With the 2014 NFL regular season finally coming to a close Sunday, it's time for the league's 20 non-playoff teams to start preparations for next year in the hopes that they may soon be among the elite few teams playing in January.
Naturally, much of their attention will turn toward the 2015 NFL draft and the hottest prospects emerging from the collegiate ranks.
While there are ostensible favorites among draft observers, such as Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and USC defensive end Leonard Williams, some prospects are quite polarizing and difficult for scouts and media alike to get a handle on.
For some players, off-field issues raise red flags and have teams questioning their commitment to getting the job done at the next level. Injuries can make it difficult for scouts to evaluate certain players' true potential, while others suffer from ill-fitting offensive systems or untimely dips in production.
Let's take a look at two of the most polarizing draft prospects likely to go in the 2015 NFL draft and predict when these players might finally come off the board as well as which teams could use their services in the coming years.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Consistency is key to succeeding in the NFL, and while UCLA junior quarterback Brett Hundley has the size and athleticism to make plays at the next level, it's quite possible he lacks the ability to stay focused and compete at a high level week in and week out.
At first glance, Hundley's season-by-season statistics appear to be perfectly in line with what one would expect from a top-flight college quarterback.
|Brett Hundley UCLA Stats, 2012-2014|
|Season||CMP/ATT||YDS||CMP %||TD||INT||ADJ QBR|
Hundley is also an excellent rusher and added 548 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground this season. Still, observers find him a difficult player to peg.
Former NFL executive Greg Gabriel doesn't trust Hundley's instincts:
FootballOutsiders.com's Matt Waldman offered up his take on Hundley's decision in an excellent film review of the quarterback's play against Virginia this season:
Though I question Hundley's finer points of decision-making and execution, it's evident he displays an intelligence for the game.
There are still gaps in his decision-making when veering away from the structure of the play that you won't find in more mature players, but Hundley is not a rash player.
Hundley had five games this season in which he threw one touchdown or less. Some of those games were against teams not known for their defensive prowess, such as woeful Colorado or the Arizona Wildcats. A player with Hundley's arm strength, accuracy and running ability shouldn't be playing down to competition like that.
UCLA's offensive line isn't the stoutest of groups, but Hundley still took far too many sacks. One scout brought up this concern to the Los Angeles Times' Chris Foster.
"He has a long way to go," the scout said, via Foster. "He's still athletic. He's still smart. He's still a good worker. He just needs to become a better passer in the pocket, and he needs to learn that he's got to stay in there and throw the ball accurately inside the pocket."
Simply put, there is no way to survive in the NFL and its pro-style offenses if one struggles to throw from the pocket. Hundley will have to prove his abilities as a dropback passer at the NFL combine and pro day, which will be tough considering he (likely) won't be simulating a pass rush.
His game does have some areas that need polishing, but NFL scouts should love the fact that Hundley threw just five interceptions despite facing immense pressure on occasion. His 70.2 percent completion ranks third in the NCAA FBS this season. Of course, some might still see him topping out as a game manager with bonus athleticism.
If Mariota and Jameis Winston both enter the 2015 draft and go in the first round, it could push the uneven Hundley back into the second round unless teams decide to trade up for him—which is tough to predict at this early stage.
To his credit, Hundley doesn't appear to be putting too much stock in his draft stock, per Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register:
Hundley is an Arizona native, which could make him an interesting choice for the Cardinals should he fall out of favor with other teams.
Arizona has struggled with injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton this year, but Palmer signed a three-year extension in November and the Cardinals could potentially groom Hundley as his replacement in an area where he surely wouldn't be lacking in support.
Prediction: Middle to late second round
Teams That Could be Interested: Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, New York Jets, St. Louis Rams
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Winston has all the physical tools to succeed at the next level of football, but off-field concerns and an uptick in interceptions this season could make it difficult for some evaluators to properly rate the Seminoles star.
After a Heisman-winning campaign in 2013 in which he threw 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, Winston's numbers took a significant dip this season. He threw just 24 touchdowns against 17 interceptions. His yardage took a dip as well, although his completion percentage remained relatively stable, dropping just 1.5 percentage points.
Despite the uptick in errant throws, Winston's Florida State squad is unbeaten this year and is two games away from securing its second consecutive national championship. He was also excellent in the second half of games, posting a 158.3 efficiency rating and throwing just four picks, per ESPN.com.
NFL scouts will likely value his big-game experience and ability to rally his teammates in difficult situations.
According to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, a league scout told NFL Network's Albert Breer back in September 2014 that Winston's off-field issues would hurt his draft stock:
It'll hurt him significantly. Especially with all the stuff going on in the league. This may force him to stay another year to clean up his image. He's a fraud. You can't believe anything he says, because he keeps doing the same things over and over. In my mind, there are night-and-day differences between (Johnny) Manziel's and his character concerns. Winston has some serious issues.
If Winston does enter the 2015 draft, his talent will likely make him too good to ignore for the teams at the top of the draft desperate for help at the quarterback position, although he will have to prove that his sordid past is behind him.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans have picks No. 1 and No. 2 this season. The Bucs need a quarterback for the future, as Josh McCown and Mike Glennon won't cut it in this league. The Titans have young signal-callers in Zach Mettenberger and Jake Locker, but the latter has had his chances and the former doesn't have the arm strength of Winston.
ESPN Insider Todd McShay (subscription required) had Winston going No. 2 to the Titans in his first mock draft, although he did say "his off-field issues frighten me."
Even if the Bucs and the Titans both pass, Winston's talent might be too tantalizing for the likes of the New York Jets at No. 6 or even possibly the St. Louis Rams at No. 10.
Prediction: First round, top 10
Teams That Could Be Interested: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, St. Louis Rams