Justin Hunter entered the NFL as a productive receiver at Tennessee. Hunter is a towering receiver at 6’4” with a 196 lb frame. He’s also shown great speed to go with his excellent size, after running a 4.36 second 40 yard dash at the combine. He also has big hands and great leaping ability, since he cleared 11’ in the broad jump.
Justin seems to have all of the tools to be a productive receiver in the NFL. He has a nose for the end zone, and excels at fighting for the football in traffic, yet something seems to be holding him back. His yards and receptions have decreased each year from his 2014 career totals. Perhaps, it may be that he just needs a better QB, who will give him a chance to make plays?
I broke down Mr Hunter’s highlight reel to give us some insight on his receiving tendencies.
Follow along with the highlights below
0:16 Running a deep route his left hand is not facing the ball. Catches it with his right, and nearly bobbles the ball when he goes to secure it. With better left hand positioning, this is a clean catch.
0:29 comes back with a hop step, pinkies together and both palms open to the ball. He quickly secures it to his body for the catch. Great inside-out move to split the D and use his speed for the TD.
0:45 Love this catch. He comes back to the ball and jumps to catch it at it’s highest point. This created some space from the defender. Thumbs are together, and his palms are in perfect position for a clean catch. This is a big receiver using all of his size to catch a contested ball.
0:53 Nice adjustment to a ball thrown behind him, he did a good job of opening his body up to the ball, but his hands are in terrible position. Both palms facing toward him as he traps the rebound off his chest for a body catch. It was a tough play to make, but he was also fortunate that the ball didn’t bounce off his body.
1:00 This is a great example to show young receivers how hand placement should be on throws to the waist. He keeps his thumbs together, by reaching over top with his right hand. This opens both palms to the ball and he catches it cleanly. I’ve seen many receivers try to catch this ball with pinkies together, but at the waist, inevitably, your lead hand can get in the way of a clean catch. So the mantra is, below the waist pinkies together, waist or above, thumbs together (when facing the ball).
1:12 Excellent adjustment on a tipped ball. The ball is fluttering and he changes his pattern to match the new trajectory, without breaking stride. Though is right palm is facing away from the ball, since there isn’t much velocity on the ball after being tipped, he’s essentially creating a basket catch while facing the ball. Though securing the ball looked a little clunky, this was due to his hand placement not being perfect. Still a very nice adjustment.
1:20 Fights though the hand check to high point the ball at full extension, while leaning back. Defender has no chance to make a play on this ball in the air. Thumbs and palms wrap around the ball securing it immediately. Great fade catch, and shows you the importance of high-pointing the ball on a fade.
1:30 Another perfect catch by catching it at its highest point, thumbs in, both palms on the ball.
1:40 Pinkies together, palms open, and jumps to meet the ball. He then makes a nice jump cut to split the 2 defenders.
1:50 Nice basket catch. His pinkies are together and his elbows are tight against his body. Great stride and had a good chance to score.
2:02 This was a body catch. Both palms away from the football and 3 point trapped it with his hands against his body. Sometimes, body catches are the right catch selection, especially in heavy traffic. He could have extended his hands to catch it with both palms on the ball, but the body catch was probably the right move, since the defender looked like he could have made a play on his arm if he extended them toward the football.
2:06 Nice high point jump and extension, perfect hand placement, palms to the ball and does a great job of controlling his body positioning to rotate and tap both feet inbounds. Fades appear to be a strength for Hunter.
2:13 Justin jumps toward the football to make a 3-point body catch. Both hands are in good position here to keep the ball in place, and he was in traffic, so a body catch is a valid option. This is a good example of using your body and hands together to catch the football, as opposed to letting the ball hit your body, and catching the ball after it rebounds off of it, which is a much lower percentage play.
2:19 This is a low thrown ball on a wet day with a defender draped all over him. Does a great job of extending his arms, pinkies are together and both palms secure the catch. Under these conditions, this is the only way the receiver can make this catch. High difficulty reception, helped by perfect hand placement!
2:29 This is a body trap, using his gut to deaden the ball as he simultaneously wraps his hands around it to secure it (not as clean as a 3-point trap). He was expecting to be hit, as his body is braced to receive an impact, and he rolls toward the end zone with a vice grip on the ball. Being at the goal line, he is right to be ready for a big hit. None came, but he was prepared. I’ve seen Antonio Brown make the same catch in goal line situations.
2:33 I like this angle, because it shows Justin’s hand placement. Thumbs together, palms open, and wrapping the ball. His left thumb is nearly on the point of the football, and usually you want the thumb open a bit wider to allow the point of the football to wedge in the opening between the thumbs and forefingers.
2:37 This catch is tough to see clearly, but it appears to be great hand positioning thumbs in, palms toward the football, over his head, to immediately secure the football.
2:40 not a fan of the quick speed cam, but this is a textbook basket catch. Pinkies together, palms on the ball, elbows into his body.
2:43 jumps and high-points the football between 2 defenders, thumbs together, palms on the ball, and pulls it down quickly for the TD. Excellent catch, than only an aggressive receiver can make in double coverage.
2:50 The only thing I don’t like about this catch are his hands are a bit too wide apart, and his elbows are not as close to his body as they should be. He still secures the ball with both palms and pinkies together. I’m nit-picking here, but it’s the difference between a clean catch and ‘losing concentration’ on a drop.
3:00 I had to view this full screen, because it appeared to be an underhanded body trap. When blown up, he clearly gets his body facing the ball, has both hands in perfect thumbs together position and secures the ball with his palms. Nice adjustment to the ball in the air, and makes a nice extension to try and score the TD.
Before watching his highlights, I really didn’t have much of an opinion on Justin Hunter as a receiver. What this video shows me, is Justin has a beautiful stride, good to great speed, and seems to make good adjustments when the ball is in the air. I like his aggressiveness when he is catching balls in traffic, and using all of his frame to catch fades in the end zone. His only knock is sometimes his hand positioning shifts and he has a propensity to body catch. Looking back at his stats, he’s not known as a person who has a problem dropping footballs (5 career drops though he did have 4 drops in 2014). Bryant was right to text Sammie Coates the day the Steelers picked up Hunter. He appears to be the same receiver. After watching these highlights, I’d have to say Hunter has an advantage in fighting for the ball in traffic and on fade routes.
If Hunter can continue to show his aggressiveness and body extension on receptions in camp, he may make a case to be added to the Steelers’ roster.