We have not spent a whole lot of time this season discussing wide receiver Justin Hunter, in his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers after spending time with three different teams a year ago. He has spent most of the year functioning as the sixth wide receiver, a frequent gameday inactive.
But he got a helmet on Sunday and even played a bunch of snaps, about a dozen and a half or so. It did not translate into very many targets—and even less productivity overall—but given the scarcity of coverage for the fifth-year wide receiver, and the fact that he saw his biggest role of the season, I thought it would be a good time to check in.
His first play of note was easily his biggest play of the season, which, considering how small it is relatively speaking, just tells you how small an impact he has had on the team so far this year, and that is not likely to change any time soon.
With the Steelers facing a third and five near midfield, Hunter ran a crossing route from outside the left numbers. With no pick in play, he had to simply outrun the cornerback and get upfield. He made a great adjustment on a pass thrown behind him and got vertical for seven yards. Biggest play of the year for him, and it’s not close.
Later in the quarter, the offense looking at a second and long from its own 23, Ben Roethlisberger decided to look deep in Hunter’s direction. Really, it wasn’t a bad throw at all. From the quarterback. The ball was there, Hunter just couldn’t really make a play on it.
Why? His right arm was hung up under Darius Slay’s, in large part because he was using it to create distance. But this prevented him from going full out for what could have been a big play here.
Still, he had a role to play a snap later on third and 12. It was Antonio Brown on the crosser this time, and Hunter was down the field blocking to help him pick up 13.
Later on the same drive, Roethlisberger wanted him down the right sideline from just outside the red zone on second and one. Hunter couldn’t separate cleanly from the cornerback, but the throw wasn’t even inbounds. Not much he could do there.
Out of the break, chances are good that he will go back to being inactive on game day, or, best-case scenario, fight with Eli Rogers for a helmet to be the sparsely-used fourth option behind Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the presumably-no-longer-benched Martavis Bryant.