There has been a shift in how the NFL views quarterback prospects in the first round of the draft.
During the four drafts from 2007 to 2010, a total of nine quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Those nine quarterbacks averaged 211 rushing attempts, 447 yards and 13.5 touchdowns with a 2.1 yard per carry average during their time in college. If you remove Tim Tebow's 692 carries for 2,947 yards and 57 touchdowns, those averages drop to 151 rushing attempts, 135 yards, 8 touchdowns and a 0.9 average per carry.
During the four drafts since the 2010 draft, there were 12 quarterbacks taken in the first round. Those 12 quarterbacks averaged 264 attempts, 998 yards and 14.6 touchdowns with a 3.6 yard per carry average. There is no obvious outlier amongst this group as each of Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Jake Locker eclipsed 1,500 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in college. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson were also selected during this time, but neither player was taken in the first round of the draft.
The difference between the averages of those two groups is 113 attempts, 863 yards and 6.6 touchdowns.
Clearly, the NFL is more willing to invest higher picks in more athletic players at the quarterback position. No longer is athleticism being seen as something that solely heightens the risk for injury, but rather a complementary skill that can become vital for determining a player's success.
One player who is hoping to benefit from this newfound approach is UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
Through two seasons as a starter in college football, Hundley has 849 pass attempts for 6,811 yards and 24 touchdowns, with 320 rushing attempts for 1,103 yards and 20 touchdowns. He appears to be a borderline first round talent whose stock is less certain than Marcus Mariota of Oregon or Jameis Winston of Florida State.
Hundley isn't a dual-threat quarterback in the fashion of Cam Newton or Johnny Manziel, two players who rushed for over 1,400 yards in single seasons of college football. However he does have enough quickness, vision and strength to project forward as an effective scrambler on the next level.
Athleticism will always be a positive for Hundley's draft evaluation, but he has a few issues that need to be addressed during the upcoming season if he is to be the next EJ Manuel instead of the next Tajh Boyd (in terms of draft position).
In Jim Mora's offense, Hundley appeared to be encouraged to get rid of the football quickly to receivers outside. He rarely had to hold the ball in the pocket while elaborate deep routes developed down the field. Various screens, curl routes and quick out routes helped Hundley attack the underneath of the opponent's coverage on a weekly basis.
With receivers who impressed after the catch and a commitment to running the football, UCLA averaged over 43 rush attempts per game last year, this short passing attack was tough for defenses to stop in 2013.
While this helps him be a more productive college quarterback, it also masks aspects of his game that should affect his draft stock.
Because he gets rid of the ball quickly and opposing defenses are generally more concerned with the offense's rushing ability as a whole, Hundley doesn't regularly have to manage the pocket. This is something that should change entering his third season, so when Hundley is asked to manage the pocket and make throws under pressure from between the tackles, he needs to be more consistent than he was in 2013.
Often when you are dealing with quarterbacks who have the athleticism to make big plays with their feet you are dealing with players who don't have the subtlety to manage the pocket. Movements become too elongated and the temptation to leave the pocket is stronger than it is for those with less ability in space. Hundley doesn't appear to have that problem.
In fact, when he manages the pocket well, Hundley often manages it perfectly.
This play is a great example of what UCLA and NFL scouts will want to see from Hundley this season.
As the 21-year-old quarterback drops back into the pocket, he is looking to the right of the field where he has three receiving options. Hundley appears to be initially focused on his two wide receivers, while his running back should act as a checkdown option if neither of those players comes free.
At the top of his drop, Hundley turns his shoulders further towards the right sideline and shifts his feet to angle towards where his running back was seemingly running to. Hundley is ready to begin his throwing motion at this point and there is no pressure to disrupt him as the defense only rushed four defenders.
Hundley stays with the right side of the offense for a moment and he shuffles his feet forward slightly so he is ready to begin his throwing motion. As the pressure begins to close in on him, he shuffles his feet backwards before turning towards the middle of the field to step up in the pocket.
The quarterback keeps his eyes downfield as he moves forward, while shuffling his feet so that he can throw from an established base. The defender who is coming free behind him has no opportunity to knock the ball away from behind because Hundley wasted no motion throughout this play.
After not being comfortable with his initial read, Hundley finds one of the two receivers who initially lined up on the right side as they run a deep in route. Hundley throws the ball slightly behind him, but his pass is catchable and allows his receiver to convert for a first down.
The athleticism and technical precision shown on this play was exactly what was required for the offense to convert in an unfavorable situation.
Stepping up in the pocket to negate edge pressure is something that the best quarterbacks in the NFL do on a regular basis. While it seems like a straight-forward movement(mind the pun), the physical action isn't as simple as it looks. Hundley's balance and quick feet allow him to always be in a position to throw the football while still being fast enough to evade incoming rushers.
Working his feet well is only one part of the process though. Hundley must also keep his eyes downfield and feel the pressure in his peripherals so as to not miss any opportunities for big plays.
Against an athlete such as Hundley, defenses are generally less aggressive coming off the edges because they don't want to let the quarterback out of the pocket. When the quarterback gets into either flat, he has a better chance to find space down the field and run for a big gain. That puts the focus on how Hundley handles interior pressure from the pocket.
If Hundley corrects his ability to throw while under pressure, it should raise his draft stock more than anything else.
Footwork is vitally important for any quarterback. Some players with big arms are able to overcome their sloppy mechanics at times, but Hundley doesn't fall into that category. When he tries to throw the ball without an established base or when he is too conscious of impending contact to his upper body, his passes either become completely uncatchable or force receivers to attempt unnecessarily tough receptions.
Hundley takes a deep drop and surveys the field at the top of his drop. This gives the defense time to penetrate the pocket as one of the interior pass rushers is coming free to attack the quarterback. Because he is coming up the middle, Hundley is able to recognize his presence early and react to him before he can make contact with the quarterback.
In order to react to this pass rusher, Hundley needs to either slide to the side and quickly release the ball or stand tall and quickly release the ball before absorbing a big hit. Obviously he is exposing himself to potential injury, but sometimes that is necessary when you have to throw the ball from the pocket.
Hundley doesn't do either of these things. Instead he steps sideways with his left foot as he begins his throwing motion and his upper body wilts backwards so that he is relying solely on his arm strength to throw the ball down the field.
His intended receiver was working back to the football and needed the ball to arrive further infield than it did. Instead of throwing the ball accurately to his receiver, Hundley's pass falls short and off-target so that his receiver never had a realistic chance of catching the ball. This wasn't a difficult throw, but because Hundley couldn't handle the pressure in the pocket, he made it a difficult throw.
You never want a quarterback to be sloppy with his mechanics, but you especially can't afford your quarterback to be sloppy with his mechanics when he doesn't have a huge arm to compensate.
UCLA can minimize the impact of these missed throws from Hundley because of the design of their offense and because of the overall standard of college football. In the NFL, these kinds of plays are more problematic but also not fatal. This flaw only becomes fatal when pressures lead to turnovers that would be otherwise avoidable.
On this play, Hundley unnecessarily tries to extend the play when he doesn't have a quick throw to negate immediate pressure.
Throwing an interception while trying to make a play down the field when your offense desperately needs to score isn't a major problem, but throwing an interception when you're playing with a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter on a low-percentage pass shows a lack of understanding of situational football.
Hundley needed to understand in this situation that a sack wouldn't have been a terrible play. Ideally the offense would have converted to extend the drive, but that option simply wasn't there. You can never judge a play solely by the result, but the situation before Hundley made his decision clearly showed him that he made a bad play here.
Even if Hundley threw an accurate pass to his intended receiver, the player would still have had to spin around, beat a defender in space and run for at least nine yards before another defender could arrive to prevent the first down.
Hundley showed a severe lack of poise on this play and even though one play can't be used to judge a player's skill set, it fit with a recurring trend of poor plays against pressure from the quarterback.
Another recurring trend with Hundley came on his deep throws. The UCLA offense didn't ask him to consistently throw the ball down the field from the pocket, so again this is something the offensive design masked to a degree, but when Hundley did try to find his receivers downfield there were major warning signs about his arm strength and accuracy.
On shorter throws, Hundley's velocity is very impressive. For long stretches of games his arm strength appears to be as good as any quarterback prospect from the past two years.
The warts on Hundley's arm talent appear when he tries to push the ball down the field. It may be a mechanical issue to do with his footwork and upper body torque, but Hundley's passes appear to float once they pass roughly 15 yards down the field. Instead of fitting the ball into receivers down the sideline or down the seam, his passes too often drift off target.
His inability to control the flight of his passes make him a limited sideline thrower as a relatively large number of his throws appeared to land out of bounds, in uncatchable areas during the 2013 season.
Throwing deep is generally an overrated aspect of being an effective quarterback. Most plays are designed to have the quarterback throw the ball within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, so quarterbacks with huge arms don't have significant advantages over those without. However, the weak-armed quarterbacks who make it in the NFL are generally much more accurate on shorter and intermediate routes than Hundley proved to be in 2013.
Hundley doesn't appear to have an understanding or control of his ball placement. He doesn't make it easy for his receivers to catch the ball in stride and he doesn't throw to spots where only his receivers can catch the ball when they are tightly covered.
Instead, the young quarterback appears to simply throw the ball in the general area of his target rather than zeroing in on a specific spot.
This kind of accuracy can still be effective in college football, but when the windows tighten on the next level, this is the kind of flaw that can derail a quarterback's career. While we can't be certain, this lack of accuracy appeared to be the primary reason that Tajh Boyd fell to the sixth round of last year's draft.
Throwing against pressure and overall accuracy are vitally important for Hundley's prospects as a professional, but if he simply wants to overtake Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota during the 2014 college season, then improving his field vision may be more important.
As a third-year quarterback with a returning coaching staff, Hundley should expect to be as comfortable as any starting quarterback in college next season.
That comfort should help him get the most out of the system he plays in. Like most college quarterbacks, Hundley appeared to be primarily a first-read thrower during the 2013 season. Of course, we are limited in how we can evaluate a quarterback's ability to read through his progression, but there are many occasions when a confident, educated guess can be made. On those occasions in 2013, Hundley didn't impress.
The concern with Hundley is that there regularly appeared to be times when he moved through his progression and didn't recognize open receivers when he was looking directly at them.
On a 10 yard scramble against Nevada, Hundley initially appeared to make a very smart decision. He turned a Second-and-11 into a very manageable Third-and-1 with very little risk of turning the ball over. This wasn't necessarily a bad decision, but the replay angle suggested that there was a better play to be made.
When Hundley drops back deep in the pocket, he turns his shoulders and feet towards the right sideline to watch his slot receiver run towards the sideline. The player who initially lined up over his slot receiver runs with him in man coverage, while the outside receiver stays by the sideline in zone coverage. The defense has blown an assignment. This leaves the outside receiver wide open as he runs a post route infield.
Hundley resets his feet and changes his body position so it appears that he is looking directly at his wide open receiver down the seam. As the above image shows, the post route is wide open because the deep safety is the only player who recognizes his position on the field and he is too deep to get to the receiver before the ball.
This is a simple throw for any quarterback at any level. He doesn't need to throw with anticipation or fit the ball into a tight window. He simply needs to execute an open throw on what appears to be his second read. There isn't even pressure in his face to disrupt his line of vision.
Instead of letting the ball go, Hundley drops his eyes and scrambles. This is where his athleticism allows him to make an impressive play, but it's still an overall negative when you consider the other option.
Leaving big plays on the field is inevitable for quarterbacks who are developing their field vision. In 2014, Hundley should expect to routinely make the simple reads that are a part of his offense though.
Before the snap on this play, the running back begins running towards the sideline so he is behind the slot receiver to the left of the formation. That receiver is running a short curl route underneath, while the outside receiver is running down the field against off coverage.
The slot defender initially sets up to the outside of the slot receiver, so he appears to be in zone coverage and conscious of the running back behind the line of scrimmage.
Hundley's mistake here is that he makes his decision too early. He stares down the slot receiver and lets the ball go at a time when the defensive back still hadn't committed to the running back outside. This means that he was still in position to knock the ball away from the slot receiver when Hundley made his decision to let the ball go.
If Hundley had held the ball for a moment more, either one of or both of the slot receiver and the running back would have been wide open for an easy completion.
Jim Mora's offense should allow Hundley to flourish in 2014 if he advances his ability in these specific areas. With so many established quarterbacks leaving college football after last season, there are places to be filled at the top of the totem pole for the position in 2014. Hundley has the physical talent to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, but he is definitely still behind Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston at this stage.