published Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Titans trade up to draft Vols' Justin Hunter

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter was drafted in the NFL's second round by the Tennessee Titans.
Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter was drafted in the NFL's second round by the Tennessee Titans.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Justin Hunter learned his NFL draft fate quickly Friday night.

The former University of Tennessee receiver doesn't have far to go to begin his pro career, either.

The Tennessee Titans swapped picks with the San Francisco 49ers to move up and take Hunter with the 34th overall pick, the second selection of the second round.

"It feels real good," Hunter told the Nashville media on a conference call. "I've been in Tennessee for the past three years now, so it feels like I'm not going anywhere. I've been hearing the receivers coach talking to me at the combine saying he really wanted me there, [but] I didn't know I was getting picked by them till the last second."

As a junior last season, Hunter led the Volunteers in catches (73), yards (1,083) and touchdown receptions (nine), putting him second and third on the single-season lists for most catches and yards, respectively.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder from Virginia Beach, Va., was fourth in the SEC in catches and yards, and analyst Todd McShay compared Hunter to current Cincinnati Bengals and former Georgia wideout A.J. Green during ESPN's telecast of the draft.

"This guy is a big-time leaper," McShay said. "Justin Hunter has a chance to be a star in the National Football League. He has to get stronger and become more physical, and I did not like some of the drops in traffic when guys were coming to hit him. But if he gets stronger, I'm telling you, this is a huge pick, and that's why Tennessee was willing to give up some of those draft picks to move up for Hunter."

In the trade with the Super Bowl runner-up 49ers, the Titans traded away the 40th overall pick -- which San Francisco used to take Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine -- a seventh-round pick and a third-round pick in next year's draft.

General manager Ruston Webster said the organization orchestrated the trade during the day because he was concerned some of the teams selecting before the Titans would take Hunter.

"For us, he was on a different level grade-wise than the rest of the players on the board," Webster said during a news conference after the pick. "Not even really close for us, and with him sitting there, we just thought it was a great opportunity to get a really talented young receiver with a lot of upside, so that was really it. We liked Justin Hunter a lot.

"We even explored some things late last night as we got into the latter parts of the draft, so he was a target for us."

Kendall Wright, a former Baylor University receiver and the 20th pick in last season's draft, led the Titans in receptions as a rookie. Veteran Nate Washington and Kenny Britt -- the talented 30th pick in 2009 who since has battled injuries and off-field trouble -- remain on the roster.

"It wasn't to send a message to anybody, but I think it should get everyone's attention that we're bringing in players to help us win football games," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "That's what the players want us to do. If you asked those guys as they came in the building tomorrow, they're going to be excited because they know we're adding players that are going to help these guys win football games, and that's what it's all about.

"It's going to raise the level of competition when you have good players competing, and only good can come out of that."

An All-SEC selection in 2010, Hunter broke the Vols' freshman record for touchdown passes in a season with seven scoring catches, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered against Florida cut short a promising sophomore season.

Hunter held a workout with the Titans in Knoxville and also met with Detroit, St. Louis, Minnesota, Buffalo, Carolina, San Diego and New England, and after some projections had him going late in the first round, he slid just two picks into the second.

"I was hoping and ready to go in the first round, but you know, I can see the positives of going into the second round, so I wasn't too bummed," Hunter said. "I think it makes you want to work that much harder, just because you were so close to being in the first round. You're going to work that much harder to show people why you could have been a first-rounder.

"Randy Moss is my guy, so I think I can take his role, and I think I can come in there and make a big impact. ... I bring a lot of things. I can stretch the field -- that's my best asset. I'm going to push the other players like they're going to push me, so we're going to get a lot out of it."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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