Exclusive: Michael Hunter talks about Giants, Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald, and more
Following four years at the collegiate level with his final campaign at Oklahoma State, cornerback Michael Hunter entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2016 on a path that has since been much traveled heading into his third season.
Hunter has spent time with several teams such as the New York Giants, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, and Houston Texans. This saw him initially begin his NFL career with the Giants, where he released in October of the 2017 season shortly after being placed on the injured reserve due to a hamstring injury.
This was followed by brief stints on the practice squads with the Jets, Broncos, Bills, and lastly by the Texans. Things went full circle back in mid-January after Hunter inked a reserve/future contract to rejoin the Giants for the second time in his NFL career with hopes of becoming a key part of their secondary for the 2019 campaign.
Hunter recently spoke exclusively to ClutchPoints to discuss the difficulties of his journey in the NFL as an undrafted player, his experience with the Giants, playing alongside some of the games best like Von Miller and J.J. Watt and much more.
Bob Garcia IV: First off, I want to say congrats on getting another contract with the New York Giants. That’s a pretty impressive feat to be in the NFL for another year.
Michael Hunter: No doubt. Every year 300-400 college kids come in, so I got to take advantage of every opportunity and go out there and compete.
BG: So let’s start it off, how has your experience been so far playing in the NFL in your first couple of years in the league?
MH: It has been a dream come true. The experience has been the most important thing. Just coming in and getting my feet wet. The transition from college to the NFL was kind of difficult, but as the years have gone by I have gained experience each year, and I feel like I am thriving more, getting better, and going out there and having fun and enjoying the game.
BG: What has been the biggest transition that you felt that you needed to make in order to play at this level?
MH: Really the biggest transition has been the playbook from college to the NFL as the difference is 100 pages. Just being there every day knowing the defense, the special teams, and the ins and outs of all the calls. Once you learn that, it makes the game slow down a whole lot. It allows you to play faster and be more productive.
BG: Since you have taken the path of entering the league as an undrafted rookie, what hurdles do you think you have had to overcome in order to stay in the NFL?
MH: Definitely being undrafted is a whole different lifestyle. You don’t get as many reps as the drafted guys. The biggest hurdle is that you are not going to be the same chance that some guys basically take advantage of every rep and every opportunity. Just make sure the coaches see you as being different and make sure that you stand out because at the beginning you are not going to get as many reps as the drafted guys. I tell people to take advantage of every rep and every opportunity because you might be able to end up on a 52-man roster.
BG: What have you learned from this entire process being with various teams in the path that you have taken?
MH: What I have taken away the most from this has been that it’s a business. If you get cut in one place, don’t take it personal. It could be for different team needs. At the end of the day, I try to tell people to go out there and enjoy the game and realize that it’s a business. Control what you can control.
BG: How long did it take for you to come to terms to face that reality in the NFL?
MH: It’s taken me two years or maybe even three years. You realize you can’t really get comfortable in one place. You really got to go out to build relationships. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and you can’t take it personal. This could maybe open the door for another big and better opportunity. It definitely took a while to embrace that mentality, but once I got it down it actually helped me become more successful and hopefully help me work toward the goals I accomplish in this coming year.
BG: At this point, who has made the most impact on your NFL career?
MH: At this point, I would have to say, Dominique Rodgers Cromartie. Coming in as a rookie, he put me under his wing. Of course, his path was a lot different than mine being a first-round pick, but he saw something in me that I see in myself. I have been busting my butt and taking advantage of every rep and opportunity. He helped me a lot by pushing me and getting that extra grind.
BG: You’re on your second time around with the Giants, so what’s different about you as a player/person?
MH: I think that thing that is different is the maturity. I was coming in as a 21-year-old rookie getting my feet wet. I’m [now] going on 25 and have a newborn. I think I see the world and my football career differently.
BG: Now that you have your second contract with the Giants, what are you looking forward to the rest of the offseason and heading into next season?
MH: I am basically looking forward to getting into the playbook. It’s a whole new coaching staff, and defensive coordinator. We start OTAs in the next couple of weeks, and I am looking forward to getting back up to New York and get into that playbook early and start watching the film so I wouldn’t be a step behind or thinking I will just be there to play, processing things, and enjoying the moment.
BG: Where do you think you fit in with this current group of defensive backs in New York with Janoris Jenkins, Sam Beal, and Grant Haley?
MH: Kind of like [what I said] earlier like wherever they need me at. I’m looking forward to filling the void and filling the hole that they assign me to do. Right now, I don’t know what that role is, but I am looking forward to busting my butt and getting back to competing.
BG: What do you think of the moves that the team has made this offseason such as adding a couple of safeties in Antoine Bethea and Jabril Peppers along with Golden Tate?
MH: Antoine he is a good friend of my uncle from down in Arizona. I am looking forward to getting to know those guys. Of course, Odell was a great friend of mine, and I wish him well and go up there to great things. Hopefully, he keeps being great.
BG: What do you think of the team’s outlook this upcoming season and the overall direction of the franchise?
MH: I feel like it’s in a great direction. Just like every other NFL team, busting our butts and letting the cards fall where they fall. I feel like with this team we are shooting for one goal, and that’s winning the Super Bowl. We can’t be looking back at the past anyway. At the end of the day, we are going out there with that mindset, I know I am, of trying to win every game we play and ultimately win the big game in the Super Bowl.
BG: So I got some questions about the league in general. First off, Who do you think is the toughest wide receiver to cover in the NFL and why?
MH: That’s a tough one. I haven’t been asked that in a while. Honestly, I would have to say Odell [Beckham Jr.] because I went up against him in practice. He has made the game a whole lot easier for not only me but a lot of fellow counterparts. Going up against him every day challenging us and getting better. He has been a great part of my career in how I have improved and got better. And I have to say; you probably think I am saying this because he was my teammate but Sterling [Sheppard] by the way he gets in and out of breaks. Maybe because I went against them every day, but those guys are a pretty tough task.
BG: Since you brought up Odell Beckham Jr. given that he’s one of the best talents in the league in general and not only at his position as well as a lot scrutiny on his personality be it positive or negative. What do you think of him as a person/player?
MH: I’m sure every single one of his teammates would say that his love for the game is genuine and his love for his teammates was very much all in the same. He is a generational talent. Honestly, we all love the guy. He made practice fun. He made being around him fun. That’s just him being him. I enjoyed him as a teammate. I know he’s going to do great things in Cleveland and I wish him well. With him being from Louisana, we always cheer for our Louisana guys.
BG: What are your thoughts about Eli Manning? I know there is the perception that his best days are behind him and plenty of questions about his long-term future in New York. Do you think he still has plenty left in the tank to play at a high level?
MH: I will definitely say that Eli is still a gunslinger even though [people] might not believe so. He definitely still has a gun and is still our quarterback. If we make it to the Super Bowl, you got to through him. I feel he’s going to get in there and continue to be Eli. I honestly think he can get the job done and I honestly know he can. He’s ready to get back in with those guys and prove everybody wrong.
BG: Who do you think is the best defensive player in the league?
MH: There are two names that pop out to me. I would have to say, Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald. Just the way they can change the game in the run game and pass game. In my opinion, it’s one of those two guys.
BG: As far as Aaron Donald, what do you think separates him? What do you think has helped him to reach this point of this career where he’s playing at this level?
MH: Honestly, I don’t know, but he definitely has that ‘IT’ factor. His first-step quickness is like none other that I have ever seen. The way he handles his weight and strength he’s basically an animal. He’s uses everything to his advantage and stays low and gets off the ball fast. He knows what angle to attack. It [also] doesn’t hurt that he ran a 4.6 at the combine.
BG: I hope this one is a little bit easier for you to pick, but who do you think is the best player in the league right now?
MH: You are throwing some tough ones at me man. If you were asking me, I would have to say myself, but like I said it’s tough. I watch so much football that everyone is great at different aspects and it’s hard not to say a quarterback because the team runs through the quarterback. Honestly, 100 guys come to mind, but if I was to go off what he has done in the last four-five years, it’s hard not to say, Tom Brady. Just from the winning aspect and the way he approaches the game. I feel like I have been watching him since I was born. What he has done is nothing short of remarkable.
BG: You spent some time with the Broncos, what was it like playing alongside the likes of Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, and Von Miller?
MH: I enjoyed every bit of it. Being in a secondary role with Talib and Chris Harris taught me a good deal. The short time that I was there, they taught me a lot on the way to approach studying film and go out there and [as well as to] try to learn from every old head in the room to help me on and off the field. Being in that locker room was nothing short of great. Von Miller is still in the argument for being the best defensive player in the league. Just seeing his motor that he has not only on Sundays but he took that same approach every day in practice is really motivational for a young guy.
BG: You kind of led into my next question, what do you think separates Von Miller toward being if not the best player at his position or even on that side of the ball?
MH: Similar to what separates Aaron Donald. He has that “IT” factor. Just the way he uses his hands. The way he can dip under 6’6″, 300-pound guys like it’s nothing, his lateral quickness, and speed off the ball are things you can’t teach. He’s just one of those guys born with freakish athletic ability, and he knows how to hone into in a perfect way. He’s been playing for a long time, but he has a lot, a lot of years left in him.
BG: You were with the Houston Texans for a little bit. What were your impressions of J.J. Watt?
MH: Honestly how he looks on gameday, I honestly forgot about all those injuries. He’s one of those guys that practices and plays harder than anybody that I have ever seen. He plays in practice like he’s a rookie taking advantage of every opportunity even though he’s a household name. I was only there for like three or four weeks, and I know for sure he had a sack every game we played.
BG: This is probably going to be the hardest question I ask you but, who do you think is a better player: J.J. Watt or Von Miller?
MH: You can’t come here and ask me that question. Both of them are tough. Both of them are my boys. You can’t go wrong with either one, but I would honestly have to say Von just because of his natural ability. I think he has a little more left in the tank. He’s just a guy that is a freak of nature. He ran a 4.5 and could probably still run close that range. He can one-arm push 300-pound men to the ground. You just don’t see that from a guy his size. Knowing he has the work ethic and motor as well, I have to probably go with Von.
BG: Another guy that I don’t feel gets the attention that he deserves is DeAndre Hopkins. This guy goes in every year and puts up the numbers and goes up against the best defensive backs in the league. What stands out from him in person and afar?
MH: As a teammate, he is a great guy. Actually, my locker was right next to him. He came in every day and made sure I felt welcomed. Off the field, he’s nothing short of a great guy. On the field, we all know him. He’s Nuke. He’s arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL. He’s nothing short of a great person. I understand why he does so much for the community. He goes in every year and has 100 catches and 1,500 yards.
BG: Lastly, who do you think is the most underrated player right now?
MH: I’m going to have to go with myself. This season I won’t be. That’s the mindset I am going with. Not necessarily the underdog, but I know that I can do better in everything that I do and I can just work towards that goal, and at the end of the day you will be mentioning me.