The tenuous end to Moss’ Patriots career all but counts out a return to his glory days in New England, but that doesn’t mean another freakish athlete can’t grace Tom Brady with his presence.
Now, Justin Hunter isn’t exactly Randy Moss. No, Hunter didn’t score 26 touchdowns in a single college season nor did he post a 4.25-second 40-yard dash or 47-inch vertical jump at the NFL combine — you can find Hunter’s stats and measurable below. But the 21-year-old kid does have the size, speed and skills to have a similar impact for years to come.
The Patriots have been longing for a deep threat since Moss’ last days in Foxboro over three years ago. But with a draft class chock-full of big-play talent, including Hunter, his fellow Tennessee teammate Cordarrelle Patterson, Cal’s Keenan Allen and a few others, now is the time to strike. What separates Hunter from the rest, though, is his incredible determination and a relentless work ethic that even Bill Belichick would appreciate.
There is no knowing if Hunter can ever put up the type of numbers Moss did at times during his career, but the potential is certainly there. Give him a quarterback like Brady, and the Patriots might just discover the No. 1 receiver they’ve been searching for.
Editor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots draft prospect every day from March 27 up until the start of the NFL Draft on April 25. Hunter is the second installment in that series.
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 196 pounds
40-Time: 4.44 seconds
Vertical: 39.5 inches
Hunter spent three seasons with the Volunteers, but one of them (2011) you can basically nix due to a season-ending injury. So, in his two-plus healthy seasons, Hunter caught 106 passes for over 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns. After a so-so freshman year, his sophomore season started out looking like a breakout campaign. He caught 17 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns, but it was cut immediately short by the aforementioned injury. So, 2012 counts as his only real complete season, and he made the most of it. He caught 73 passes for almost 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns — in 12 games mind you — last season, which was more than enough to show the type of impact he can have on an offense in the NFL. Speaking of impact …
Hunter will need some time to develop into the big-play receiver many scouts anticipate he can be, but he’s also more than capable of playing right away. The Patriots are ready to win now and their championship window is slowly dropping toward the figurative windowsill. So, taking on a developmental case like Hunter might cause a few headaches, but he will be able to contribute now and has a high ceiling of untapped potential for the future.
He should be. Hunter has been floating on the first-round bubble for a while now. His raw talent and combine performance suggest he would be a first rounder, but questions about his consistency and an ACL tear during his sophomore season raise some concerns. Right now, he seems destined to be a second rounder, but teams like the Rams (22nd overall), Vikings (23rd and 25th) and Texans (27th), who need receiver help, could always snatch him up ahead of the Patriots.
Strengths: Hunter often uses his size to his advantage and, given his combination of size and speed, offers an obvious deep threat downfield. He’s also a good, but not yet great, route runner and creates a lot of space in coverage with his quickness.
Weaknesses: He was unreliable catching the ball at times in 2012, especially on deep balls. He’s also not great running in space after the catch.
Scout Hunter for yourself below.
Friday: Justin Pugh, Guard, Syracuse
Other potential prospects: Xavier Rhodes;
Photo via Facebook/Justin Hunter