Justin Hunter's Expanded Role Makes Him Ultimate Fantasy Sleeper in 2014

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Justin Hunter's Expanded Role Makes Him Ultimate Fantasy Sleeper in 2014
Bill Haber/Associated Press
WR Justin Hunter

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter is the ultimate fantasy sleeper heading into 2014. In a sense, his boom-or-bust potential makes him highly intriguing as a potential pick. 

At 6'4", Hunter has great size for the position. His catching radius is immensely impressive, as is his ability to high-point the football and use his 39.5" vertical jump to pluck the ball out of the air like a piece of fruit. Hunter's 4.40-second 40-yard dash speed also allows for him to get behind the defense. 

As a rookie in 2013, Hunter's first two catches were both touchdowns. He finished his inaugural campaign with 18 catches for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Heading into this season, his role should be expanded. 

The depth chart at wide receiver for the Titans is a bit shallow. Kendall Wright is the undisputed No. 1 receiver on the team. He led the Titans a year ago with 94 receptions. After Wright, Hunter will be battling the likes of Nate Washington, Brian Robiskie and Marc Mariani for catches. 

Out of the aforementioned group, Hunter has the most big-play potential. He undoubtedly will be utilized on patterns designed to stretch the field. The lack of vertical threats on the roster should boost Hunter's fantasy value. 

In Tennessee's most recent preseason game versus New Orleans, Hunter led the team with four catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. His 27.8 yards-per-catch average is yet again another indication as to why he's a dangerous threat vertically. 

Both touchdowns also displayed Hunter's versatility as a pass-catcher. He leaped over corner Corey White for the four-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Jake Locker. When rookie Zach Mettenberger entered the game, Hunter caught a pass over the middle of the field and outran the defense for the 64-yard touchdown reception. 

Corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson is especially effusive in his praise of Hunter as an athlete, via Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com. 

"You're not going to find a lot of guys that can athletically jump with him," Wreh-Wilson said. "When it comes to the red zone when the ball is up in the air, he’s got a good advantage against a lot of corners."

Fellow corner Coty Sensabaugh is equally as impressed, via Kuharsky.

"Hunter is a vertical challenge. He probably has one of the highest verticals in the league. I say you go through his hands and try to make him catch it one-handed."

Hunter's physical skill set makes him a tantalizing prospect, there's no question. However, as is the case with most young players, inconsistency can make production limited. 

As a rookie, Hunter was targeted only 42 times in 14 games. He put up over 100 yards receiving versus both Oakland and Denver but failed to reach the century mark in any other game. The next biggest total was 51 yards against Jacksonville. 

In Hunter's first preseason game this year against Green Bay, the pass-catcher registered only one reception for five yards. Compared to his output in his second preseason game, Hunter must improve on his consistency as a receiver. 

Bill Haber/Associated Press
Hunter scoring versus New Orleans in the preseason

Blame cannot be strictly placed on Hunter alone. The quarterback situation for the Titans a season ago was often in flux. Locker has trouble staying healthy—as evidenced by missing parts of every season he's been a professional. With the sporadic availability of Locker, it seems challenging to build a strong connection from the quarterback to the wide receiver corps.

The signal-caller also has a miserable time throwing the ball down the field with any semblance of accuracy or effectiveness. As reported by Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports, Locker is completing passes beyond 20 yards at a 23.3 percent clip

 

Game Totals in 2013 Receptions Yards  Yards Per Reception
Versus Denver/Oakland 10 223 22.3
Rest of Schedule  8 131 16.4

 

Lastly, there have been questions in regards to Hunter's acumen as a receiver. 

Whisenhunt realizes Hunter's vast potential, but also wants to temper expectations for his young receiver, via Kuharsky:

I think you're seeing a glimpse of what he can be. There are a lot of things, from route running depth to discipline on his releases, where even though he made some big plays [versus New Orleans], those have got to become more consistent. I'm seeing growth, we've just got to continue to see that. 

FantasyPros has Hunter as No. 144 overall in its ranking of ADP (average draft position). The publication also has Hunter as No. 44 in its wide receiver rankings list. In terms of receivers with similar rankings, Hunter is compared to Riley Cooper, DeAndre Hopkins and Anquan Boldin. 

Hunter will likely be off the board by round 12 of any draft. Based on his upside, Hunter could be taken as high as the tenth round. 

When selecting your fantasy roster in the upcoming month, one has to look at both sides of the proverbial coin when it comes to Hunter. 

Shaky quarterback play and inconsistency could lead to a disappointing point totals. However, the overall upside and potential might signal a terrific fantasy steal. 

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