While I think you would be hard-pressed to find any fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers who currently believes wide receiver Justin Hunter should be considered a lock to make this year’s 53-man roster, it’s worth noting that head coach Mike Tomlin certainly seems to be excited about the former second-round draft pick’s potential to contribute in 2018, which would be his second season with the team.
At the Hampton Roads Youth Foundation’s 10th Annual Mike Tomlin Meet & Greet, Mitch Brown of WTKR-TV caught up with the Steelers head coach and asked him to specifically comment on Hunter, who like Tomlin hails from the Hampton Roads area.
“Man, Justin and I have a great time talking about home quite a bit,” Tomlin told Brown over the weekend. “I’ve been really excited about his growth and development. Last year he was about getting his feet wet and fitting in and understanding how he could help us and how his skill set might be an asset to us. I really think he sees the clear path for productivity for us this year in terms of how he could help us. I know that we are depending on him and expecting him to deliver in a big way.”
Hunter getting his feet wet last season with the Steelers included him only dressing for seven total games and playing just 65 total offensive snaps on his way to registering 4 receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown. The fact that Hunter hasn’t ever been a special teams asset throughout his entire NFL career also likely played a big part in him failing to dress for 9 regular season games last season as well.
Almost three full months ago, the Steelers traded wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for a third-round selection in this year’s draft. The team then proceeded to select former Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington in the second-round of the draft and he’ll be expected to quickly fill Bryant’s shoes. In addition to Washington being a lock to make this year’s 53-man roster, it’s currently hard to imagine veteran wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey not making the 2018 team as well. After all, Heyward-Bey has long been an asset on special teams since arriving in Pittsburgh and a perceived player/coach to several younger wide receivers currently on the roster.
Quite honestly, keeping both Heyward-Bey and Hunter on the 2018 53-man roster seems like overkill and especially if the decision is made to keep just five wide receivers in total. However, injuries during training camp and the preseason at the wide receiver position could quickly change things and make Hunter become a near-lock.
“I’m excited about the season for him, excited about walking the journey with him, and we get to tell a few 757 stories along the way,” Tomlin added about Hunter, who re-signed with the Steelers this past April.
Since 2015, his final season with the Tennessee Titans, the team that originally drafted him out of Tennessee in 2013, Hunter has caught just 14 passes for 212 yards and 5 touchdowns with three different teams.