Justin Hunter will undergo surgery to repair his torn labrum, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has reported. Hunter sustained the injury during Pittsburgh’s Week 13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. He was placed on IR last Tuesday. In a corresponding move, the team promoted running back Trey Edmunds — brother of No. 1 pick Terrell Edmunds — to the 53-man roster. Edmunds’ spot on the practice squad was be filled by rookie inside linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was released earlier this month to make room for fellow rookie linebacker, Ola Adeniyi.
A second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Hunter has 85 career receptions for 1,349 yards (a career average of 15.9 yards per catch) and 13 touchdowns. His best season took place in 2014, when he caught 28 passes for 498 yards (a 17.3 yards per carry average) and three touchdowns as a member of the Tennessee Titans. After finishing the 2016 season with the Buffalo Bills, Hunter signed with the Steelers as a free agent during the 2017 offseason. In two seasons in Pittsburgh, Hunter has seven catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. He has three catches for 21 yards this season.
Hunter has been replaced in the lineup by rookie receiver James Washington, who caught 2 of his 4 targets for 11 yards in Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders. For the season, Washington has caught just 10 of 29 targets for 88 yards and 1 touchdown. Pittsburgh has received solid play from fellow receiver Ryan Switzer, who the Steelers acquired in a trade just before the start of the regular season. Switzer, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders, has caught 30 of 36 targets for 224 yards and 1 touchdown this season.
Pittsburgh currently boasts the NFL’s top ranked passing attack. Ben Roethlisberger is having one of the best statistical seasons of his career, completing 67 percent of his passes for 4,227 yards with 28 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He is the only quarterback this season to throw for at least 250 yards in each of his team’s first 13 games. Last Sunday, despite missing most of the second half with a rib injury, Big Ben completed 25-of-29 passes for 292 yards with two touchdown passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Pittsburgh’s second round pick a year ago, Smith-Schuster has become one of the NFL’s best receivers, with 91 catches for 1,234 yards and six touchdowns this season. Antonio Brown is still one of the game’s best players, with 86 catches for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns though 13 games.
“I think both of those players complement each other,” Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick of the Steelers receiving duo of Brown and Smith-Schuster earlier this week. “You’re worried about one player and the other one gets you and vice versa. They’ve got plenty of guys besides them, too. But those two in particular, they have great speed, quickness, catching ability, instincts and run-after-catch. Whenever they get the ball it’s a problem, and there’s a lot of different ways they can get the ball with their skill set and certainly their offense with Coach [Randy] Fichtner’s offense and the quarterback.”