It was autumn 2010. The Tennessee Titans had just acquired superstar but oft-troubled wide receiver Randy Moss. A franchise that spent most of the previous decade searching for receiver talent had finally found a superstar who could not only help them make a run at the postseason but provide a positive influence to Kenny Britt‘s career. Well, at least positive in terms of on-field production.
A Britt-and-Moss tandem was supposed to create magic. It wasn’t supposed to end after just eight games which featured Moss catching six passes for 80 yards with zero touchdowns.
Moss’ Nashville stint was little more than a Sam Smith one-night stand. The biggest difference is that few fans were begging Moss to stay any longer than that. Moss rarely saw the field as coaches excused his lack of playing time to Britt and Moss both playing the same position
That’s obviously not what Michael Preston was envisioning when he compared second-year wide receiver Justin Hunter to a young Moss. Wide receiver coach Shawn Jefferson has talked about Hunter as someone who could carry the team into the playoffs. Funny to hear that from the former Detroit Lions wide receiver coach. How many times did Calvin Johnson carry his team into the playoffs? One time in 2011…a one-and-done showing against the New Orleans Saints. Johnson also carried the 2008 Lions to zero victories in 16 attempts.
Point being: wide receivers don’t exactly carry their team to the playoffs. They can help, but they’re certainly not the focal points.
Comparisons are fascinating. Hunter isn’t the only Titans’ offensive player who has received comparison labels from scouts, media and players. Wouldn’t you love a backfield with a young Brett Favre / Ben Roethlisberger and Emmitt Smith / LeSean McCoy? Favre having the chance to throw to Steve Smith and (Randy) Moss?
Jake Locker has been compared to Favre (via former NFL scout Dave Razzano), Roethlisberger (via Nate Washington) and even Vince Young (via Alterraun Verner). So far, the most accurate comparison for him is as the patient on the Operation Skill Game. Locker’s four-year collegiate football career and three-year NFL career have been noteworthy for injuries to what seems like every body part imaginable. If Locker suffers another season-ending injury, then the NFL may as well sponsor an NFL-edition of the Operation Skill Game using an animated version of Locker’s body.
How about 2014 second-round pick Bishop Sankey? Throughout his collegiate football career, Sankey gained comparisons to Emmitt Smith, LeSean McCoy and Giovani Bernard. After parting ways with Chris Johnson, the Titans need someone to step up and carry the load in 2014. Maybe Sankey can produce quadruple-digit rushing totals sooner than expected?
Then there’s 2012 first-round pick Kendall Wright. Wright earned recognition as someone who could have a similar playing style and career to former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. Wright took a positive step in that direction when he quietly finished his sophomore campaign with 94 receptions and 1,079 yards. Not bad for a team without stable quarterback play and a lackluster ground attack.
And can anyone forget the buzz surrounding Chance Warmack? The 2013 first-round pick had a bit of a disappointing rookie season. Former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt insisted that Warmack would have a Larry Allen-type career. Allen was an 11-time Pro Bowl offensive guard and first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Don’t discredit Warmack for his rookie season—it may take him another season or season-and-a-half before everything starts to click. Even the highest drafted offensive linemen sometimes need 12 to 18 months to gel with their teammate blockers. This may take a tad longer since he’s learning from his second offensive line coach in as many seasons.
So let’s recap what 7-11ths of this offense would look like if everyone reached their “potential” via comparisons:
QB: Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, or Vince Young
RB: Emmitt Smith, LeSean McCoy, or Giovani Bernard
WR1: Randy Moss
WR2: Steve Smith or Santana Moss
TE1: Vernon Davis
RG: Larry Allen
RT: Jake Long or Richie Incognito (Taylor Lewan)
Believing Hunter equals Moss requires a very optimistic spirit. Preston claimed Hunter can become “the next greatest player.” Strong words when one considers that Hunter, albeit a solid player, isn’t the greatest wide receiver on his team (Kendall Wright). Hunter isn’t even the greatest former University of Tennessee wide receiver who was drafted in 2013 (Minnesota Vikings – Cordarrelle Patterson).
People knew Moss was elite as soon as he scored two touchdowns in his NFL debut. Any skeptics were converted into believers after his fifth professional game that included 190 yards and two touchdowns against NFC Central rival Green Bay Packers. Compare that to Hunter, who enters his second training camp in a battle for the No. 2 starting job with Nate Washington.
A player can have all the talent in the world. Doesn’t matter if he or she doesn’t know how to use it. Hunter has a very long way to go to have any chance of posting Moss-esque statistics…23 touchdowns in a season…etc.
Players such as Moss and Calvin Johnson are in another stratosphere of elite. That doesn’t mean Hunter isn’t a good player (or won’t be). He’s just not anywhere near all-time great territory. People love to excite themselves over potential but let’s not get carried away. People did the same thing with Kenny Britt. That “potential” resulted in a career with more police incidents than memorable plays. But hey…he was 6-foot-3, athletic, and he jumped really high!
What are your expectations for Hunter in 2014? What about beyond 2014? Discuss in the comments and social media.