Dynasty Focus: Justin Hunter
Here is the second part of 10 in a series of articles using advanced statistics and projections as well as individual circumstances to project how some of the top young receivers in the NFL will fare in fantasy football in 2014 and beyond.
The last article focused on Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Stat key: PPO (points per opportunity) Snaps (total snaps played, percentage of offensive snaps played).
Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
Catch %: 43.9
Snaps: 340 (32.9%)
Percentage of Snaps Targeted: 12.1%
Targets: 41 (2.93 per game)
Hunter is definitely an intriguing dynasty option. He received inconsistent playing time in 2013, mainly due to issues with hanging on to the ball. The former second-round pick from Tennessee dropped five of the 41 passes thrown in his direction as a rookie. It goes without saying that a drop rate of 12.1 percent isn’t going to cut it at this level. He did lead Titans receivers with four touchdown catches on the season but he also played less than 20 snaps in nine of the 14 games that he suited up in.
Much like Patterson above, a lot of Hunter’s potential success next season will be dependent on who returns from the Titans receiving group and who is under center. Tennessee currently sits just $7 million under the cap (potentially $14 million based on ’14 cap number reports) and will have some tough decisions to make in the offseason. Among those decisions will be whether to pay veteran Nate Washington the $4.8 million he is set to make in 2014.
Jason La Canfora over at CBS Sports lists Washington as a potential cut candidate based on that salary. While Washington did put up another productive season (58 receptions and 919 yards), he is on the wrong side of 30 and the Titans have an in-house replacement in Hunter to team up with Kendall Wright. Washington did play a team-high 900 snaps in 2013, but Titans quarterbacks threw three touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions for a rating of 58.2 when targeting him. For comparison’s sake, they threw four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 107.2 rating when targeting Hunter.
Enigmatic veteran Kenny Britt is also on his way out of Nashville. Riding the pine for a majority of the season, Britt put up 11 catches on 33 targets and played a total of 305 snaps. Despite Britt’s lack of playing time, those 19 snaps per game could come in handy for Hunter owners. We are looking at nothing more than a decent mid-level FLEX option here in 2014. With that said, you can surely bet that Hunter’s ADP will enable you to get some ridiculous value in the later rounds in deep leagues.
Statistical-Based 2014 Projections
— Tennessee Titans (@TennesseeTitans) February 1, 2014
Titans wide receivers played fewer than 2,700 combined snaps in 2013. Barring a dramatic switch to a more run-based offensive attack or some sort of lower-tempo scheme, this number will be the bare minimum in 2014.
New offensive coordinator Jason Michael spent the last three seasons as the San Diego Chargers tight ends coach. Chargers receivers played over 2,800 combined snaps last season, including Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown with over 900 each.
For comparison’s sake, the only receiver on Tennessee’s roster from last season to match Allen and Brown was Washington. As you already know, Washington is likely going to be a salary cap casualty.
With Chris Johnson likely finding himself out of Nashville this offseason, there is also something to be said about Tennessee having to rely a bit more on the passing game and Jake Locker in 2014. Locker averaged just over 26 pass attempts per game in 2014. Just an increase of five attempts per outing would mean 80 more targets to go around with Hunter pushed up the depth chart due to Washington’s absence from the roster.
You also have to take into account that someone, most likely Hunter, will have to pick up the slack with Washington on another team. In this, we can expect Wright’s numbers to be in the mid 900s with Hunter coming in over 900 snaps himself. At 900 snaps with a 12.1 percent target rate, we are looking at 110 targets for Hunter in 2014. That’s the bare minimum, especially with the other factors I indicated above.
A couple of other things must be taken into account here. Hunter dropped 12.2 percent of the passes thrown in his direction last year. Those numbers need to go down dramatically if Michael and Co. are going to rely on him next year. He also caught less than 44 percent of those targeted passes. That number needs to go up by at least a full 10 percent if Tennessee is going to give Hunter an opportunity to win the starting gig opposite Wright.
Assuming Hunter does progress naturally from his rookie campaign to season two, we should be looking at a minimum of a 50 percent catch rate. Though Hunter caught just 18 passes as a rookie, four did go for touchdowns. It doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusion that a 22.2 percent touchdown rate isn’t sustainable. If it were, Hunter would be looking at a minimum of a dozen scores. That’s where projections might get a tad murky. As it is, this is what we can expect from Hunter as a sophomore if we decide to cut his touchdown percentage in half based on increased targets and receptions.
57 receptions, 950 yards and seven touchdowns
Notice how I lowered Hunter’s yards per reception totals from 19.7 to 16.7? While he’s a burner and will beat defenses over the top, it’s unrealistic to expect that high of an average with more targets and receptions.
As it is, Hunter’s projections make him a decent FLEX play in 2014. His current ADP makes him the 53rd-ranked receiver in standard redraft leagues, 51st in dynasty leagues. Those ranked ahead of Hunter include Danario Alexander, Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola and Riley Cooper. It goes without saying that Hunter represents more upside and value than those four receivers.
Our recommendation is that you buy low on Hunter with the expectation that you can play him weekly in 2014. Grab need elsewhere in the draft and pick Hunter up toward the end. That’s almost money in the bank.