This Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver could surprise a lot of people in 2017


The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the best wide receiving cores in the NFL, but this backup nobody could make some noise this season.

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Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster are the big names on campus in Pittsburgh. The first four wideouts heading into the season, this group of pass catchers should prove to be arguably the best group of players in the league.

Even with Bryant coming off a one-year suspension and Smith being a rookie, this set of four is expected to dominate secondaries this season. With Ben Roethlisberger returning for 2017, the offense may be looking at a steady air attack through most of the season.

Outside of these four, no one is paying much attention to the receivers. Veterans Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates are hoping to crack the 53-man roster and continue contributing to this team. Neither player, though, could be as surprising as Justin Hunter.

When signing a one-year/ $855,000 contract back in March, Hunter wasn’t expected to be anything more than a roster filler. As someone who can come in and run practice squad reps during the season, Hunter’s expectations were quite low prior to minicamp.

At 26-years-old with a prove-it deal, Hunter has no room for mistakes. Without an impressive offseason and regular season, his time in the Steel City will come to an end rather quickly. Considering Pittsburgh is already his third team, he may be a lost commodity if he doesn’t work out with the Steelers.

Hunter is making the most out of his opportunity, though. As one of the more impressive players at OTAs and minicamp, the former Buffalo Bill is doing everything needed to keep his name alive on the 53-man roster.

This is the first time in Hunter’s career that he has a reliable veteran quarterback. Tyrod Taylor isn’t a terrible passer but compared to Big Ben, he’s nothing impressive. In Tennessee, between his five QBs, former Steeler, Zach Mettenberger may have been the most talented.

So, for a former 34th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, this will be the first time he’s able to play with a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback. As a tall wideout with reliable hands, this could be the first time he receives passes that aren’t leaving him out to dry, or that he needs to take a blow to the body before securing.

While Hunter is making plays trying to keep his name alive, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey are working to keep themselves ahead of the new receiver.

After two less than impressive seasons, Coates wouldn’t be a surprising move to the practice squad. With his drop issues, never surpassing a catch percentage over 50%. Unless he shows monumental improvement this offseason, which he has yet to do, he’s just as likely to miss the roster cut as Hunter and Heyward-Bey.

At 30-years-old and being merely a fill-in since joining the Steelers, Heyward-Bey may be last on the list to crack the roster. All Hunter will need to do is prove he can contribute more than 150-200 yards a season and is more of a threat in the redzone. After Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley realize he’s more valuable than Heyward-Bey, there won’t be much competition for the final receiver spot.

Hunter is going to see more action in 2017 than most people expect. This is the first time in his career where he’s given a Pro Bowl quarterback and no expectations. If he comes in and fails, no one cares. But if he can come in and prove himself, he may find Pittsburgh to be his home for awhile.

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The Steelers’ receiving core is already arguably the best in the NFL. All Justin Hunter needs to do is add his name to the list, and it’ll become that much better.