Every year, fantasy football owners are on the hunt for that next fantasy football sleeper. The wide receiver position is often the deepest with the most turnover from year to year, so that always seems like the best place to start.
Considering rookies don’t often blow up in their first season in the league, fantasy owners naturally target second and third-year wide outs that have the talent and role to make a huge leap. After all, in year one, wide receivers are busy with annoying issues like perfecting routes, getting timing and chemistry with their quarterback down, as well as beating the jam and natural coverage.
Life of a rookie wide receiver isn’t always easy. Neither is life of a second or third-year receiver, but at least it gets somewhat easier.
But fantasy owners don’t just want a minor bump. They don’t want a marginal sleeper. They want a Josh Gordon. Gordon somewhat broke out as a rookie in 2012, but took a quantum leap with the Cleveland Browns in 2013. So much so, that he was the game’s No. 1 fantasy option at wide receiver.
Tennessee Titans second-year wide receiver Justin Hunter can’t possibly expect that kind of leap, but he absolutely should be on your short list of enticing sleepers.
Hunter doesn’t necessarily have the most ideal situation at quarterback, has unproven or inadequate talent at running back, and already has a reception monster across from him on his own team. But there’s a lot to like about him and there is loads of potential to tap into.
If there’s one thing we all know about fantasy football, it’s that you can’t ignore the guys with talent and potential.
Let’s break down Hunter’s game and surroundings as we try to assess his 2014 fantasy value:
Hunter came into the league as an exciting size/speed combo receiver with awesome upside. He’s still that guy. He flashed raw ability as a rookie last year, and put up 354 receiving yards and four touchdowns on just 18 catches. That 19.7 yards per catch average is pretty impressive, considering he was still a ways away from learning the nuances of the game.
He’s only gotten stronger over the offseason (reportedly up to 208 pounds from 193) and should be more developed from a fundamental standpoint. He already flashed nice ability as a pure catcher as a rook, but should be much more reliable coming into year two.
Hunter has the size to compete for jumps balls, making him a potentially lethal red-zone option and a guy who can battle corners for big plays down the field. He also has solid wheels and explosiveness to make plays with the ball in his hands.
Hunter isn’t going to ascend to the top receiver spot. That’s Kendall Wright’s position, as he recorded over 90 receptions in 2013 and is locked in as Tennessee’s No. 1 wide receiver. Nate Washington is probably locked and loaded as the No. 2 two guy, but Hunter’s immense talent and upside should start pushing him down a bit.
In the running game, rookie back Bishop Sankey takes over with Chris Johnson gone to the Jets and Shonn Greene nursing a bum knee. Even if Greene returns, the Titans should stick with Sankey and newly signed versatile back Dexter McCluster. There is a lot of athleticism and upside in the Tennessee backfield these days, but it’s also a fairly unproven group.
At quarterback remains the ultra talented but ridiculously inconsistent Jake Locker, who possesses the size, arm strength and running ability to still develop into an absolute terror. In fact, Locker connected with Hunter on a game-winning score early in 2013. The two appeared to have a solid rapport. It’s even worth wondering if Hunter would have had a much more explosive first season had Locker stayed healthy. Instead, Hunter had to work with the noodle-armed Ryan Fitzpatrick.
While Locker carries upside and would give Hunter a chance to bust out in year two, he’s also highly erratic, seemingly always hurt, and struggles with accuracy. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt has worked some magic with quarterbacks in the past, reviving the careers of Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers. As a head coach, Whisenhunt has really never started off with a raw prospect from scratch, but he’ll have the chance to get the best we’ve seen yet out of Locker. If he can do that, it should directly positively impact Hunter’s 2014 fantasy value.
Hunter has the size and athleticism to do a lot of damage in his second season, but there are enough question marks to keep fantasy owners mostly at bay. With a 14th round ADP (Average Draft Position) right now, Hunter is either a late-round flier fantasy owners hope pans out at the bottom of their roster, or they’re not even drafting him.
On talent alone, Hunter deserves to be drafted. He was a raw prospect as a rookie, but was clearly under-utilized and did show up big in a few games when given the chance. He also had his upside curbed last year due to the way the Titans called games and who he had throwing him passes.
Hunter actually did have his best games with Fitzpatrick under center, but he also caught touchdowns from Locker in back to back games before Locker went down with a hip injury earlier in the year.
This is back and forth stuff fantasy owners can’t really buy into, though. The reality is that Hunter is raw and unproven, and so is the guy throwing him the football. His realistic ceiling for 2014 has to be a steady WR3. That’s what Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd was pegged at, and he was a locked in No. 2 receiver. Until Hunter is, as well, we have to really play it safe on our expectations of him.
As Tennessee’s offense stands, it probably is a little more run-based due to Locker’s inconsistency to this point. Part of Hunter’s 2014 value will be on himself and how much of a role he can convince the coaching staff to give him. But trusting in Hunter is also going to be trusting in Locker to a certain degree.
With that said, all you really need to know about Locker is that he has a big arm and he’s not afraid to take chances and make plays. That could be enough to warrant a late-round flier on Hunter.
This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more 2014 Fantasy Football Rankings visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.