Pittsburgh’s first successful free agent foray outside the confines of the South Side saw the Steelers sign Justin Hunter, a wide receiver drafted by Mike Munchak with the 2nd pick of the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Justin Hunter played three years for the Tennessee Titans before getting cut at the end of training camp in 2016. From there Hunter spent time with the Miami Dolphins but got cut before the end of September, before landing with the Buffalo Bills.
Finding/establishing a viable number two wide receiver to play alongside Antonio Brown has been a priority for the Steelers during 2017 off season that took on greater urgency after Markusy Wheaton walked.
- However, even though Justin Hunter was drafted a round and a half ahead of Markus Wheaton, the Steelers clearly don’t see him as a replacement.
For comparison’s sake, despite seeing both his rookie and “senior” seasons marred by injuries, Markus Wheaton left Pittsburgh with 107 catches and 8 touchdowns, whereas Justin Hunter only has 78 grabs, although 12 of those were for touchdowns.
Whose Roster Spots Does Justin Hunter Have in His Sights?
Assuming he gets reinstated by the NFL and assuming he avoids further suspensions, Martavis Bryant looks to compete with Antonio Brown for Ben Roethlisberger’s attention down the field. Eli Rogers impressed during his rookie season and the coaches see him as a natural slot receiver, although Darrius Heyward-Bey has also shown he’s a competent number 3 wide out.
The Steelers had hoped that Sammie Coates would blossom into a viable number 2 wide receiver but Coates arguably dropped more passes than he caught in 2016.
- Injuries played a factor, but there have also been rumblings about his worth ethic and practice habits.
At the bottom of the roster the Steelers have Cobi Hamilton, who performed extremely well for a training camp injury replacement 6th string wide receiver, and Demarcus Ayers who also delivered when pressed into action late in the season.
On paper, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers are the two players that Justin Hunter will likely place his bulls eye on, although neither Darriuss Heyward-Bey nor Sammie Coates should get too comfortable.
With that said, while terms haven’t been released yet, the Justin Hill’s one year contract with the Steelers suggests that this is at or near a veteran minimum signing which, if correct, would not even ensure his roster spot.