolutely maddening to Tennessee fans last season. In one game Hunter could a be a joy to watch, then the next game he would seemingly disappear.

There are several great examples of this from the 2012 season. Against Akron Hunter had 8 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, but then followed up that great performance with 3 catches for 46 yards against Georgia and 2 catches for 41 yards against Mississippi State.

Hunter did show just what he is capable of doing during a two-game stretch in early November. In a closely contested win against Troy the wide receiver had 9 catches for 181 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hunter continued to play well the next week, in a loss to Missouri he recorded 9 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown.

Unfortunately that consistency issue reared it’s ugly head again.

In the next to last game of the season, against Vanderbilt, Hunter had only 3 catches for 65 yards, although he did reach the end zone against the Commodores.

That state line can, however, be a bit misleading. The loss against Vanderbilt was considered the low point for the Vols and head coach Derek Dooley was fired the next day.

The problem with that excuse is that Hunter will have to fight through adversity like that and just go out and play if he wants to be a prominent receiver at the next level. He has the raw talent and ability to be a star in the NFL.

Before the combine Hunter was being widely regarded as a second round draft pick, but as we mentioned earlier he saw his stock rise since the combine.

Draft analyst Charlie Campbell spoke with several NFL scouts and had this to say about Hunter’s draft stock since the combine.

All believe that Hunter is likely to go in the first round. They said the Combine really helped Hunter with positive reports from his medical check and an excellent 40-yard dash time of 4.44 seconds.

Hunter’s upside is so high that teams will likely look past the drops and consistency issues and take a chance on him and select him with one of the later picks in the first round.

Our projection is that Justin Hunter will be drafted by the Houston Texans with the 27th overall pick. It won’t be long before Andre Johnson will need to replaced as the number one receiver in Houston. Hunter is plenty capable of being a number one receiver on an NFL team — the Texans could be a perfect fit for the former Tennessee Volunteer.



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