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10 Questions for 2012 #5: What is Justin Hunter's ceiling?

I assure you, this is the most fun you'll have answering one of these questions.

We've seen Da'Rick Rogers, and we've been very impressed on the field. Rogers turned in the fifth best single season yardage in UT history last season, pretty impressive for an offense's only weapon playing against that schedule with three different quarterbacks. So this post isn't meant to suggest that Hunter is so much better than Rogers's just that we've seen Da'Rick, and we've got a much better handle on who he is.

Justin Hunter has 33 career receptions. 33. By comparison, Da'Rick Rogers has 78. Mychal Rivera has 40. Hunter's 33 is just two more than Zach Rogers' total.

In 33 career receptions, Hunter has 729 yards and nine touchdowns. That's 22.09 yards per catch, a number that would've been good for second nationally in each of the last two seasons if he had enough catches to qualify (an honor that went to Denarius Moore in 2010, who also benefited from young Mr. Bray). If Hunter maintained the pace he was on after the first two games last season, he would have finished with 104 catches on the year. The UT record is held by Marcus Nash...with 76. And Hunter averages a touchdown every 3.6 catches. I don't even have stats to compare that to, it's just flat out impressive.

Point being, we have such excitement for a guy with just 33 career catches...but what he's done in those 33 catches doesn't make it feel like irrational excitement. Oh no...Justin Hunter is quite real.

In case you forgot, here's what many of those catches looked like:

So...just how good could this get?

We feel like we beat this point into the ground sometimes, but who is going to cover both Rogers and Hunter at the same time with Bray throwing them the ball?

The only real question about Justin Hunter is his health, but because his ACL tear happened in mid-September against Florida, we're talking almost a full year of recovery time before the Vols face NC State in the Georgia Dome on August 31.

I'm just gonna throw these numbers out there:

  • Single Season Receptions: 76 (Marcus Nash, 1997)
  • Single Season Yardage: 1,298 (Robert Meachem, 2006)
  • Single Season Touchdowns: 13 (Marcus Nash, 1997)
Meachem had a phenomenal year in 2006, and yet Da'Rick Rogers came into the Kentucky game last year with a real shot to get his record (before the Vols choked in Lexington and failed to qualify for a bowl game). Nash obviously had the marquee quarterback one tends to need for numbers like this, but also played with Peerless Price, another huge talent, in 1997.

Tyler Bray has plenty of options this fall, even more if Cordarrelle Patterson turns out to be half of what we hope he'll be right away. But in an offense that should throw way more than it runs (more on that next week), a healthy Hunter might be the most dangerous weapon of all.

In an extraordinarily small sample size, we've seen so very much from Hunter. Even keeping the pace he's on would be completely insane. And yet, we've seen enough to make us believe that Hunter could be the best of the best, a list that includes one of his own teammates.

This kid is already real, real good. The hype is real, and the excitement is very, very real.

But could we be in for something truly unprecedented from a healthy #11 this fall?