Devil’s Advocate: Justin Hunter’s Impact

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: What role if any will free agent wide receiver Justin Hunter serve in the Steelers’ offense this season?

It’s not too often that the Steelers sign a wide receiver in free agency and actually expect him to offer much in the way of offensive contributions. If he proves to be a team player, he maybe gets re-signed and after others move on, he steps up into a bigger role. That was the case for Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Jerricho Cotchery before him.

That doesn’t bode well for the 2017 production of Justin Hunter, the tall, fast wide receiver and former second-round draft pick that the Steelers added to their roster in free agency. But that doesn’t mean that is how the season will go down.

There are enough grey areas right now for envision a path toward playing time for Hunter. Sammie Coates has a lot to prove after the mangling of his hand last year. Martavis Bryant isn’t even on the roster and until he is his contributions have to be ignored.

His game may be flawed—his routes are imprecise, and often doesn’t get off the ball well—but he can do what the Steelers want him to do: run down the field, beat your man, and use your size to win the ball. He did that with the Bills last year after joining them as an in-season cut, meaning his playbook was likely limited.

Did I mention that he has a touchdown for every 6.5 receptions? I like that ratio. Though it was skewed by his four touchdowns on 10 receptions in Buffalo. But that is how he can be used.

Will there be room for him though? In an ideal scenario, it’s actually realistically possible that he doesn’t even make the roster. Let’s assume that everything is gravy with Coates and Bryant. You have Antonio Brown, you have Eli Rogers, and you add a draft pick. Darrius Heyward-Bey is already your sixth and your special-teams ace.

Can you even consider carrying seven? I don’t expect they will. Not with Hunter’s inability to contribute in other areas. That’s not even getting into concerns about his playing time or limitations if he does make the roster.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Conserv_58

    For me, he has to earn the coach’s and our trust during training camp to further warrant a spot on the final roster. It goes without saying that he has an uphill battle to unseat any of the team’s receivers that have already spent a year in the system. He’s got the measurables and the desired speed, but does he have the self discipline, drive and desire to make this team? Only time will tell.

  • Rocksolid20

    Well sad .

  • WreckIess

    Just being honest, I keep forgetting that he exists so I really don’t expect much of anything. I expect Bryant to be back at some point and while he’s shown that he can play in the slot I don’t think he’s going to beat out Rogers, but I am hoping he can.

    AB on one side, Martavis on the other. 6’4 Hunter in the slot, Green at TE, and Juice in the back field? It’s one of those things that probably won’t happen because it’s too good to be true, but if it did? It’s a murder.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    IF we draft a wr, he will compete with hunter.

  • Chenz33

    I think Hunter is your “draft pick” at WR this year. I wouldn’t draft WR in this draft at all.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I lean closer to NOT having to spend a draft pick on a WR, just to feed our silly addiction. Now that is of course with the caveat of assuming Bryant is back. Which, you can’t tell me that the Steelers brass hasn’t been in touch with the NFL offices about. That would be incredibly naive to assume that they don’t have a 98% understanding on whether they are gonna have Bryant back or not. They know. Which is why I don’t see that affecting their draft plans one way or another. They already plan on taking a WR or they aren’t. And if they are, I personally don’t think that bodes well for Bryant at all. Sure, they can expect to have Bryant back and still choose to feed the monkey, but why? We don’t have enough draft picks to fill all of the gaps as is.

    Going off of the above assumptions, you have Brown and Bryant. Rogers and Coates. DHB and Hunter. And Ayers as an option. (Not to mention Hamilton/Severin etc..)
    If Hunter can INDEED provide backup value at the Slot, then he suddenly can backup two positions at once, which the staff adores. Hunter was a former fairly high pick, who is athletic and tall and fast. And has a few years of seasoning now. I expect that he’s easily as good as any WR you can get in the mid-to-late rounds in this draft. Completely superfluous to draft someone after signing him. I think people are either totally underestimating Hunter’s potential, OR just completely ignoring the fact that we even signed him.

  • John

    I think Hunter is a red zone and big play threat. He may not play all that much otherwise but he is effective near the goal line and for big plays.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Funny that you mentioned you forgot he exists. That was what I was expecting was happening quite a bit to some people. Lol.

  • Terrible Towlie

    a former second round pick finally getting to play with a QB that can make just about anybody look good….he’ll use his height and speed to full potential…..i expect big things

  • Sam Clonch

    Colbert’s FA signing rarely (though not never) fail to make the team. They were already scouted when coming out for the draft, and there’s NFL tape out there on them already. So they know what they’re getting.

    That said, I believe it more likely that the Hunter signing means we shouldn’t expect a high draft pick on WR unless something truly special falls to the team. Always possible they take a late round flyer, as they’re pretty good at mining late round WR gems.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    The Steelers currently employ 3 guys who stretch the field. Martavis (who i admit can do more), Sammie Coates, and Ledarius Green. These three guys can get over the top of a defense and get ‘chunk plays.’ However, MB can’t pass on grass, Coates can’t catch and/or has hand problems, and Green looks like he might play 1 full season combined by the time the Trump administration ends. Hunter is here if/when we discover those 3 can’t or won’t be. He’s insurance of a sort. That’s it.

  • falconsaftey43

    Yeah, I feel like it’s a WR high (2nd or 3rd) or not at all. You can’t convince me a 4-7th round WR will take a roster spot from AB, Coates, Rogers, Hunter, DHB. Bryant is likely back. Most likely scenario for a 4th-7th round pick is practice squad IMO.

  • Sam Clonch

    True, but if everyone’s back and healthy, we really don’t have room for the receivers we currently have. AB, Bryant, Coates, Rodgers, Ayers, Hamilton, DHB, Hunter. I’m already curious how we could possibly keep them all. Ayers/Hamilton back to PS maybe, but I wonder if someone doesn’t get poached. Trade someone during camp? I don’t see how someone isn’t getting released really.

    A high round guy is still going to have trouble jumping all the guys we have with experience to make the 53, plus no chance of clearing waivers for the PS. A later round pick you can probably slide onto the practice squad while they develop like Rodgers (or they tried to do for Ayers and Cobi).

  • D.j. Reynolds

    I believe Hunter is the DHB replacement/competition for now with an outside chance to do more. Also, your article fails to mention D. Ayers, who I think has a real chance to make the 53. Unless the team knows something (bad) about Martavis’ situation or some ridiculous value pick falls to us, I doubt we go WR in the draft. I think RB, QB (for depth/future), and TE (in that order of priority) are the only offensive needs – anything else is a real luxury.

  • falconsaftey43

    I think Ayers is safe on the PS. Hamilton probably picked up as a 4th-5th WR. If they draft a guy high, (let’s just say Corey Davis in the 1st). I think they’ll make room for him specifically. Would rotate with Bryant/Coates/Rogers/Rookie for the other 2 spots. I just don’t see a need to draft another WR that’d be destined for the PS when there are other active roster needs. They have zero need for another developmental WR, only potential need would be for one who can contribute immediately.

  • D.j. Reynolds

    I think a young DB (from this draft) will be expected to replace DHB’s S/T value if Hunter beats him out as a WR.

  • D.j. Reynolds

    To the extent he is used (which he was quite often pre-injury), DHB is also a primary field-stretcher.

  • Sam Clonch

    If someone falls and there’s great value, yeah, then you gotta pull that trigger! I like DHB and all, but if I could get a top guy, it’s been nice knowing you! I don’t think anyone drafted in 6 or 7 though is going to expected to make an immediate impact. Immediate impact guys don’t stay around that late. Those rounds are really just fliers, see if you can hit on something.

  • falconsaftey43

    Right, and I’d much rather take a flier on a DB, ILB, OLB, TE where we have greater needs and less depth overall. Would you rather have a late round pick trying to take Ayers/DHB/Hamilton’s spot, or trying to replace Fort, Moats, Grimble?

  • Biggie

    I’ve honestly been waiting for Hunter to take off, he seems to have all the tools to excel but just never has, hopefully change of scenery to Steelers will help him finally reach his potential.

  • Sam Clonch

    Late? I’d much rather have the guy with the most upside. Do you think there was any team that was so deep at WR in 2010 that they would have passed on AB if they knew what he would become? WR wasn’t Steelers biggest need that year, they had already selected Sanders early that draft anyways. But he had the most upside of who was left.

    There’s no guarantees in any round of the draft, and odds only get worse in the later rounds. If you’re drafting out of need late, you’re potentially missing out on something a lot better.

    If the best guy they see in the later rounds is a position of need, all the better. But no, don’t take a DB who’s rated 20 spots behind a WR just because you want more DBs. Take the guy who gives you the best chance at future success.

  • WreckIess

    It’s not even just him lol. Sensabaugh and Davis too. The only one I ever factor in is Alualu.

  • WreckIess

    He won’t make the roster if he can’t contribute more than that. We have plenty of big guys for redzone work. If he doesn’t improve as a wideout or become some kind of Special teamer he won’t make it.

  • falconsaftey43

    Well part of best chance fir success is opportunity. If you take a guy who is 7th in the pecking order and will be on PS just cuz of numbers vs a guy who can make your team year 1.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    no. hunter is bryant insurance and will battle against draft pick if we take one.
    also taking adam shaheen in the secon would alleviate any stress about bryant, coates or green.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    and all 3 are giant question marks.
    we take an edge in first shaheen in second. cb in third or vice versa. cb, shaheen, edge.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    i would package the 30th pick and ayers to someone like the texans who are in need of receivers for the 25h pick. thats 5 spots for a pick and a young project all while still getting a first round talent.

  • Sam Clonch

    Eh. I’d still rather have a guy who might be really good but starts on the PS over a guy that you’re just looking to replace next year.

    I see your points though, not trying to start trouble, lol.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    if everyone is back and no draft wr’s.. it will be
    ab
    bryant/hunter
    rogers (no d in name)
    dhb
    hamilton and ayers will go back to the ps or be cut.

  • Sam Clonch

    Lol, come on man, you’re not getting that for Ayers! He showed fight, but he’s no where near a proven thing that Texans are giving anything up for. He’ll probably end up back on the PS if Bryant comes back, and they just claim him off waivers.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    hunter isnt a slot. rogers is. hunter would compete with bryant or a draft pick.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    im going to training camp again this year. i look forward to the battles. will be bringing two go pros and a friend. that way we can get more footage. though i did have quite a bit last year alone.

  • Sam Clonch

    Spelling police got me, lol.

  • falconsaftey43

    haha, me either. And I’m not suggesting they “reach” for a guy, but I don’t know how much different their grades will be on guys at that point, it’s the 6th round, no one is rated highly. I’m assuming they’ll have LBs/DBs with close enough grades to the available WRs to make the call that way. Obviously if there is a guy they love at WR there, take him, I just doubt that’ll be the case.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    it would all depend on if the texans would see value on it. 5 spots isnt a huge jump theyd still get a first round pick and a young talent. thats nto really a huge tradeoff when you look at their wr corps.

  • Sam Clonch

    Mmm, I’d have to look up the numerical “value” between the 2 spots, but I geel like team would want at least a late 3rd for that jump. Definitely not getting a third round equivalent from Ayers. MAYBE Bryant, but maybe not with his history.

  • WreckIess

    He’s played in the slot on a lot of different occasions. The Titans gave him some slot work back when he played with them and he had some starts in the slot with the Bills. I’m not saying he’s a full time slot, but he’s definitely not just an outside receiver.

  • Alan Tman

    He never had a QB.

  • Mr jack

    DHB will be out if all other receivers show up in preseason.starters will be brown ,Bryant ,and Rogers in slot.Hunter Will provide depth along will Coates

  • Rotten Sircus

    AGREED !!!

  • Boots

    I have no idea what his impact will be. Will playing with Ben help? It can’t hurt. Will Mann be able to coach him up and maximize his talent? Will MB be back and SC have a healed hand? Will reduced expectations allow him to find a role like DHB? Will Rogers and Ayers make significant jumps? Will Haley use more 4 WR sets? All of this should make August really fun to watch and hopefully give the coaches some tough decisions to make.

  • Big Joe

    I guess that is the million dollar question, Matt – “if” all WRs are back in place. “If” they are, then I’d say my answer is, No, I wouldn’t keep 7. “If” they are not, then I think the team uses him to put 3-wide or 4-wide packages into games that put max pressure on opposing secondaries as fast as possible. We’ll see.

  • Conserv_58

    I like Shaheen in the second, very much.

  • Conserv_58

    I’m debating whether I want to go again this year since I’ve been to camp the last three years. There is no doubt that the theme of this coming training camp will be all about honoring, Dan Rooney. I expect that there will be banners and photos of Mr. Rooney throughout Latrobe, PA. I’d sure hate to miss celebrating his life with fellow Steelers fans. Besides, the players will be especially focused and committed to maximizing their opportunity to get that elusive 7th Lombardi trophy for Mr. Rooney. As if they didn’t need more motivation, there may also be goal to get #7 his third Lombardi while climbing the stairway to #7 for the team’s trophy case.

  • Conserv_58

    That’s ok. If it wasn’t for spell check my posts would read like a somali immigrant’s first attempt at writing in English.

  • SoCal Steeler

    I really think that Hunter is going to be a pleasant surprise. I think we got a glimpse of what he’s capable of in Buffalo with the best QB he’s played with so far and now he’s getting an even better one. I see at least 6 TD’s for him if Martavis is back and more than that if for some reason Martavis is not back.
    Keep 6, AB., Martavis, Eli, Coates, Hunter and DHB. Ayers to practice squad, see if we can get a 7th Rd. pick for Cobi.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    he wont last until 3rd. and may be taken earlier in second round than 62 but ive done enough mock drafts to know that there is a good chance he is there at 62. which in that case pitts needs to grab him. we can still get cam sutton or lewis or jones or douglas etc in the first 3rd pick and say james connor with the 3b pick.

  • Conserv_58

    We are of like minds regarding Shaheen being available at 62. Hence the reason why I said my preference would be for them to use one of their third round picks on him, but I know that won’t happen. There is also the fact that the Steelers did scout him during his pro day and they liked what they saw.