Beyond the immediate considerations of Hundley’s potential, the quarterback’s tape raises larger questions about the position.
Futures: UCLA QB Brett Hundley
By Matt Waldman
I’m so happy that I’m a married man. Atop the list of reasons why is the obvious: I love my wife. However, the fact that I no longer have to experience the “first date” is vastly underrated — at least when it comes to my personal life.
Professionally, a first look at quarterback’s tape is a lot like a first date. In one afternoon or evening, there can be joyful sparks, painful awkwardness, flashes of intuition, and a great deal of over-analysis.
My first date with Brett Hundley’s tape encompasses all of these things. Some speculate that the UCLA signal-caller passed up an opportunity to be a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft when he decided to return to school this season.
He may earn that status in 2015, and after studying one game I see why some teams will value Hundley that highly. Beyond the immediate considerations of Hundley’s potential, though, the quarterback’s tape raises larger questions for me about the position.
It is said that you can’t teach size, athleticism, and, to a vast extent, arm strength. Many teams also say that you can’t teach a player’s feel for the game. I call this the “IT Factor,” and I define it as a player’s integration of his position-focused techniques and how well he processes the game unfolding before him. But if teams don’t believe they can teach the “IT Factor,” then why do they continue spending early picks on physical talents lacking refined mental and conceptual acumen for the game year after year?
I think one of the answers to this question is that the “IT Factor” is difficult to spot. Even the best football personnel evaluators mistake it for production or athleticism, or they psychologically project the performance of the surrounding talent onto the player himself. There’s no single combination of skills that unlock the winning formula of the “IT Factor.”
Another trio of questions also relate to Hundley, but also include many other quarterbacks past, present, and future: how does one forecast the potential of a player whose execution of techniques and concepts appears shaky but is still on point and savvy? Will this player be capable of more refined work in the NFL? Bill Walsh said intuition and instincts must be there for a quarterback to warrant high expectations for future development, but do you take a quarterback whose instincts are often good in the first or second round, even if his confidence in those skills doesn’t appear to be rock-solid?
For me, the answer is no, in theory. In practice, however, a quarterback’s match with a team is a fitting marriage metaphor, and the demand for a good quarterback is often as strong (and potentially dysfunctional) as holy matrimony. NFL teams have shown a tendency to compromise like a man or woman who “settles” for a spouse because they have been taught to think their healthy expectations are unrealistic.
Likewise, some teams behave like the once-burned, twice-shy person whose standards have become too high. They end up rejecting prospects who share similar surface characteristics with former players who hurt them, because fear has dissuaded them from being open-minded and diligent.
Hundley’s Virginia tape raises many of these questions that I often think about as I enter my 10th season of formally evaluating quarterbacks. Hundley’s work warrants serious consideration as a first-round prospect, but will a second, third, or fourth date help me see if those “IT Factors” he flashes will translate to the pro game?