My pre-draft ranking and profile of the Packers’ QB on the rise.
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA (6-3, 226)
The difference in ranking between Hundley and Marcus Mariota came down to the smallest details. They are essentially tied on my board, but one exercise of ranking players —be it a draft board for a team, media, or fantasy owners—is to give your audience as clear-cut a choice as possible. Hundley earns my preference for several small reasons that could turn out to be big.
I don’t buy the theory that Hundley takes his eyes off his receivers when under pressure and runs too early. There’s too much tape that shows otherwise.
I’ve heard that Hundley didn’t progress, but then this should also apply to the other two quarterbacks in this consensus top-three of rookie passers. Winston’s performance in 2014 was sloppier than 2013. And with the relative ease of opportunities that the Oregon offense affords a quarterback, Mariota should have become more discriminating about throwing across his body and sticking with plays far longer than appropriate.
Speaking of offenses, UCLA’s scheme doesn’t give Hundley the freedom to make adjustments at the line. This might be considered a mark against Hundley’s diagnostic skills, but Jim Mora, Jr. is a defensive-minded coach. It’s also reasonable to consider that Mora and his staff want to keep the offense simple for the entire unit and this philosophy is not simplay a lack of trust in Hundley’s potential as a signal caller.
While the lack of experience making pre-snap adjustments may slow Hundley’s development as a rookie, there’s good reason to believe that this inveterate film watcher will grasp the new layer of quarterbacking. His sack totals are more than any active quarterback in college football. Some of this can be attributed to UCLA’s staff not allowing Hundley to make audibles to runs when the line has a clear numbers disadvantage before the snap.
An argument could also be made that the combination of UCLA’s scheme, a struggling offensive line, and good but not great skill players made Hundley’s job more difficult relative to his peers. I’ve certainly seen Hundley do more with less. While I’ve seen my share of egregious errors from Hundley that border on Jameis Winston-like tendencies, I’ve also seen him redeem these errors—often by executing plays that were harder in and outside the structure of the scheme than the ones where he erred.
Hundley earns comparisons to Randall Cunningham from multiple analysts that I respect. I see the logic, but I’m more inclined to look at the way Hundley moves his feet and throws the ball, which don’t match Randall. The better matches are a range of three players of varying builds: Donovan McNabb, David Garrard, and Tarvaris Jackson.
All three match the fluid, but urgent quality of Hundley’s footwork. As my colleague Eric Stoner described during a conversation we had on this topic, “you can see the kinetic energy built-up in their lower bodies…and they have a crouched power stance when dropping back.” Hundley’s movements are almost identical to Jackson. However, the UCLA product has a more refined game at this stage of his career than when Jackson was the surprise second- round pick of Brad Childress.
Hundley displays promising fundamentals as a pocket passer. He takes defined steps with his drops, sets his feet with solid spacing, climbs pressure—edge and interior—with good footwork and poise, and delivers the ball over his shoulder with a snap. His feet are well spaced and move well to stay under him at all times.
He is not afraid to target receivers in tight windows with a high-velocity throw. Hundley often delivers the ball in rhythm. I’ve seen him in the bigger moments of a Utah contest where, after he made a poor decision under pressure that resulted in a pick-six, the Bruins’ quarterback fielded a bad snap, maintained his equanimity while stumbling to reach the ball, and still had the awareness to get the ball out in rhythm on a sideline route for a first down on a third and long.
This is just one example of that ability to follow up a mistake with a more difficult, redeeming play. His fluid, energetic footwork helps him turn in the pocket, survey the opposite side of the field and still keep his balance to deliver the ball with accuracy.There’s also toughness to his game. Hundley is also willing to take a hit to deliver the football, and he consistently steps through his throws to achieve velocity and accuracy.
While there’s an obvious energy to his movements, he’s a calm player. It takes a calm demeanor—especially at the beginning of a game—to spot a wide-open man with pressure coming and still deliver a deep throw with touch on the opening play. This is impressive, even by pro standards.
His skill running the football is arguably the best of the quarterbacks. At 226 pounds, Hundley is bigger than he appears, because of that swiftness to his game. He has the agility to make the first defender miss, but he’ll also run through a wrap and earn yards.
What separates him from other quarterbacks when he runs the ball is his patience to work through traffic and set up blockers a level ahead of his path. Mariota is a straight-line runner who has more speed but either needs to hit a crease full-steam ahead to win or break a tackle.
Hundley also uses these skills to buy time as a passer—far more often than characterized by major media. I often wonder if they’re marking Hundley down for plays where he’s caught behind the line of scrimmage while trying to escape a muddy pocket after surveying the field, because I find far more plays where the quarterback slides from pressure with his eyes down field than described in the media and mimicked by their consumers.
Hundley often climbs the pocket, resets his feet, and delivers the ball. The Virginia, Nebraska, Arizona, and both Utah contests are just a few games that come to mind when he handled pressure like a pro.
Where this characterization has a basis of truth is when the decision is to stay in the pocket or flush to a side and escape. I like his decisiveness in the pocket against pressure as a passer or scrambler, but he must develop a better feel for buying time when working outside the pocket. He will tuck and run when there’s ample space to look down field and throw after eluding the first man with a move to the edge. Hundley is much more mature climbing the pocket, which is often the more difficult maneuver.
He has a pro-caliber arm and he’s capable of targeting receivers deep, placing the ball downfield with arc, and deilvering the ball on the move to his right or left into tight windows of coverage. Hundley can execute throws requiring a very quick release and a lot of zip in the short and intermediate range, and he flashes pinpoint intermediate accuracy in tight coverage in the middle of the field and up the sideline.
Where he falters might be his choice of placement, but there’s often good reason for the decision when reviewing the film. He’s had instances where he’s had to make some advanced decisions on the fly and chose the better of two bad possibilities. In terms of placement, his skill throwing to the middle of the field is among the best in this class, if not the best.
Touch is not absent from Hundley’s game. He can toss the ball over the pass rush on shorter routes and he can deliver the ball at the back shoulder of the receiver off a rock-step, which is a difficult play at this fast of a pace. Back-shoulder fades are a strength of his game. He has a range of 20-25 yards where he makes it look easy and the range of competence with this route is around 30-35 yards.
He often makes good reads against blitzes, and he finds the open man or open area. Hundley consistently reads the safety and holds him long enough to keep the defender in place before turning to the intended receiver and making the throw. In terms of guile, Hundley also displays skill with pump fakes, albeit the two-handed variety. With 10.5-inch hands, one-handed pump fakes shouldn’t be a problem.
His play fakes need work. Hundley is focused more on his feet and the body position that he’ll need to set up for a throw, which can hurt the sale of the play fake. However, erring to the side of an accurate pass is a better choice than a great play fake and an off-the-mark target. When Hundley keeps the ball on read-option runs, he’s more thorough with his fakes.
Hundley’s pass placement on short routes with defenders coming down field could be refined so he maximizes the receiver’s opportunity to gain yards. Even so, placement isn’t bad, it’s just not optimal on some of his improvisations. This is where Jameis Winston has the field beat.
His placement on intermediate throws after maneuvering the pocket a small amount to make his second and third reads also has to improve. He’ll make a target more difficult or eliminate easy YAC opportunities with his passes.
Like all good college quarterbacks, Hundley can be too aggressive. He will sometimes eschew the check-down in an ideal down and distance situation for the big throw.
Displaying greater maturity to throw the ball away more frequently is another skill he’ll have to master.
Hundley’s ball security has a specific, glaring issue. He carries the ball at chest/stomach level and away from his body with both hands like he’s executing the option. He needs to tuck the ball away earlier so he’s not susceptible to strips or hits that jar the ball loose.
I like Hundley’s deep accuracy, but his trajectory can be inconsistent. I think if he opens his chest a bit more during his release, the whip-like motion that comes with it will allow him to achieve better arc when he needs it.
There are plays when Hundley throws blind to areas where his receivers should be, but he’ll make a rash decision to anticipate his receiver’s location. He needs to read the location of defenders on these progressions at the opposite side of he field. Taking a sack or throwing the ball away is preferable. Some of these bad plays were actually attempts to throw the ball away but the hit from a defender altered the throw.
When I first saw Hundley, I saw the egregious mistakes and the tendency to tuck and run early on plays breaking outside the pocket. But there’s a more advanced skill set to his game in a more limited, and more difficult, offensive envrionment.
I’ve said this for months: I believe if Hundley was at Oregon and Mariota at UCLA, the Heisman winner would still have played for the Ducks and the nitpicked quarterback who didn’t progress enough would still be a Bruin. The difference is that I think Mariota might have fared a little worse in that UCLA offense than Hundley.
I believe the reason Jim Mora, Jr. also stated publicly that Hundley should sit a year has more to do with the scheme’s impact on Hundley’s development and not a lack of confidence in the quarterback’s talents. The potential silver lining for Hundley’s career is the possibility that he falls to the late-first round to a team that can’t pass up his talent, but has an established veteran ahead of the rookie. Give Hundley a year or two behind a good football player in a good system and he could have the best career—and a few Pro-Bowl years—of this class.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: I’d love for Hundley to fall to the mid-to-late second round. I think it’s highly unlikely, but it would virtually guarantee he’d sit a year on a good squad—maybe two. The second-best possibility is Hundley falling to the late-first round to a team with an aging veteran. If these two scenarios occur, his upside is arguably stronger than either Winston or Mariota, who might join struggling teams with a revolving door to the coaching suites and front office.
Hundley is a good second-round pick in fantasy drafts if you’re adamant about taking a signal caller. He might be available at the end of the second or early third round if he’s taken behind a more established veteran and will have to sit a couple of seasons. If you’re a fan of player development, you’ll hope this happens.
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