10 possible Patriots: Justin Hunter

With the NFL draft closing in, ESPNBoston.com is narrowing its list of prospects that it projects as the best fits for the Patriots at areas that seem likely the club could target:

Player: Justin Hunter

School: Tennessee

Position: Receiver

Listed height/weight: 6-foot-4, 196 pounds

Scouts Inc. rank: 3rd (scouting report)

Draft projection: Late first round/early second round

Why he’s on our list: Hunter has a high upside to develop as a potential No. 1 receiver. He’s one of the bigger receivers in the draft, and also runs well.

Recommended link: Greg Cosell of NFL Matchup, writing on Yahoo! Sports, describes why Hunter is his most intriguing prospect at the position this year.

Key stat: Averaged 18.5 yards per reception on 17 receptions in 2011, and then finished with 73 catches for a 14.8 average in 2012.

Workout stat: Recorded a vertical leap of 39.5.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc.: “Hunter has the tools to quickly emerge as a vertical threat and it’s just not about his 4.44-speed, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. The 6-foot-4 Hunter has longer arms (33.2-inches), recorded a 39.5-inch vertical at the Combine, and shows impressive body control for his size in the air. In other words, he’s more than capable of winning 50-50 balls downfield when he isn’t able to get behind the coverage. While physical corners will likely have success rerouting him at the line of scrimmage at this point, he can bulk up his 196-pound frame and improve his ability to beat press coverage. There’s a lot to like about his burst, vision and ability after the catch as well. In terms of his route-running, there’s room for improvement. He has the fluidity and quickness to improve but his footwork is inconsistent and he rounds off too many breaks at this point. In terms of how he catches the ball, he can pluck the ball out of the air and make highlight reel grabs. It’s what should be routine catches that can give him problems and he dropped too many passes in 2012. Erratic focus and just average hand span (9.3) played roles. His toughness and willingness to make plays over the middle is also inconsistent and he can take his eye off the ball to locate defenders. Finally, there are two other red flags worth mentioning. The first concerns production. Three of his nine touchdowns came against Georgia State and another three came against Troy. He wasn’t nearly as consistent or productive against the talented defensive backfields he faced in the Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama games. The second is durability. He tore the ACL in his left knee in the third game (Florida State) of the season and missed the rest of the year.”