2013 NFL Draft: Although Overshadowed, Justin Hunter Is the Real Deal
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Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson is widely considered to be the best wide receiver in the 2013 NFL draft, but his college teammate, Justin Hunter, has a chance to have a long career in his own right.
The two only played one season together in Knoxville. Patterson played two years at Hutchinson Community College before transferring to Tennessee in 2012, while Hunter enters the draft after three seasons with the Volunteers.
Playing in the same offense together, Hunter was the more productive receiver. His 73 catches, 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012 trump Patterson's 46, 778 and five.
So why is Hunter being overshadowed by Patterson?
With the ball in his hands, Patterson is undoubtedly the more explosive player. Hunter never carried the ball once in his three years at Tennessee, whereas Patterson rushed for 308 yards and three scores on 25 carries last season alone. If he can fully grasp an NFL offense and refines his route running, Patterson could be a special player.
Athletically, he's drawn comparisons to Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones.
Patterson is expected to come off the board in the top half of the first round, and rightfully so. But despite the Vols going just 5-7 in 2012, there's no law that states only one of Tennessee's two draft-eligible wide receivers can be successful at the NFL level.
At 6'4", 196 pounds, Hunter was one of the most impressive wide receivers at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. His official 40-yard dash time of 4.44 seconds was just a blink slower than Patterson's 4.42 seconds, while his vertical of 39.5" bested Patterson's 37".
Perhaps the single-most impressive aspect of Hunter's workout was his 136" broad jump, which was tops among the 38 receivers in Indianapolis—including Texas wideout Marquise Goodwin, who represented the United States in the long jump at the London Olympics.
Hunter is currently ranked as a second-round prospect by Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller. He's the No. 60 overall prospect on Miller's big board.
The first thing that jumps out about Hunter is his size. He has a similar body type to Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green; Hunter measured 6'3.5", 195 pounds in Indy, whereas Green came in at 6'3.5", 211 pounds at the 2011 Scouting Combine.
Against press coverage, Hunter excels at getting off the line of scrimmage quickly and creating separation against smaller cornerbacks. He could struggle in this department early in his professional career, as NFL cornerbacks will welcome the challenge of playing bump-and-run against the young and lanky wide receiver.
But when the ball is in the air, Hunter is one of the better receivers in this draft class. He tracks the ball well and has great control of his body, often making acrobatic catches look routine.
Aside from adding bulk to his long 195-pound frame, one area Hunter has room to improve is creating yards after the catch. Although he's capable of making tacklers miss and finding the first-down marker, Hunter is hardly a home run threat once he has the ball.
Hunter declared for the 2013 NFL draft as a junior along with Patterson and quarterback Tyler Bray. His career with the Volunteers would have been much different if not for a torn ACL in the third game of his sophomore campaign.
As a freshman at Tennessee, Hunter quickly emerged as a top-notch threat in the red zone. Seven of his 16 receptions went for touchdowns in 2010.
And prior to his injury as a sophomore, Hunter was on pace for a record-breaking season through two games. Along with 16 receptions and two touchdowns, Hunter set a new UT record for the most receiving yards in the first two games of a season with 302.
He rebounded from the setback and played all 12 games as a junior, earning All-SEC second-team honors. His size and overall athleticism will likely be enough for one NFL team to take a chance on him somewhere in the mid-to-late second round.
And after already overcoming a season-ending knee injury and picking up right where he left off, Hunter surely won't be fazed by being overshadowed by a former teammate headed into April's draft.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
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