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Justin Hunter Proving He's the No. 1 Receiver the Tennessee Titans Need

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 8:  Wide receiver Justin Hunter #15 of the Tennessee Titans has a fourth quarter catch but is quickly tackled by cornerback Kayvon Webster #36 of the Denver Broncos during a game at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on December 8, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Daniel BarnesCorrespondent IIIDecember 8, 2013

Despite a competitive game (for three quarters, at least), the Tennessee Titans fell to 5-8 in a loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

The Titans' season may be effectively over, and the franchise is probably heading into rebuild yet again, but that doesn't mean there isn't some good news for the Titans. Rookie receiver Justin Hunter had a big game against the Broncos, with four catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.

Hunter also saw more targets than any other receiver that game (eight), and had the team's only receiving touchdown.

This wasn't Hunter's first big game though. In Week 12 against Oakland, Hunter caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. In both games, he led the team in receiving yards.

Despite playing much fewer snaps than a lot of the other receiving targets, Hunter is currently second on the Titans in receiving touchdowns with four, trailing Delanie Walker by one touchdown.

Hunter also leads the Titans in yards per reception, with a 17.1-yard average, and is the second-tallest receiver on the roster (Michael Preston beats him by an inch).

Hunter's total yard numbers aren't very impressive by themselves; he only has 354 receiving yards this season, but he's spent a lot less time on the field than Walker, Kendall Wright or Nate Washington.

Now, there's no doubt that, overall, Wright has been the best receiver on the team this season, but Wright's ceiling is probably a little lower than Hunter's. Wright is 5'10" tall, and while being short has some advantages, it comes with more problems than it does solutions.

Hunter, on the other hand, is 6'4", so he can make catches that shorter cornerbacks simply can't defend. He also has a lot of room on his long frame to add muscle. If he were to add a little weight, it'd also be a lot easier for him to push smaller corners around in a way that smaller receivers simply can't do.

Hunter is also an excellent jumper, and his already great height just makes him that much tougher to defend when he gets airborne.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Hunter this season has been his reliability. Of the 14 receptions that Hunter had this season (before the Broncos game), 13 of those receptions were for a first down. He's rapidly becoming, along with Wright, one of the go-to guys in a third-and-long situation.

Hunter isn't without weaknesses though. The only reasons why he was available when the Titans picked him up in the second round were his prior knee injury and some problems with dropped passes in college.

So far, his knee hasn't seemed to cause any problems, but things like that can always reappear, so it's something Hunter and the Titans will always need to be aware of. That said, after seeing Hunter play more and more physically with no problems, I don't think it's going to be a big concern going forward.

Hunter's hands have steadily improved as well. During training camps, he had a lot of problems with dropped passes, but that hasn't been a problem in the regular season.

Against the Broncos, Hunter only caught half of the passes thrown his way, but a couple of those uncaught passes were way off. Even with imperfect targets, Hunter almost made an impressive one-handed grab on a ball that was too far out in front of him.

He didn't catch it, but just getting close to a poorly targeted ball with only one arm was impressive in and of itself.

Now, as Hunter's targets start to increase, there's a chance more problems will arise. After all, he's a rookie, and rookies make dumb mistakes. He also hasn't had many games where he's been relied on heavily on a regular basis. For the most part, he's just been thrown to on occasion.

He'll also have the added problem that the more balls being thrown his way, the more often he'll be getting matchups with opposing defenses' top corners. Against tougher defenders, Hunter may not be so dominant.

Still, Hunter has grown a lot in the last few games, and he seems to just keep improving. If new problems don't arise, then he could be the Titans' No. 1 receiver by next season.

No matter what happens with the Titans' quarterback situation, having guys like Wright and Hunter on the field will make things easier for whoever ends up under center in 2014.

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