Dowell Loggains, the shortest of the Tennessee Titans assistants, made sure he was seen and heard.
The offensive coordinator did not shout from the mountaintops his desire to draft Justin Hunter. He did the next best thing, though, when the first round ended and the former University of Tennessee wide receiver was still available.
“I kept jumping on the table for the kid,” Loggains said. “He was a guy we rated very high.”
General manager Ruston Webster did not necessarily need to be convinced, but the point was well taken. Best not to sit back and wait any longer than necessary for a player they had rated as a middle-of-the-first-round prospect.
Tennessee traded with San Francisco in order to move up six spots to the second pick in the second round where they got Hunter, who along with the team’s other seven draft picks and a collection of rookie free agents were scheduled to begin their rookie orientation with the team Thursday.
It was an aggressive move, the kind the franchise had not made during its time in Middle Tennessee. It also was considered necessary given Webster’s belief that “two or three” teams scheduled to pick before the Titans, who had the 40th overall choice, were interested in Hunter. To execute the second-round swap, they gave San Francisco a seventh-round pick this year and a third-round choice next year.
“I don’t like giving up any [picks],” Webster said. “I really don’t [but] I felt good about this deal. … I felt like that was the reason to go ahead with it.”
A precedent of patience early in the draft was established in 1997, when, months before the franchise actually relocated from Houston, the then-Oilers traded with Kansas City, moved back from 13th to 18th overall and ultimately selected defensive end Kenny Holmes. Similarly, the Titans moved back one spot in 2002 when they got defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth 15th overall.
The last time the team shifted within the second round was 2006 when it moved backward six spots and selected running back LenDale White 45th overall. A year earlier a deal with Detroit allowed the Titans to slide back four spots and take tackle Michael Roos 41st overall, and in 1999 they dropped six spots through a deal with New England and took defensive tackle John Thornton.
“That means a lot to me, and that makes you want to work harder just for them, for the things that they did for me and move up those spots and everything,” Hunter said. “… I was hoping really to go in the first round, but I see the positive of going in the second round, so I wasn’t too bummed.”
The Titans could not have been happier, especially after they already had filled a primary need with the eighth overall selection, guard Chance Warmack.
The last time the franchise made a comparable move within the first two rounds was 1996, Floyd Reese’s third year as general manager and Jeff Fisher’s second full season as coach. Even then, the deal with Seattle to move from 17th overall to 14th overall came after Reese had dealt with Oakland and dropped from ninth to 17th.
Regardless, the move up allowed for the selection of running back Eddie George, who immediately became a starter and remained a cornerstone of the franchise for close to a decade. He eventually became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, produced four of the top 10 single-season rushing totals in team history and was a central figure in back-to-back 13-3 seasons in 1999 and 2000 and the appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV.
“I think it should get everyone’s attention that we’re bringing in players to help us win football games,” coach Mike Munchak said moments after Hunter was selected. “That’s what the players want us to do. … They are going to be excited because they know we are adding players that are going to help these guys win football games. That’s what it’s all about. And it’s going to raise the level of competition when you have good players competing. Only good can come out of that.”
Hunter’s arrival adds to a wide receiver group that already consists of two actual first-round picks, Kenny Britt in 2009 and Kendall Wright in 2012, but has not had consistent big-play threat for nearly a decade. Wright led the team in receptions last season but averaged fewer than 10 yards per catch. Britt has averaged 16.1 yards per reception but never has led the team in a season and has started just 26 games over four injury-plagued seasons.
The Titans thought they got an explosive tight end in 2009, when they gave up a second-round pick the following year and took Jared Cook five spots ahead of where they already were slotted. Cook never produced as expected in four seasons and signed as a free agent with St. Louis in March.
Now Hunter, who averaged 17.1 yards per catch and scored 18 touchdowns in 28 career college games, has the opportunity to end the long search for that type of player. At 6 foot 3, 202 pounds he has size that is comparable to Britt and a background as an elite high school track and field athlete that indicates his level of athleticism.
“The thing that really impressed me the most when you watch the tape is that for a long guy he’s not a build-to-speed guy,” Loggains said. “He’s a quick-twitch guy. He’s got playmaking ability. The out-of-frame catches that he’s going to bring to the table.
“… There’s essentially a guy that’s a first-round draft pick.”
Not quite. But Tennessee did its best to make him one.
With Hunter in mind, Webster first started to explore deals as the final picks of the first round approached. Unable to get past the start of the second round, he resumed the quest the next morning, hours before the start of the second round.
The transaction was finalized moments after the pick — 34th overall — was on the clock.
“We started calling around that first night trying to trade back into the first round,” Loggains said. “I didn’t know how that was going to go down but I thought at that time we were going to have a chance to get him.”
He made sure everyone concerned knew he felt it was a chance worth taking.