Travis Hunter poised for stardom … on both sides of the football

“The more you can do…” 

NFL coaches and scouts have uttered the aforementioned statement for decades when discussing the value of versatility when evaluating players and prospects. As the saying goes, the more roles a player can fill as a playmaker, the greater the odds of him sticking around for the long term. 

In Colorado, Travis Hunter is poised to revolutionize the college game as a two-way player with five-star talent. Although Charles Woodson and Champ Bailey have provided the blueprint for Hunter as collegiate superstars who shined as two-way players before earning gold jackets as pros, the Buffaloes‘ standout could follow in the footsteps of his Hall of Fame coach Deion Sanders as an elite two-way player in the NFL.

As a six-time All-Pro, Sanders is revered for his coverage skills as the premier “shutdown” cornerback of his era, but he could handle those duties while flourishing as the Dallas Cowboys‘ WR2 during their last Super Bowl run that cemented his legacy as one of the best athletes to play in the NFL. Sanders finished the 1996 regular season with 36 receptions, 475 receiving yards, and a score while playing opposite Michael Irvin in a star-studded offense. 

Hunter, who will make his Colorado debut Saturday vs. No. 17 TCU (noon ET on FOX) can impact the Buffaloes similarly as a CB1/WR1 in a Power 5 program. The consensus five-star recruit and No.1 overall recruit in the 2022 class, per 24/7 Sports, possesses rare traits as a dominant playmaker on each side of the ball. Hunter’s size, length, speed, and athleticism make him a rare find at either position. 

As a cornerback, the 6-foot-1, 165-pounder is a fluid athlete with the explosiveness and burst to shadow elite receivers utilizing various techniques to shrink passing lanes. Hunter’s toughness, tenacity, instincts, and awareness remind me of how Jets standout Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner blankets All-Pro receivers on the island. Hunter, the 2022 SWAC Freshman of the Year finished the season with 20 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and two interceptions, but the statistics pale compared to the outstanding skills he flashes on the tape. As a second-year player with only eight collegiate games under his belt, Hunter plays the game like a 10-year NFL veteran on the perimeter. 

From his superb instincts, awareness, and route recognition skills to his ability to play the receiver or the ball down the field, Hunter’s game has an All-Pro feel to it. With more reps and experience, it will be nearly impossible to register a completion on his side of the field when he is in coverage. 

“He is special,” said a Colorado assistant with 20-plus years of NFL experience. “He has great tools and a high IQ. He understands the game better than some of the pros that I have coached in the past, and he is still learning the nuances of the game that could help him go to the next level… He’s special.” 

Week 1 Preview: Coach Prime’s Colorado debut vs TCU

The lofty praise of Hunter’s talents as a defender is matched by the rave reviews he has received as a pass catcher/playmaker since high school. Hunter is regarded as arguably the best 7-on-7 receiver in history, and his small sample size of offensive playmaking at Jackson State validates the praise. Though the stat line does not pop on paper (18 catches, 188 yards, and four touchdowns), Hunter had 11 receptions, 135 yards, and four touchdowns over the final four games of the season — the last two regular season games, SWAC Championship and Celebration Bowl. 

Given the magnitude of those games, notably the SWAC Championship and Celebration Bowl, Hunter’s big play production suggests that he rises to the occasion as a playmaker. As a full-time receiver in an offense that is expected to throw the ball around the yard, the sophomore sensation could put up big numbers as the designated big play specialist on the perimeter. As a clever route runner with explosive speed and quickness, he can threaten defenders with vertical pushes before stopping on a dime to execute intermediate routes. Hunter’s balance, body control, and hand-eye coordination make it easy to envision him thriving as a key contributor in the passing game. 

Although veteran NFL coaches will want to smooth out the rough parts of his game as a route runner, his natural talent and big play potential make him an early-round candidate as a versatile playmaker. 

With the college football world buzzing about Hunter’s unique ability as a two-way starter, the NFL scouting community is paying close attention to the sophomore’s game as he showcases the skill to emerge as a rare CB1/WR1 prospect.

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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