The Tennessee Titans saw so much upside in Justin Hunter they felt compelled to move up in order to get him.
In a clear attempt to inject new life into their passing attack, the Titans worked a deal Friday to move up in the second round of the NFL draft and select the former University of Tennessee wide receiver 34th overall.
“With him sitting there, we just saw it as a great opportunity to get a really talented young receiver with a lot of upside,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “We liked Justin Hunter a lot. We even explored some things late [Thursday] night as we got into the latter part of the [first round]. So he was a target for us.
“He’s just got special size, speed and athletic ability. … I don’t think he’s reached his ceiling yet. So I feel like he was a great option for us there and – really – the best option we had.”
Tennessee traded with the San Francisco 49ers to jump six spots to the second pick of the round. To do so, it gave up their original second-round choice (40th overall), a seventh-round pick (216th overall) and a third-round choice in 2014.
“That means a lot to me,” Hunter said. “And that just makes me want to work harder just for them, just for the things they did for me, to move up those spots and everything.”
The Titans used both of the third-round picks on players for the defense. They took Connecticut cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (70th overall) and Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden (97th overall). Both were starters for at least three years in college.
Hunter (6-foot-3, 202) averaged 17.1 yards on 106 career receptions for Volunteers. His three-year career was interrupted by a knee injury that limited him to three games in 2011.
He was a second-team All-SEC selection last season when he caught 73 passes (tied for the second-highest total in program history) for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns. He started just 17 games in his career but topped 100 yards receiving eight times.
“You can go back to the 2011 year before his injury, he was really coming on,” Titans scout Blake Beddingfield said. “… This is a guy who was really emerging as a playmaking-type player. He’s got excellent speed. He runs good routes – he can always get better at that – but this is a guy that can stretch the field and catch a ball across the middle.”
At worst, he provides a backup option in the event that 2009 first-round pick Kenny Britt again struggles to stay healthy. At best, he is a complementary piece to Britt (6-3, 215) and in concert with 2012 first-round pick Kendall Wright gives the Titans the most dynamic collection of wide receivers they have had since they’ve been in Tennessee.
“I bring a lot of things,” Hunter said. “Definitely I can stretch the field – that’s my best asset. I going to push the other players and I expect they’re going to push me. So we’re going to get a lot out of it.”