Nov 24, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Tennessee Titans receiver Justin Hunter (15) is defended by Oakland Raiders safety Brandian Ross (29) cornerback Phillip Adams (28) on a 54-yard touchdown reception as field judge Jeff Lamberth (21) watches in the third quarter at Coliseum. The Titans defeated the Raiders 23-19. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Titans: Hunter, Moss, & Other Wild Comparsions

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.

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  • Adam Ellis

    I’m going to call it right now 1200 yards and 13 TDs for Justin hunter next season. People say he needs to get better at this, better at that just BC you can’t have any sort of topic worth discussing if there’s some there discrediting the information given such as in this case. It doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see Justin hunter is going to be the next randy moss. There’s nothing wrong with his hands and nothing wrong with his route running. Munchak is just one foot away from the looney bin for not playing him more last year. Thank goodness he’s gone. Now maybe this team can make a run to the playoffs

    • Joshua Huffman

      Those would be stunning numbers from someone who’s at-best a No. 2 option in the passing game without a star quarterback. The guy was targeted 42 times and only made plays on 18 of those passes. Hunter is nowhere near as consistent with his talent as Moss was with his. Moss had a better quarterback and overall offensive supporting cast in Minnesota. Not saying Hunter is dumb, but Moss was far superior in intelligence and instincts.

      I don’t know what to say for anyone who thinks Hunter = Moss. Just because he can jump as high and run fast, that doesn’t make him Moss. Young Moss was as an unstoppable force as one will find at WR. Hunter isn’t the best receiver on his own team.

      Kenny Britt was compared to Calvin Johnson. Hell, even Tyrone Calico earned ridonadonk comparisons when he was drafted. For whatever reason, this market has a weird fascination to make sensationalist comparisons to top-tier players on other teams. Who cares if they have similar-level talent when they don’t have the other tangibles/intangibles to complement those talents.

      I hope Hunter becomes Moss. Hopefully he becomes better and people start saying “Player x is the next Hunter.” But believing that would be setting oneself up for disappointment. He should be a good receiver. Not an all-time great.

      • Adam Ellis

        You can’t really say a player is going to NOT be an all time great in their second year though. And anyone who wouldve been comparing Britt to moss is just silly BC Britt is 2 inches shorter and doesn’t have the downhill speed that moss had. Hunter has both. I don’t know man, I think I’m with Michael Preston on this one. I actually commented a few months back saying that hunter is the next randy moss which was way before Preston ever said anything lol. I just have a good feeling about this one. And you also said that he was only targeted 42 times. Well consider the source, 9 of those games was noodle armed Fitzpatrick. He can’t throw the ball up the field far enough to hit hunter on most of is streak routes. And you also have to consider how many of those 42 targets were actually smart decision throws by the quarterback. I can bet that not many of them were if Fitzpatrick was the one throwing most of those to him. If locker can stay healthy, and keeps improving his accuracy (BC we all know he did last year) , hunter will have a quarterback capable of throwing the ball far enough down the field and putting it where only he can get it, therefore having a much better target/catch ratio and a lot more opportunities. I don’t think hunter having a randy moss like career is all that far of a stretch

        • Joshua Huffman

          Well 99.9 percent of players aren’t all-time greats, so technically, I could predict that Hunter won’t be an all-time great in his second year. But the odds are so lopsided that even if I’m right (hopefully not), it doesn’t mean anything.

          At the time Moss debuted (and still to this day), I’ve never seen anyone with his skill-set (or at least the ability to use those skills like he does). He had the height and leaping ability to outjump any DB, speed to outrun anybody, and shiftiness to turn any 5-yard route into a TD. Dude was sick when he wanted to play. His attitude was the one thing that kept him from doing more than he did. Only guy I’d compare with him (albeit different players) is Calvin Johnson. I’d still take Moss as the more talented player BUT Johnson has a much better attitude and whom I trust more if I were to pick between the two.

          If I were to compare Hunter, his peak potential leans somewhere between 2006 Roy Williams and a less-polished A.J. Green. If the Titans QB situation continues like it has last few years, probably a very similar curve to what RW experienced in Detroit. If Locker/Mettenberger/any QB are the real deal, Hunter has All-Pro potential. I guess I could say “Poor Man’s Randy Moss.”

          But if he becomes Moss and does it as early as this year, it’s safe to say Locker/Mettenberger are tearing it up on offense with Wright-Moss-Walker. Defense should surprise some folks too.

          • Adam Ellis

            Touche on the 99.9 percent of players will not become all time greats. You have a good point. I do feel pretty good though by saying that in the next two or three years he will be the best receiver to come out of that draft class. And yeah Roy Williams just kind of vanished after he went to the cowboys, I’m not sure whatever happened to him, but I can see where you can draw the comparison from back when he was relavent. Maybe I’m just getting a little excited BC aside from Kenny Britt, the titans really haven’t had that big, nasty, go up and get the ball, deep threat receiver like hunter. I just have some really high hopes for him. I just hope he doesn’t tease us by coming out and pulling down 5 TD catches and like 400 yards in the first three games of the season and go down with a knee injury like Britt did a few years back not to mention all of the pot charges, but I’ve never heard of hunter being associated with anything of that nature. Sorry, I just have Justin hunter fever and my hopes and expectations are super high for him. They are probably irrational but hey, a guy can dream right? I Guess you could say I have a new favorite player lol here’s to Justin hunter having a long healthy difference making career!