Justin Hunter: Tennessee Titans Send Clear Message With 2nd Round Pick


Oct 20, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Dee Milliner (28) breaks up a touchdown pass intended for Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 edition of the Tennessee Titans is starting to take shape, and fans have reason(s) to be hopeful. Every franchise wants to make the playoffs and subsequently win a Super Bowl Championship. Some teams are conservative during the draft process and in the offseason, content not to ruffle too many feathers or make any wholesale changes. They trust and expect that their existing squad with a few minor additions will achieve the desired results.

The Tennessee Titans have spent most of their existence in that category; taking the safe pick and not engaging in any adventurous or earth shattering moves. However, certain teams have made their intentions known based on their activity in these few months after the Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings are two such teams, with the Vikings accomplishing something rarely seen; they managed to accumulate three first round picks in the recently concluded 2013 draft. While the Vikings may not have won their division last season, they did make it to the playoffs and have every reason to believe that they’re only a few steps away from a Super Bowl appearance.

The 49’ers are probably the best team in the league, boasting depth and talent at just about every position. In the offseason they added WR Anquan Boldin from the Superbowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, and then managed to stockpile quality picks on to an already loaded squad. Snagging RB Marcus Lattimore in the 4th round could turn out to be the steal of the draft in the years to come.

The Tennessee Titans to date in this offseason have certainly bucked their usual trend, in fact, it could be argued that with Tennessee’s numerous free agent signings in tandem with a strong draft, they’ve perhaps had the most impressive offseason. Titans fans know there won’t be any media acknowledgement or lengthy discussions on the NFL Network or any other station outside of Tennessee regarding the Titans’ activity in these past few months, not until they put a strong season together and at least make the playoffs.

When Tennessee moved up six places from 40th to 34th in the 2nd round, trading picks with San Francisco, they caught most of us by surprise. In exchange, they also gave up a 7th round pick in the same draft, as well as a third round selection in the 2014 draft. Pundits and analysts scrambled to identify a player Tennessee would be interested in, and the general consensus was that Tennessee would either target a defensive end or defensive tackle, most definitely someone on defense. Well, Tennessee pulled off a shocker when they chose wide receiver Justin Hunter, from the Tennessee Volunteers.

By no means was this pick a stretch, as some drafts had the talented wideout going in the latter stages of the 1st round. Was it a need? That’s debatable, but a valid argument can be made for taking a receiver in the 2nd round. The Titans know what type of talent they have in Kenny Britt, but his future is uncertain as the Titans monitor both his fitness and his off-field conduct. With Hunter, not only do they have insurance to guard against any further injuries or indiscretions courtesy of Britt, but they also have a potential #1 receiver with great speed(capable of running a sub 4.4 40), height(6 ‘4’), and tremendous play-making ability. The Titans need a downfield threat with the loss of tight end Jared Cook.

Before suffering a season ending torn ACL injury in 2011, Hunter appeared to be on his way to a breakout season as he racked up gaudy statistics in the three games he played. He Finished the year with 17 catches for 314 yards (18.5 yards per catch and 104.7 yards per game), and led the SEC in receiving yards per game (104.7) at the time of injury. While Hunter was never quite at 100% during his 2012 campaign, he still amassed 73 catches for 1,083 yards and nine receiving touchdowns, finishing third in the SEC in both receiving yards, and receiving yards per game(90.3).

No doubt a bold pick for the Titans, they spent most of the offseason rebuilding the offensive line to the point that it should be one of the best units in the league, especially with the high-profile signing of Guard Andy Levitre. They added a running back in Shonn Greene, his bruising style will be the perfect contrast to Chris Johnson’s speed, tight end Delanie Walker who will provide versatility with his ability both as a blocker and pass catcher. The Titans needed another starter and depth at the safety position, bringing in George Wilson of the Buffalo Bills, and Bernard Pollard of the Baltimore Ravens.

After their 1st and 2nd round picks in the draft, Tennessee focused their attention to the defensive side of the ball addressing their needs at the defensive end, cornerback, linebacker, and safety position. Tennessee may have hit a homerun with their 4th round pick, Center Brian Schwenke, rated by many as the best Center coming out of college. A player known to be tough, physical, and nasty. Schwenke, teamed up with fellow rookie, Chance Warmack (1st round pick), and free agent Guard Andy Levitre, will help make the Titans offensive line one of the best in the league.

Nov 10, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) catches a pass against Missouri Tigers defensive back E.J. Gaines (31) during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Missouri defeated Tennessee 51-48 in quadruple overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans don’t seem satisfied yet as they continue to pursue a few options on the defensive line in John Abraham and Israel Idonije, two players who can get after the quarterback. Abraham would be a great asset, he’s totaled 32.5 sacks in his last three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Regardless of the outcome, the Titans front office deserves nothing but full marks for what has been an extremely active offseason, and one in which they’ve made significant strides to become a better football team in 2013. Titans fans have good reason to be optimistic.