College football has changed a lot in the last decade, and in more ways than most people realize. It's no secret that spread and pro-style offenses have taken over everywhere. It's no secret that most successful college teams pass a lot, and even modern run-based teams pass more than ever before. Given these changes, one might expect a Golden Age of quarterback development. There are more quarterbacks throwing more often in more sophisticated offenses than ever before.
However, if we look at the NFL's DVOA rankings from last year, we see a stark trend:
Ben Roethlisberger - 33 years old
Aaron Rodgers - 31
Peyton Manning - 39
Drew Brees - 36
Tony Romo - 35
Tom Brady - 37
Matt Ryan - 29
Joe Flacco - 30
Philip Rivers - 33
Andrew Luck - 25
Clearly, young quarterbacks have not made a major impact in the NFL recently, with Luck being the one exception. "Old" guys dominate the list, and while there are probably a lot of factors at play, I have a theory: I suspect that spread and pro-style passing offenses have made things too easy on college quarterbacks.
Colleges are devoted to winning football games, not necessarily developing players. I always go back to Jeff Tedford, trainer of many great college quarterbacks, only one of whom became a great professional quarterback. Tedford excelled at turning his quarterbacks into robots. College defenses are not as sophisticated as NFL defenses, and often feature consistent weaknesses. Tedford quarterbacks operated under fairly strict procedures, and Tedford quarterbacks succeeded wildly - until they reached the NFL.
The one major exception plays for your Green Bay Packers, and there were some key differences between Aaron Rodgers and Tedford's other pupils:
(a) Rodgers was actually a very accurate passer in college while muuch of the Tedford group consisted of low-percentage volume-passers, and (b) he got to develop for 3+ years under professional NFL coaches in a low-pressure environment where he knew he wouldn't play for a while.
What does this all have to do with Brett Hundley? Let's assume for a second that the Tedfordization of college football has occurred on a wide scale. Assume that colleges have basically stopped putting quarterbacks in positions to learn certain aspects of the pro game, namely improvisation, reading defenses on the fly, and split-second decision-making. What must a professional organization do to create a good quarterback in this environment?
First they need to find young players with size and strength. Hundley is big at 6'3" and 227 pounds. Some put his arm strength in the "elite" category. He is not extraordinarily fast, but he is fast enough, and would often scramble to his detriment in college. Arm strength and size are not everything of course; the NFL Bust Graveyard is littered with the corpses of freakishly strong-armed workout warriors who couldn't read a defense to save their lives.
That said, Hundley has elite tools, and having them is better than not having them. Usually this late in the draft you'll see tool-deficient quarterbacks go off the board. "Proven winners" like AJ McCarron or small school heroes like Keith Wenning are 5th and 6th-round fodder, and Hundley blows away most QB prospects taken this late in terms of measureables.
Moving players up the draft board because of measureables is a time-honored tradition in the NFL. Kyle Boller (back to Tedford guys again!) was a first-round pick strictly based on athleticism. A cursory glance at either tape or stats would have quickly shown the Ravens the error of their ways. He was a great athlete and an awful football player. The proper way to use measurables is, more often than not, to exclude a player from consideration. After you've established a guy has NFL tools, you need to figure out if you can fix everything that college has done to him.
Hundley shows promise in this regard. He has huge holes in his game (and was particularly bad while throwing on the move), but he also improved each year as a starter, especially in terms of limiting mistakes. His high completion percentage is as much a result of frequent check-downs as anything and he had a clear focus on limiting mistakes. This can sometimes limit a player's development in keeping his eyes downfield. After watching his tape, Hundley also has an erratic release point which frequently leads to short-hopping (or spiking) his throws, and he is quick to flee the pocket. You can read more of the criticisms of Hundley here.
That all sounds like a bit of a developmental nightmare, but in the context of what UCLA was attempting to do, it's not that bad. Their offense was very effective and Hundley had 30 rushing TDs (mainly on short yardage) that bolstered his generally effective passing. He ran what was, in the end, a high-octane, low-risk offense capitalizing on his size and mobility. Most importantly, he got better at the things he was coached to get better at over time. This is, perhaps, the most important thing he did in college. Not everyone is successful in cutting their interceptions or increasing their completion percentage no matter how they go about it.
Hundley WAS accurate, even if it's not necessarily the kind of accurate you look for. Hundley has a quick release, and even if his mechanics aren't perfect, they also won't have to be rebuilt from scratch. A player like Kyle Boller was never going to become accurate enough as an NFL passer; the improvement required was too great. A player like Tim Tebow was never going to develop the mechanics to be an NFL quarterback -- doing so would have required teaching him to throw all over again, and such things are basically impossible. Hundley needs to see pressure better, he needs to anticipate routes better, and he needs to develop touch. He needs to use his mobility to set up his passing, not to bail out on plays. Nearly everything that is wrong with Hundley can be fixed by a coaching staff and time to practice.
Some quarterbacks ARE able to start immediately. Andrew Luck, perhaps the only great passing prospect to succeed in the last five years or so, appears to be on the road to stardom. He's also probably the modern-day exception. For a quarterback like Hundley, with well-known and acknowledged flaws, giving him time to develop is obviously the correct path, and the Mike McCarthy/Tom Clements school of quarterback development is the perfect place to do it. Aaron Rodgers was a vastly different quarterback after 3 years as a backup. He was in better shape and his mechanics were worlds better, and the rest is history. Matt Flynn may not be an NFL starter, but the main reason for this is his lack of physical tools. But in spite of his sub-NFL-quality arm, Flynn has had success as a backup, and suckered a couple of franchises into paying him like a starter.
Predicting quarterback prospects is extremely difficult, and Hundley isn't a perfect prospect by any means. If he were, he would have gone higher. But for the scenario he is about to enter into, he is a pretty great prospect. Barring horrible catastrophe, he will not be the heir apparent to Rodgers, and even in a best-case scenario he figures to become a good back-up with trade value. Still, landing a valuable quarterback, even as trade bait, is nothing to sneeze at. At a time in the draft when teams started to take punters and long-snappers, getting a tools-heavy quarterback with time to develop is a steal.