I wouldn’t imagine that this is exactly the season that wide receiver Justin Hunter had in mind when he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers relatively early in the offseason, though the truth is that he may not have had a lot of alternatives beyond the one-year, veteran-minimum qualifying contract that he accepted.
Of course, the circumstances changed since he was just. On the eve of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Steelers received word that Martavis Bryant would be conditionally reinstated, putting him on track to rejoin the team for the first time since the end of the 2015 postseason. Then the Steelers used a second-round pick on JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Of course there was Antonio Brown at the top of the food chain. Throw in Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates, Demarcus Ayers, and Cobi Hamilton, and suddenly his shot at even making the 53-man roster was beginning to look less assured, if not outright bleak.
Truth be told, it was probably a very close call as to whether or not he would be kept, coming down to the final preseason game. His 58-yard touchdown pass from Joshua Dobbs against the Panthers really helped seal his roster spot.
But that didn’t do much good. It merely meant that he had a paycheck—which, granted, is incredibly important. But he wasn’t getting on the field. He was the sixth wide receiver, in part because he had no contributions on special teams, which means that he was frequently inactive during games.
He spent the first three weeks on the bench before Eli Rogers was given the seat for two games due to issues of his own. He caught two passes for 11 yards in those two games before going back to the bench himself.
He was active again for the eighth game of the season with Bryant having been benched for disciplinary reasons. He caught one pass for seven yards. Then he spent the next two games on the bench again until Smith-Schuster suffered a hamstring injury, missing the game. He did not catch a pass. Nor did he catch a pass two weeks later while active due to Smith-Schuster’s suspension.
In one of the previous five games for which he was active, he looked to have another short reception, albeit this time in the end zone, but he dropped the football. Finally, on Monday, with Brown missing the game due to a calf injury, he got another target in the end zone, and caught it, his first score of the season.
Heading into the season finale, where he may figure to play a decent role, the former Titans second-round draft pick his four receptions for just 23 yards and one touchdown in six games. In 12 games with the Bills a year ago, he caught only 10 passes, but for 189 yards and four scores.