When the Buffalo Bills claimed Justin Hunter off of waivers from Miami, we speculated that the majority of his usage with the Bills would come as a red zone threat. At the time, that made sense—it doesn’t take much knowledge of the playbook to run a fade from the four yard line, and that’s exactly what Hunter did in his first action last week at the Rams. While Hunter appeared for 11 snaps, he was targeted only the one time, converting a 4-yard touchdown reception to give the Bills a 6-3 lead in the first quarter.
With another week of practice in the books, Bills’ offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn noted that he would like to involve Hunter more in the offense this week. In a feature from buffalobills.com, Lynn praised Hunter’s play on the practice field. He noted that the fourth-year wideout was “playing faster,” indicating a newfound confidence in the playbook and the routes Hunter is being asked to run.
With Lynn’s focus on making the offense easier to execute, it seems that this could be a perfect opportunity for Hunter to overcome the struggles that have plagued him throughout his career. Had Greg Roman remained in charge of the offense, it is difficult to imagine a free agent coming in and making an immediate impact (although one could argue that Greg Salas did so last year, albeit more out of necessity and circumstance than anything else), but with a simplified playbook, Hunter can come in and learn the plays that suit his strengths right away. If this report is any indication, he’s well on his way to doing that and then some.
As a red zone weapon, the 6’4” Hunter gives the Bills an element that they don’t have with any of their other receivers. Rex Ryan did note, however, that Hunter has “dropped some passes” during practice this week, which could signal a repeat of the main issues that led to his release in Tennessee. Lynn, for his part, said that he would only judge Hunter on what he’s seen in a Bills uniform and nothing more.
The best-case scenario here is that the Bills have secured the services of a second-round talent for peanuts. Hunter can slide into the offense, and the receiving corps becomes that much more dangerous when Sammy Watkins returns at the end of November/beginning of December.
And the worst-case scenario? The Bills took a flier on a physically gifted athlete who was unable to contribute at the NFL level on three different rosters in one season. Either way, the reward well outweighs any potential risks.