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NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Tennessee WR Justin Hunter

04.11.13 at 7:12 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that might be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2013 NFL draft. Here is one in a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

Justin Hunter (AP)

Justin Hunter has a great build and athletic ability for a receiver, but his inconsistency is a big concern. (AP)

JUSTIN HUNTER

Position: Wide receiver

School: Tennessee

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 196 pounds

Achievements: 2012 All-SEC second team, 2010 All-SEC freshman team

What he brings: At the very least, Justin Hunter looks the part.

After putting on 17 pounds of muscle, the former track star hit the combine at a solid 6-foot-4 and close to 200 pounds and running a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash. Those numbers, when combined with nearly 40-inch vertical leap, are the sort of classic empirical numbers that could make a number of teams drool heading into the draft (I’m looking at you, Oakland).

While he is physical specimen, Hunter is more deep threat than receiver, much like his former teammate Cordarrelle Patterson. However, unlike his counterpart, Hunter doesn’t have the same explosiveness and game-breaking potential. The athletic ability certainly is there, but it simply doesn’t show up consistently enough for him to be a legitimate No. 1 threat. Hunter projects more like a Darius Heyward-Bey or Jacoby Jones, a deep threat who has yet to put together a full skill set. In terms of physical play, Hunter comes off as a bit flimsy on film, with a running style similar to Brandon Lloyd, which is by no means a compliment.

Let’s not get things mixed up. Hunter may be an incomplete player, but what he does have, he has in spades. In terms of getting past a defensive back and going up to get the ball, there will be few in the NFL that can do it better than him. All that’s keeping him from being a premier vertical threat is the challenges of beating press coverage, taking hits and dealing with a propensity for bad drops. That, and he needs to learn how to run NFL-level routes.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 1 or 2

Notes: Hunter is a fantastic talent who likely will make the fans of whatever team drafts him want to pull their hair out. As apt to drop a routine catch on an 8-yard curl as he is to make a leaping grab over a defender 30 yards downfield, Hunter’s lack of consistency remains his biggest knock. That and legitimate concerns over his durability.

Three games into his 2011 campaign, Hunter suffered a torn ACL, which kept him sidelined into the regular season of his junior year. While he showed that he’d completely recovered during his junior year, such a severe injury is sure to weigh on scouts as he moves through the draft process.

Still, Hunter bounced back with a great 2012 season, leading the team with 73 catches for 1,083 yards and nine receiving touchdowns. However, the speedster’s success in the NFL will rely mostly on how he adjusts mentally and technically. In jump ball situations, there likely will be few better. With scheme-heavy passing teams like the Patriots, Hunter isn’t likely to thrive early on. But given the right situation and coaching, Hunter could develop into a complete player.

In short: Hunter is a generally unremarkable receiver who likely will hold an athletic advantage over whoever covers him. You can’t coach tall and fast. And in the NFL, that sort of ability is rarely undervalued.

Related articles: Knoxville News Sentinel: Departure of Justin Hunter highlights Tennessee’s massive holes to fill at receiver in 2013

He’s back: Tennessee WR Justin Hunter making a spring impact

The Tennesseean: NFL doubts surround three Tennessee Vols

Video: Here’s a compilation of highlights from Hunter’s 2012 season.

Read More: 2013 NFL draft, 2013 Potential Patriots, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter
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