Free agency is drawing nearer and as each week passes, another potential free agent wide receiver finds themselves linked with the Philadelphia Eagles. One man who hasn’t thus far however, is Bills wideout Justin Hunter. The former second round pick out of Tennessee has bounced around the NFL since being drafted by the Titans and spent most of 2016 with a Bills team that has five receivers potentially testing the free agency waters.
He may have only caught 10 passes for 189 yards, but Hunter also joint-led the Bills in receiving touchdowns this year, with 4 to his name. The road has been bumpy for the former teammate of Dorial Green-Beckam. He left the Titans with 68 receptions, 1,116 yards and 8 touchdowns..but was often considered as unreliable, inconsistent and failed to amass a season in which he had over 30 receptions.
At 6’4 and 203 lbs, Hunter certainly has an intimidating frame..and with a 40-yard dash time of 4.4, he has all the intangibles to become a dominant wideout. With his NFL future on the line, did he do enough in 2016 to justify a pursuit from the Eagles?
Getting off the line:
You would expect Hunter’s frame to slow him down off the line..but if anything, he moves like some of the most agile in the game. A double-move and light skips at the line have become a staple in his game and often leave cornerbacks guessing like in the play below. Not only does Hunter take an extra step before starting the route, but then cuts outside to win the battle at the line. It’s this surprising level of agility that make him dangerous on short routes.
Hunter showed the same level of athleticism against the Dolphins. Once again at the bottom of the screen, he does well to get past his corner and move back to the outside. The ball went elsewhere, but Hunter had the route in his books early here.
Former Eagles cornerback Eric Rowe also suffered the same fate. Hunter isn’t afraid to get physical and use his strength at the line as he powers outside before cutting back in for a reception here. As athletic as he is, Hunter appears truly aware of his physical presence and just how much impact it can have. The Eagles Offense features plenty of check-downs and Hunter could prove to be a viable weapon in such a system.
The same can be seen on the following play. Although Rowe is all over Hunter, he’s able to complete his route and make a tough catch with relative ease due to powering his way through the early stages.
Say what you want about Justin Hunter, but his route running is incredibly crisp. His ability to break so cleanly is invaluable to offensive coordinators looking to pick apart man coverage looks and although not targeted on the play below, Hunter is able to cut inside and create copious amounts of separation.
Much like his strength in getting off the line, Hunter’s frame has a massive role in route running. On this vertical shot, he’s able to stay on the tightrope despite being pushed toward the end of the route. The pass was overthrown, but Hunter had a step in the closing moments after feasting on an attempt to close off the passing lane.
Hunter found himself overthrown again on this route that highlights his 4.4 speed. He may not be the biggest deep threat in the NFL, but he has the acceleration to give him an advantage that when partnered with his size, almost creates a shield from cornerbacks as we can see here.
Hunter also has the versatility to work out of the slot. A cut inside here saw him shrug off an oncoming defender and miss a narrowly overthrown pass into double coverage. The route running of Hunter is easily one of his biggest strengths and is something that could really benefit the Eagles.
We’ve already discussed how efficient Hunter is when it comes to breaking in his routes..but the impact that has is tremendous when it comes to separation. A perfect example can be seen on this dig, as Hunter flips his hips knowing that he has a pocket to work with, hauling in the tight catch.
This route is simply stunning. Hunter kicks it up a gear when breaking to the outside before coming to a halt and flipping outside for a catch. The complexity of this route is impressive, but the way Hunter created that separation at the end was just as eyebrow raising.
A hesitation and double move were critical in the what would have been success of this underthrown pass that was nearly picked off. Hunter took Eric Rowe for a ride before flicking that switch again and charging toward Patrick Chung who undercut the route.
Hunter’s lone reception against the Niners may be the perfect example of just how dangerous he can be. Working out of the slot, he’s able to get past both the corner and single safety with clean break and catch the dime from Tyrod Taylor for his second TD of the year.
To put this simply, Hunter is 6’4. The catch radius should naturally be extremely large but as we’ve seen with DGB..it’s not always the case if the effort lacks. To me, Hunter represents the player Dorial Green-Beckham has the potential to come. Whether this effort lacked during his time with the Titans (a regular theme it seems) or not, he went above and beyond this season.
There’s one reception that demonstrates both of these qualities more than any other..to the point where it doesn’t even need describing. The confetti only makes it better.
This reception against the Raiders shows a very similar type of receiver. Fighting through the stem of the route before making a difficult grab thrown behind the receiver, Hunter wasn’t to be denied on this play.
Although this play drew a PI call on Eric Rowe, the effort from Hunter to fight through interference and still nearly come down with the ball is impressive. The way he got up with energy and anger after the play shows an intensity that lacked at times from the Eagles receiving corps.
This is always a tough area to evaluate, but Hunter does a lot to help the quarterback. Turning inward at first to almost bounce the linebacker away from him, Hunter sidesteps to the middle with newfound separation for an easy 5-yard touchdown.
This pass (unsurprisingly) was once again overthrown, but after winning the route and losing his corner, Hunter turns around for the pass and adjusts his speed and positioning in order to complete the reception. The effort to then flip back around and push for the endzone is just as valuable.
His YAC may not be too impressive and it’s fair to say that like another Titans second round pick, he hasn’t lived up to the expectations many had for him. However, with wide receivers inundating this year’s free agency class and the Eagles expected to be heavily active, the idea is that the team will set the standard for contracts..just as they did with Fletcher Cox.
Many expect them to go after Alshon or DJax..but signing a 24-year old wide receiver who is clearly playing with a chip on his shoulder may not be the worst idea. Even if he comes in as a role player for Training Camp or to fill a spot on the depth chart, Hunter would be a clear upgrade over both UDFA’s currently inhabiting those spots. The Eagles don’t just need talent..they need it spread throughout the position.
It’s hard not to get excited about the potential of Justin Hunter. His ceiling is still high, the price is going to be far cheaper than that of a star and he fits the mold of a young player who can grow with Carson Wentz and the team the Eagles are building. The intangibles were all on show in 2016 and the Eagles love a “low-risk, high-reward” type player. Hunter simply ticks all the boxes and out of all the receivers I’ve evaluated so far, has easily been my favorite besides Kenny Stills.
The future is uncertain for the Tennessee product..but what should be certain is the Eagles decision to pursue his services.
Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports