Quarterback Brett Hundley and his UCLA Bruins will play Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl on Tuesday. Nothing has been made official, but in some minds, this could be the last game of Hundley's career, even though he's just a redshirt sophomore.
UPDATE: Dec. 31 – 6:01 p.m. ET by Brian Leigh
UCLA beat Virginia Tech 42-12 in El Paso. Hundley had a solid day passing, completing 16 of 27 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns, and a huge game rushing, taking 10 carries for 161 yards and another pair of TDs.
The highlight was an 86-yard touchdown run—the longest offensive play in UCLA's entire bowl history, according to ESPN Stats & Info.:
After the game, Hundley said he still hasn't decided on his NFL fate, but his solid performance makes it appear more likely that he'll leave. It's far from a sure thing, though, so this remains something to monitor.
--END OF UPDATE--
Hundley is a highly sought-after NFL prospect, and he could stand to make a lot of money by declaring for April's draft. But head coach Jim Mora Jr. is hopeful that he won't, telling reporters at a Sun Bowl press conference that he doesn't think Hundley will declare, according to Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times.
Despite Mora's hopes, however, there is still a very real chance that Hundley leaves. There are several distinct reasons imploring him each direction, arguing for both sides. Whether he stays or he goes, it would be understandable from his point of view.
Here are the reasons why.
The pros of joining the pros are obvious. Hundley is in a position where he could make a lot of money—and soon. Pick apart his game all you like: Someone is willing to pay him next season.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, at least two teams would have Hundley as the No. 1 quarterback on their board, ahead of presumed favorite Teddy Bridgewater:
At least two teams said this week they have UCLA's Brett Hundley rated as highest-rated QB in the 2014 draft if he decides to enter it.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 29, 2013
Schefter's report sparked a little bit of backlash from the draftnik community, which has come to a general consensus on Bridgewater as QB No. 1. Rotoworld's Josh Norris thinks the tape speaks for itself:
It would be time well spent to watch a Brett Hundley game or two this morning. Then let me know what he does better than Teddy.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) December 29, 2013
Still, it only takes one team falling in love with you to become a top-10 pick. If there are personnel men out there who value Hundley as the top QB, this would seem a good time for him to declare. Otherwise, there's nowhere for his stock to go but down.
[Matt Barkley nods head in agreement]
The NFL rookie pay scale has been dropped in a big way, so Hundley doesn't stand to make Sam Bradford money. But there are still millions of dollars staring him down.
Unless he thinks he would fall out of the first round—which is doubtful for a quarterback with his ceiling and (relative) track record—returning to school would represent a major financial risk. He'd be one hit away from mortgaging his future.
Can anyone be rightfully expected to do that?
There's also the "trial by fire" theory. Hundley is a rare physical specimen, possessed of a rocket arm, good size and plus athleticism. But he's yet to master the mental part of the game (at least on a consistent basis). He still forces too many throws, and he's not always consistent from week to week.
Some might argue that, because of these flaws, he actually needs another year of college experience, but others might argue the opposite. What better way to learn the game than playing it at the highest level? His learning curve might plateau against Pac-12 defenders. If he truly wants to learn how to play quarterback at an NFL level, he needs to start practicing against NFL competition.
Joining the league right now would give Hundley an immediate paycheck and a better chance—arguably—to work toward reaching his potential. Those are reasonable causes for declaring early and leaving Westwood.
The cons of Hundley leaving start with the argument issued above. Some think that playing against NFL competition can help a young quarterback's development, but there are numerous cases of the opposite effect.
Look at someone like Blaine Gabbert, who was drafted No. 10 overall in 2011—roughly where Hundley might go—on the basis of potential. Gabbert was productive in college, sure, but he was billed as a guy just scratching the surface of his skill. With tools like his, there was no way a good NFL coach wouldn't be able to make him into a weapon.
Guess what happened? He hasn't become a weapon. Thus far, Gabbert's NFL career has been little more than a punchline, a tale of foreboding told by general managers during the pre-draft process. He was thrown into the dark, deep waters of the league before he was ready, and he's been worse off because of it.
Instead of learning to swim, he flailed for a while, then sunk.
The same thing could (potentially) happen to Hundley if he declares before his time, especially given his sophomore tape. Though he can make a wide array of difficult throws, Hundley doesn't jump off the film as a guy who is ready to make the leap, according to B/R's Matt Miller:
I don’t view Brett Hundley (UCLA) as pro-ready, but his upside and existing talent are top 10 caliber in this year’s class.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 30, 2013
This is also a very deep year for quarterbacks, which could make it a bad time for Hundley to declare. The rookie pay scale is married to where a player gets selected, so Hundley could stand to make a lot more money in a weaker quarterback class.
Last year, for example, Hundley might have been the first quarterback off the board, ahead of Florida State's E.J. Manuel, who wasn't a can't-miss prospect. But this year, he'd have to contend with Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger and even deep sleepers like David Fales.
In a vacuum, Hundley's stock has nowhere to go but down next year. Relative to those around him, however, that isn't quite the case. Hundley could plateau as a prospect and still go higher in 2015 than he could in 2014. It all depends on how the rest of these quarterbacks perform in the pre-draft process.
Is Hundley willing to take that risk?