UCLA's Brett Hundley Is 2015 NFL Draft's Most Polarizing Quarterback Prospect

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIINovember 28, 2014

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has great tools and impressive statistics, but opinions vary greatly on his ability to develop into an NFL quarterback.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has great tools and impressive statistics, but opinions vary greatly on his ability to develop into an NFL quarterback.USA TODAY Sports

Should Brett Hundley be one of the top picks in the 2015 NFL draft, or does the UCLA quarterback have too many flaws to succeed as a professional passer?

That’s a question that NFL talent evaluators, specifically those whose teams might look to select a quarterback with one of their early-round draft picks, will have to make a determination on in the coming months.

Hundley, a fourth-year at UCLA who has one remaining year of collegiate eligibility, all but confirmed Monday on The Jim Rome Show (h/t KFWB-AM) that he plans to enter the 2015 draft.

“I think the chances are really high,” Hundley said when asked about the likelihood he had played his final game against USC, who UCLA beat Saturday. “The conversation just keeps coming up and I got my degree, I’ve done everything I wanted to do here. I’ve left something that’s really, truly great and it felt good.”

It would have come as a surprise if Hundley, expected by some to enter the 2014 draft as a third-year sophomore, decided not to go pro after this season. A three-year starter with pro potential and a university degree, it makes sense for Hundley to move on to the next stage of his career.

That said, some believe Hundley would be better served by returning to school for another season, as he still has not yet developed into an NFL-ready signal-caller.

“Scouts love Hundley's size, athleticism and elusiveness, but they also think he'd benefit from staying in school another year,” Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times wrote last week, prior to his game against USC, after talking to three NFL area scouts.

As it appears the latter won’t be happening, scouts will now have to weigh the elements they love about Hundley with the issues that alarm them. His upside could be enough to warrant first-round grades on some teams’ boards—and all it takes is one team to like him enough to draft him that high—but it’s also possible that Hundley could end up waiting much longer to hear his name called on draft weekend.

The Divide

Most media draft analysts—including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required), CBS Sports’ Rob Rang and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller—agree that Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston are not only the top two quarterbacks, but two of the top overall prospects eligible for the 2015 draft.

Evaluations of Hundley as a draft prospect, on the other hand, have ranged everywhere from him being worth a first-round pick to not even being worthy of a draft selection.

One of the NFL scouts who spoke to Farmer characterized Hundley as “a late-first or second-round kind of guy.”

“He's got everything you want physically,” the scout told Farmer. “You just question his process and vision at times. He doesn't have elite accuracy. With that said, he's a dual-threat guy and that's hard to find. I think he'll stack up well against some of the other quarterbacks in this draft.”

Rang currently ranks Hundley as the No. 41 overall prospect for the 2015 draft, while Miller ranks him 57th and ESPN’s Scouts Inc. ranks him 69th, all rankings which would put him in the range of being a Day 2 draft pick.

Russell Lande of GM Jr. Scouting, on the other hand, said he has talked to more than 10 NFL scouts he trusts and “all gave him a day three grade,” meaning that Hundley might end up going no earlier than the fourth round.

Some, including former NFL personnel executive Greg Gabriel and ESPN producer Ben Fennell, don’t see Hundley having any success at the next level.

Ben Fennell @BenFennell_NFL

@Cianaf I would be shocked if he was drafted.. Certainly someone will take a flier and bring him to camp. But he's an alarmingly bad passer

No one report or evaluation can be taken as gospel, especially with five months yet until the draft, but it's evident already that there will be no consensus opinion on what caliber of prospect Hundley is.

Tantalizing Tools

From a purely physical standpoint, there might not be any other quarterback in the 2015 draft class who is more gifted.

Listed at 6’3” and 226 pounds, Hundley is a thickly built quarterback with very good size for the position.

Hundley combines that size with a strong arm that enables him to launch the ball deep. The following 32-yard completion to wide receiver Devin Fuller, from UCLA’s 2013 win over Nebraska, is an example of Hundley delivering a long pass with velocity for a big play.

A very good all-around athlete, Hundley fits the modern demand for dual-threat quarterbacks who can make plays with their feet. He accelerates well into the open field, shows the cutting ability to make defenders miss in space and uses his size well to finish forward through contact.

The following play on which Hundley weaved his way to a 12-yard gain was an example of his impressive skill as a runner, a capacity in which he can make plays both between the tackles and outside.

Perhaps the most impressive display of Hundley’s athleticism came earlier this year against Arizona State, when he hurdled a defender at the end of a six-yard run.

Matt Miller @nfldraftscout

Hundley has his degree from UCLA, which makes him @seniorbowl eligible. If he's smart, he'll be in Mobile trying to improve his stock.

When Hundley is at his best, he shows the ability to step up in the pocket and connect on intermediate strikes with velocity, like he did on the following 13-yard touchdown pass Saturday against USC.

His throwing mechanics, for the most part, are solid. He has a quick release, utilizes pro-style dropbacks and typically has good footwork when the pocket is clean.

All of the positive traits Hundley possesses have enabled him to put up excellent statistics this year. He currently leads all Football Bowl Subdivision passers with a 72.0 completion percentage, while he also ranks sixth in quarterback rating, having thrown for 2,873 yards and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions through UCLA’s first 11 games.

Numbers and measurables, however, can be deceiving. A closer look at Hundley’s game film exposes numerous reasons for evaluators to be concerned about his ability to continue to have success in the NFL.

Problems as a Pocket Passer

Although Hundley has improved in each of his three playing seasons at UCLA, there are a number of issues that remain in his game that he must overcome to reach his full potential and be the NFL franchise quarterback some team might draft him to be.

Charting Hundley’s throws across games shows that although his overall completion percentage has been terrific this season, his accuracy on longer throws has not been nearly as good. He’s effectively taken advantage of open targets, but he does not complete a great deal of passes against tight coverage and makes a vast majority of completions inside 15 yards.

While Hundley’s arm strength is not going to be doubted, he lacks the touch to consistently connect on deep passes.

Hundley has had issues with both overshooting receivers and putting too much on his long balls, as the clip below from this year's game against Virginia is an example of.

In other instances, Hundley has had problems with hanging up deep passes that have forced his receivers to wait for the ball and/or allowed defensive backs to break passes up, like in the GIF below from Saturday’s game against USC.

Against NFL defenses, Hundley is going to have to be more precise with his timing and ball placement to fit passes into tighter windows against better defensive backs.

More than anything else, Hundley has issues when it comes to dealing with pass-rush pressure, which often makes or breaks the success of young NFL quarterbacks.

UCLA has allowed 32 sacks through its first 11 games, and that’s not only because it has a weak offensive line. While the Bruins’ blockers up front have had some issues in pass protection, a significant portion of those sacks are ones that Hundley should have avoided.

As one of the scouts who talked to Sam Farmer in the aforementioned Los Angeles Times piece noted, Hundley “tends to hold on to the ball too long, and he's not as quick going through his progression as he should be at this stage of his career.”

To be a successful pocket passer in the NFL, a quarterback has to be able to keep his eyes downfield against the rush and make quick decisions without compromising his mechanics.

Hundley, on the other hand, is known to drop his eyes to tuck and run at the first sign of pressure. At times, his athleticism bails him out and he is able to make a big play, but on more occasions he ends up not seeing an open target downfield or ends up taking a sack because he tries too hard to keep the play alive.

The following play against Virginia is just one of many examples this year in which Hundley has successfully escaped an initial pressure but then ended up taking a sack anyways by running straight into pressure.

Hundley needs to break his habit of trying to run out of pressure situations every time they occur, for he will have even less success doing so at the next level, and instead be able to find quick checkdown passes or just throw the ball away to avoid taking a loss of yardage.

Interceptions haven’t been a significant issue for Hundley this year—though he did have a pick returned for a touchdown on his first pass of the game against USC—but fumbles, in part because of the high volume of sacks he takes, have been problematic.

Hundley has already fumbled 11 times in 11 games this year, and seven of those loose balls have been recovered by opposing defenses, according to CBSSports.com.

Can Brett Hundley Be the Next Blake Bortles?

If you rewound to this time one year ago, you wouldn’t find many draft analysts suggesting that Blake Bortles could be the No. 3 overall pick as he ended up being in May. Instead, most draft analysts expected at that time that Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, who ended up being late first-round picks, would go well ahead of Bortles.

It’s possible that Hundley, a similar prospect to Bortles in some ways, could have a similar rise in this year’s predraft process.

Hundley’s going to need to finish his year strong, starting with Friday’s game against Stanford and moving ahead to an appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game (if UCLA beats Stanford) and in a bowl game, to get his momentum as a draft prospect rolling upward.

Because he is a fourth-year graduate, another opportunity for Hundley to raise his draft profile could come at the Senior Bowl, the premier annual predraft all-star game, should he choose to attend.

Most of all, Hundley could benefit from the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day, where his physical tools and ability to hit open receivers should be on full display, while his inability to manage the pocket effectively against pressure could be hidden.

It’s a cause of chagrin for many draft prognosticators, as a controlled passing exhibition in a T-shirt and shorts seemingly shouldn’t hold nearly as much value as what a player did in actual games. But it’s been evident in recent years that predraft throwing workouts are playing a bigger role in the decision-making process for teams looking for quarterbacks, and that’s more likely to help Hundley—given his physical attributes—than it is to hurt him.

Regardless of how well Hundley gets through each stage of the predraft process, there are going to be scouts who love him and others who hate him.

If he struggles in his last few collegiate games and/or in predraft workouts, he could end up plummeting into the later rounds of the draft. But it shouldn’t yet be ruled out, even with the negatives that remain in his game, that Hundley could also still make a push to be one of the top two quarterbacks drafted, even if Mariota and Winston both declare as expected.

All GIFs, with the exception of the hurdle against Arizona State, were made at gfycat.com using videos from Draft Breakdown and Noonkick. The hurdle against Arizona State was embedded from SnappyTV.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.