Prior to the start of training camp, Justin Hunter was on the roster bubble in Pittsburgh. Now, he looks like a lock to make the team.
When the Steelers signed Justin Hunter in the off-season, it was considered to be a depth move. The team viewed him as a cheap, semi-productive veteran wide-out who could come in and compete for a spot near the bottom of the depth chart.
Just two weeks into training camp, and Hunter looks like an established star — not a journeyman receiver fighting for a roster spot. So far, he’s done nothing but make big plays and unbelievable catches.
Making an excellent first impression is great, but will he be able to keep it up?
The Steelers are Hunter’s fourth team in five years. A second-round draft pick by the Titans in 2013, he never lived up to the expectations in Nashville, and was released prior to the start of the 2016 season. After immediately being picked up by Miami, he was waived after just three games. He found another opportunity in Buffalo, where he spent the rest of the season, playing in 12 games and starting five.
The former Tennessee Volunteer has always had the tools to be a star, but it hasn’t shown on the field. He’s a freaky athlete, with a six-foot four frame, 4.4 speed and a 40-inch vertical. His talent is obvious, but he has been unable to match the potential with production thus far in his career.
In Hunter’s defense, he’s never had the benefit of having a great quarterback to throw him the football. The list of signal-callers he’s played with going back to his rookie year include: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jake Locker, Zach Mettenberger, Charlie Whitehurst, Tyrod Taylor, and Ryan Tannehill. He did play with Marcus Mariota for one season in 2015, but it was the former Oregon star’s rookie year.
Perhaps teaming up with a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback will breathe some life into the underachieving receiver’s career.
Hunter’s skill set is tailor-made for Ben Roethlisberger‘s style of play. Roethlisberger likes to push the ball downfield, and throws one of the best deep balls in the NFL. He also loves big-bodied targets, especially in the red zone. On paper, Hunter’s size, speed, and leaping ability, are a perfect fit in a Roethlisberger-led offense.
Early reports out of camp indicate that the receiver is already building chemistry with Big Ben. When speaking on the newcomer’s excellent play thus far, the Steelers quarterback said “I don’t want to get too excited too early, but I really like the presence he brings”. Getting on the good side of the franchise quarterback certainly won’t hurt your chances of making the team.
If Hunter keeps playing this well, the team will have no choice but to keep him around.