Tennessee WR Justin Hunter bound for NFL draft, while Ja'Wuan James says he'll be back

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel
Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Kentucky on Nov. 24 at Neyland Stadium.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Kentucky on Nov. 24 at Neyland Stadium.

New Tennessee football coach Butch Jones and his fast-paced offense will enter 2013 without its top receiver.

As expected, Justin Hunter appears to be on his way to the NFL draft.

Hunter, a junior, sent a one-word tweet Monday afternoon that announced, "Declared." He offered no elaboration but his subsequent interactions with fans indicated he was, in fact, forgoing his senior season of eligibility to declare for the NFL draft.

After suffering an ACL injury in 2011, Hunter led the Vols in receptions (73), receiving yards (1,083) and receiving touchdowns (nine) in 2012. He was among the SEC leaders in all categories.

Hunter will leave UT with the 11th-most receiving yards in school history (1,812) despite playing just two full seasons.

One of the best games of Hunter's career may have come before he suffered his injury in 2011. Against a Jones-coached Cincinnati team, Hunter had 10 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown.

Appearing on Monday night's "Vol Calls," Jones did not address Hunter's decision, but said he had spoken with each of the junior players who were considering leaving for the NFL.

"We talked about really creating their legacy going into their final year and getting the program back on track," Jones said. "We always talk about when you leave a program, is it a better place because you were a part of it?"

Jones said he also emphasized the importance of earning a degree.

"The life expectancy of an NFL player is only about three years," Jones said.

Two offensive linemen also used Twitter to announce their return to the Vols on Monday.

Junior Ja'Wuan James had indicated after the season that he intended to explore the NFL draft, especially after the departure of line coach Sam Pittman, with whom he had formed a close bond. Pittman was not retained as part of Jones' staff and was hired at Arkansas, where he'll work with former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

"Blessed to have another year to get better and another opportunity at winning a championship. Gotta take advantage of it," James tweeted Monday.

James has started all 37 games of his college career at right tackle.

Meanwhile, junior lineman Zach Fulton also accepted and retweeted congratulations for his decision to stay, although he didn't formally confirm he would return.

Fulton has started 28 of the last 31 games at right guard and will help anchor the line under Jones and new coach line coach Don Mahoney in 2013.

Junior quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson have yet to announce their NFL intentions, although most expect them to depart. Bray said the decisions of his two talented junior receivers could factor in his choice.

Defensive lineman Daniel McCullers also is draft-eligible and has not commented publicly on his upcoming decision.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said last week that he sees Hunter as a potential second-round pick who could use another to year to recover from his ACL injury.

"This year he was good. He wasn't spectacular," Kiper said.

Kiper said he projects Patterson as a first-round pick. Bray could go in the second or third round, he said, although the quarterback position is "wide open" in the 2013 draft.

If Patterson joins Hunter in leaving for pro football, the Vols will have to significantly rebuild what was one of the league's top receiving corps. Tight end Mychal Rivera (36 catches for 562 yards) and Zach Rogers (32 catches for 491 yards), both seniors, combined with Patterson and Hunter for 26 of Tennessee's 35 passing touchdowns.

Freshman Alton "Pig" Howard was the only other UT receiver with double-digit receptions, and some of his 13 were on short pitches or shovel passes.

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 161

Vol_Believer writes:

Be gone .

BMSvol writes:

gonna be a tough few years for vol football.

10SE writes:

I have some thoughts, but I'll just keep them to myself for now!

TNVol71 writes:

Unfortunately, 2013 is shaping up to be another 2011. Hope CBJ can get buy-in early and we can be ready for the season better than we were in 2011. It is still a long way back to the top.

VFL_Troll_Patrol writes:

Well, I don't see this as much of a big deal as long as others stay. I say that because as happy for Hunter as I am, I still wasn't impressed by him this season (2012). He had so many dropped passes and ect. I think he is being smart by going into the NFL this year. Im happy for the guy, but I also have a feeling that he was worried that if he didn't leave now, he may not get another shot because of his "not so great but ok" season. Call me crazy I guess but I still feel like its good he is gone and now other players can step up in his place and show what they can do. Bottom line is, I don't see this as being a hurt on UT's 2013 season as long as Bray, Patterson and others stay one more year. GBO

"A new leader" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4xteY...
*Im always watching*

OrangeBloodFlood writes:

Butch Jones understands "wide receiver U" so he will simply re-load....watch him work !

VFL_Troll_Patrol writes:

in response to TNVol71:

Unfortunately, 2013 is shaping up to be another 2011. Hope CBJ can get buy-in early and we can be ready for the season better than we were in 2011. It is still a long way back to the top.

Hice AC/DC reference! IT"S A LONG WAY TO THE TOP IF YOU WANNA WIN! That song goes for everything In life that anyone sets out to accomplish!

*Im always watching*

MikeInTN writes:

Wish Justin the very best. Make all Vols proud!!

Hound_Dog69 writes:

he'll turn out to be another nobody like robert meachem!

RoadTrip writes:

Good luck, JH. Thanks for staying JJ.

The "best staff in America" will get this all figured out. 3" recruits will be flocking in here to replace crappy guys like JH, CP and the like. No problem.

VolInIndy writes:

in response to Hound_Dog69:

he'll turn out to be another nobody like robert meachem!

Their dropped passes do look similar.

chaos001 writes:

He must think better of himself than he really is.

GloryDays writes:

Hunte has a lot of talent, tall and fast, sort of good hands, should do good at the combine. We will leave the negative stuff for another day.

BlueHarley writes:

Great news about James......

jjk writes:

in response to Hound_Dog69:

he'll turn out to be another nobody like robert meachem!

Uh, Meachem is hardly a nobody! He was one of Drew Brees' top targets with the Saints for many years. He's with San Diego now, not sure how he's doing. Regardless, he's had a great NFL career.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say some really dumb comments by a few. Witch Doctor say Big Paycheck and bright future. Witch Doctor say good luck and make us proud!
Bones never lie.

alavol writes:

in response to VFL_Troll_Patrol:

Well, I don't see this as much of a big deal as long as others stay. I say that because as happy for Hunter as I am, I still wasn't impressed by him this season (2012). He had so many dropped passes and ect. I think he is being smart by going into the NFL this year. Im happy for the guy, but I also have a feeling that he was worried that if he didn't leave now, he may not get another shot because of his "not so great but ok" season. Call me crazy I guess but I still feel like its good he is gone and now other players can step up in his place and show what they can do. Bottom line is, I don't see this as being a hurt on UT's 2013 season as long as Bray, Patterson and others stay one more year. GBO

"A new leader" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4xteY...
*Im always watching*

Totally agree with you on dropped passes. He had a strange habit after catching the ball of coming back before turning upwind toward the goal line. In the pros he is going to get killed doing that twice. Recruit another Patterson and a good tight end or two and we will be ok. Bonus, we should have a defense this year, awol all last year. Sunseri really landed a peach of a job. Even Saban did not want him back!

joevol33 writes:

This board sounds full of gruden leftovers. Mad cause an unproven coach in college didnt want to come here. Some of you are worse than bama or dawg fans. If you don't like our coach please go elsewhere

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

JH, break a leg..Uhhh, scratch that (for actors only) and good luck. JJ you're the man for giving CBJ and staff a quality returning starter that really has become a presence and a model of consistency..BTW, this story made Bleacher Report about a week ago.

jjk writes:

I don't think anyone should be surprised by this. I think it was pretty obvious he was leaving, and Bray and Patterson will likely follow him. When you have a child to support, who can blame him. Besides, I don't think there was much more to accomplish here anyway. He was a fantastic player for the Vols, and it was too bad that his 2011 season was wiped out with injury. Hope he goes to a decent team that will utilize him. Best of luck on Sundays, Justin!

rusty_shackleford writes:

Hunter's gonna have to get stronger & tougher. He had to wear 11 cause it was the only double digit number to fit his skinny frame.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say go see how others love torturing the "experts" on Volnation about how THEY said Arian Foster would fail in the NFL. Witch Doctor say act like you got some sense and wait and see how their NFL careers go instead of looking like Kentucky football fans with their "predictions". Witch Doctor hope all three are drafted in the first round and make trillions of dollars least somebody got something out of the last 4 years..they deserve it, Witch Doctor say show me your grass stains and they u earn that respect too lol
Bones never lie.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say go see how others love torturing the "experts" on Volnation about how THEY said Arian Foster would fail in the NFL. Witch Doctor say act like you got some sense and wait and see how their NFL careers go instead of looking like Kentucky football fans with their "predictions". Witch Doctor hope all three are drafted in the first round and make trillions of dollars least somebody got something out of the last 4 years..they deserve it, Witch Doctor say show me your grass stains and they u earn that respect too lol
Bones never lie.

Witch_Doctors writes:

*So good it had to be said twice?
BNL

FanNotSheep writes:

Don't blame Hunter. Don't see an upside to returning -- who knows who would be throwing and how many opportunities he would have with a new system.

Don't blame any player who stays to get more experience and avoid a potential draft stock drop that could cost them money and their free education.

Don't blame GVX for trying to confirm news before publishing. The days of rumors being the only source of information are close enough already. Enjoy having professional local news sources (even if the quality of writing and reporting has already declined) while you can.

golfman1975 writes:

It looked to me like Hunter was afraid to get hit this year. Sometimes an injury like his an make you somewhat scared...afraid to get hurt again. As far as going into the NFL draft this year or any year, you have to realize you will get hit much harder in the NFL than college. He is making a mistake...

Tru138 writes:

Too bad for Vols. Good luck to Justin.

golfman1975 writes:

It would be nice to see Patterson with Peyton Manning...I promise you Patterson would learn how to run passing r.

ElizabethtonvolnNC writes:

All the negativity towards JH ....WTH is wrong with those of you in Vol Nation?!

Best of Luck Justin, thanks for putting on the Big Orange!

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to golfman1975:

It looked to me like Hunter was afraid to get hit this year. Sometimes an injury like his an make you somewhat scared...afraid to get hurt again. As far as going into the NFL draft this year or any year, you have to realize you will get hit much harder in the NFL than college. He is making a mistake...

Agree with first half of the post, not the rest. Hard to blame a guy for getting a paycheck. Hunter is walking proof that serious injuries can happen without even getting hit. The knee injury happened without contact.

It's a sure bet he was going to risk injury in 2013 no matter where he played. At least he will be well-paid for the risks he faces in the NFL.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to golfman1975:

It would be nice to see Patterson with Peyton Manning...I promise you Patterson would learn how to run passing r.

No way Peyton would co-exist with a undisciplined athlete like CP..PM has completely revamped Denver's offense and the WR's not on page don't get passes thrown their way..I see Patterson as a Jevan Hester type athlete that probably never puts in the time to develop his skills/technique..JAT.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to ElizabethtonvolnNC:

All the negativity towards JH ....WTH is wrong with those of you in Vol Nation?!

Best of Luck Justin, thanks for putting on the Big Orange!

Witch Doctor say these arent real. Witch Doctor say they just need attention..Witch Doctor say close but little over the top to be real. lol
Bones never lie.

dvols writes:

Go get Derrick Green......

TN is due a stud RB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HtownVol writes:

Please stop acting like wedont want one of the top 5 WRs in the country back. Just cuz HUnter had Gator-arms a few times dont mean we dont want him. I sure do.
Is Drae Bowles ready to step up?

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Best of luck to Hunter.

Now,having said that, before Patterson came aboard, the WR shelf wasn't stocked as well. In other words, it's possible to once again discover another talented JC WR, or even a really good freshman...........although the latter is not the ideal choice.

Let's see how the recruits come forward, and once on campus............the most important thing will be coaching them well.

rb4346 writes:

I wish nothing but the best for Hunter, I hope he makes all-pro. Wish the best for Sunseri also as long as it is not at Tennessee. Thanks for staying JJ, now talk to Zach and McCullers about staying. I feel that with Bowles, Croom, Downs, Howard and rest of receivers and tight ends and whomever Coach Jones brings in we will be better than a lot of people think IMO. I will probably get clobbered for this statement, but I think Coach Jones will get us back to the top. Anyone agree. GBO

SevenT writes:

Hunter will be a good pickup in the 4th or 5th round.

Shake_Bake writes:

in response to OrangeBloodFlood:

Butch Jones understands "wide receiver U" so he will simply re-load....watch him work !

Boy I sure hope you are right! There is a ton of talent at the High School level, but it has to be recruited properly. The injury that Hunter had in 2011 plays a huge part of his decision in my opinion. He can't risk that again, and he wants to grab some of the NFL money while he can. Can't really blame him for that.

govolsdid writes:

in response to dvols:

Go get Derrick Green......

TN is due a stud RB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I agree 100% I hope "Butch" and Jay G. are telling Green he is the man! Walk in and give him the football and tell him to run thru the "T" the job is YOURS!!!!!!!!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to rb4346:

I wish nothing but the best for Hunter, I hope he makes all-pro. Wish the best for Sunseri also as long as it is not at Tennessee. Thanks for staying JJ, now talk to Zach and McCullers about staying. I feel that with Bowles, Croom, Downs, Howard and rest of receivers and tight ends and whomever Coach Jones brings in we will be better than a lot of people think IMO. I will probably get clobbered for this statement, but I think Coach Jones will get us back to the top. Anyone agree. GBO

Totally agree, been on board with this hire since day one..I never agreed with the Dooley hire, but being a die-hard Vol I supported him unconditionally..As far as CBJ, he has proven his worth and he has a definite plan for success..Getting the team to buy in may take some time, but a lot can be accomplished in the Spring.

FanNotSheep writes:

in response to SevenT:

Hunter will be a good pickup in the 4th or 5th round.

Tom Brady went in the 6th if I'm not mistaken. I bet he makes more money in a year than you or I will in a career.

I understand pro fans who demand perfection from players who receive money from the tickets they buy. I have no respect for those fans but I understand them. But I will never understand college fans who rip players who put their bodies on the line and work their whole lives for one shot at the NFL.

Take your best shot Justin. True Vol fans will be pulling for you.

graphpro#231211 writes:

Hunter is much better in his own head than on the field. Afraid of getting hit and allowed to many balls to hit the ground. Needs to get better. He does have tremendous hops and speed.

TheStupidPolice writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

No way Peyton would co-exist with a undisciplined athlete like CP..PM has completely revamped Denver's offense and the WR's not on page don't get passes thrown their way..I see Patterson as a Jevan Hester type athlete that probably never puts in the time to develop his skills/technique..JAT.

Jevan Hester? STUPID!

govolsdid writes:

in response to rb4346:

I wish nothing but the best for Hunter, I hope he makes all-pro. Wish the best for Sunseri also as long as it is not at Tennessee. Thanks for staying JJ, now talk to Zach and McCullers about staying. I feel that with Bowles, Croom, Downs, Howard and rest of receivers and tight ends and whomever Coach Jones brings in we will be better than a lot of people think IMO. I will probably get clobbered for this statement, but I think Coach Jones will get us back to the top. Anyone agree. GBO

If we return all of these O linemen except Dallas T. just think young backs what they can do for you? The one thing Dooley left Butch was a bunch of BIG ole Offensive linemen we are 3-4 deep!!!!!

snowpeapod#263184 writes:

When a player declares for the draft, does he drop out of classes immediately and does he continue to use UT facilities? Someone with actual knowlege and not opinion let me know.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to TheStupidPolice:

Jevan Hester? STUPID!

No, you're the buffoon that knows absolutely nothing about fb..What have you ever brought to the table other than childish antics?? I challenge you to say one thing thought provoking in regard to fb..Well, we're waiting!!

rtrchatt writes:

JJames you lost your opportunity for championship rings after decommitting from Alabama. No shot at rings now,
but at least you got the playing time Kiffen promised you lol.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor say some really dumb comments by a few. Witch Doctor say Big Paycheck and bright future. Witch Doctor say good luck and make us proud!
Bones never lie.

Could throw in his fear of another injury which would effectively end his career.

Here's hoping he blows the doors off the NFL.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to rtrchatt:

JJames you lost your opportunity for championship rings after decommitting from Alabama. No shot at rings now,
but at least you got the playing time Kiffen promised you lol.

At least JJ doesn't have to live vicariously through college athletics like you do..He's actually an All SEC type talent and you are simply a never was, zilch, zero..You're quite pathetic in reality, and I would bet my mortgage you wouldn't have the testicular fortitude to say that to his face..Just a thought.

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