Devil’s Advocate: Justin Hunter’s Impact

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: What role if any will free agent wide receiver Justin Hunter serve in the Steelers’ offense this season?

It’s not too often that the Steelers sign a wide receiver in free agency and actually expect him to offer much in the way of offensive contributions. If he proves to be a team player, he maybe gets re-signed and after others move on, he steps up into a bigger role. That was the case for Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Jerricho Cotchery before him.

That doesn’t bode well for the 2017 production of Justin Hunter, the tall, fast wide receiver and former second-round draft pick that the Steelers added to their roster in free agency. But that doesn’t mean that is how the season will go down.

There are enough grey areas right now for envision a path toward playing time for Hunter. Sammie Coates has a lot to prove after the mangling of his hand last year. Martavis Bryant isn’t even on the roster and until he is his contributions have to be ignored.

His game may be flawed—his routes are imprecise, and often doesn’t get off the ball well—but he can do what the Steelers want him to do: run down the field, beat your man, and use your size to win the ball. He did that with the Bills last year after joining them as an in-season cut, meaning his playbook was likely limited.

Did I mention that he has a touchdown for every 6.5 receptions? I like that ratio. Though it was skewed by his four touchdowns on 10 receptions in Buffalo. But that is how he can be used.

Will there be room for him though? In an ideal scenario, it’s actually realistically possible that he doesn’t even make the roster. Let’s assume that everything is gravy with Coates and Bryant. You have Antonio Brown, you have Eli Rogers, and you add a draft pick. Darrius Heyward-Bey is already your sixth and your special-teams ace.

Can you even consider carrying seven? I don’t expect they will. Not with Hunter’s inability to contribute in other areas. That’s not even getting into concerns about his playing time or limitations if he does make the roster.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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