NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans moved up six spots in the second round of the NFL draft to make sure University of Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter wouldn’t move far at all to begin his pro career.
Tennessee traded the 40th overall pick, a seventh-round pick and a 2014 third-round selection to the San Francisco 49ers on Friday in order to get the former Volunteers wideout with the 34th overall pick in the draft.
“He was on a different level grade-wise than the rest of the players on the board,” Titans general manager Ruston Webster said. “It was not even really close for us. With him sitting there, we just thought it was a great opportunity to take a talented young receiver with a lot of upside.”
The Titans added Connecticut cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the third round with the 70th overall pick in the draft.
Hunter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in September 2011, but he bounced back last fall and caught 73 passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns last fall. Hunter said the knee no longer is an issue.
“All of my problems are gone,” Hunter said. “I’m 100 percent now and ready to work.”
The Titans gave Hunter a first-round grade and said his combination of size and speed should allow him to get even better than he is now. Hunter is just below 6-foot-4 and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds at the combine, though he says he’s posted times as fast as 4.35.
Hunter also has plenty of motivation after seeing all the Titans gave up to land him.
“That means a lot to me,” Hunter said. “It just makes me want to work harder just for them, just for the things they did for me, to move up those spots and everything.”
This marks the second straight year the Titans drafted a receiver early. The Titans used their first-round pick last year on Baylor’s Kendall Wright, who caught 64 passes for 626 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie.
The Titans’ receiving corps also features former first-round draft pick Kenny Britt and Nate Washington. Britt, a former first-round draft pick entering the final year of his contract, has shown flashes of stardom but has struggled with injuries and off-field issues.
Washington had a career year in 2011 with 74 receptions for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 46 catches for 746 yards and four touchdowns last year.
“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.”
The Titans selected Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack and Hunter with their first two draft picks rather than attempting to shore up a defense that gave up 471 points last season, the most in franchise history. Tennessee allowed a league-high 29.4 points per game.
They finally addressed their defense in the third round with the selection of Wreh-Wilson, who didn’t even play high school football until his senior year but emerged as a team captain and all-Big East performer at Connecticut. Wreh-Wilson is over 6 feet tall, giving him quality NFL size that helps compensate for his relative lack of football experience.
“I feel a lot of teams like my size. … I kept hearing I’m a big corner, I’m a big corner, which I am,” Wreh-Wilson said. “But I feel I also move very well for my size.”
Tennessee did make plenty of additions to defense in the free-agent market, as they added safeties George Wilson and Bernard Pollard plus tackle Sammie Lee Hill. Webster said Hunter was so far ahead of everyone else on the Titans’ draft board that they couldn’t pass him up just for the sake of landing a defensive player.
“Had it been close, we might have gone defense,” Webster said. “But it wasn’t close.”