Sunday, 25 August 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Number 6 Brett Hundley

Stephen Dunn - Getty  Images
We're really getting down to the end of the countdown and the beginning of sweet, glorious college football. the top 40 rolls on tonight with one of the finest quarterbacks in college football. This player emerged last year as a real star and has become the face of the new era of UCLA football following the end of the ignominious Rick Neuheisel era. This player is coming of a great freshman season and is looking for even greater things in the future. The sixth best player in the Pac-12 for 2013 is UCLA sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley. As always, here is a recap of all the previous names on the countdown:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State
37. OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deon Bucannon, Washington State
34. LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
33. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
32. DT DeAndre Coleman, Cal
31. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
30. C Hroniss Grassu, Oregon
29. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
28. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
27. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
26. RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
25. QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
24. DL Cassius Marsh, UCLA
23. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
22. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
21. TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon
20. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
19. DT Leonard Williams, USC 
18. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State 
17. OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
16. OLB/DL Trent Murphy, Stanford
15. OL David Yankey, Stanford
14. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
13. LB Shayne Skov, Stanford
12. DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State
11. RB Marion Grice, Arizona State
10. LB Eric Kendricks, UCLA
9. DE/OLB Morgan Breslin, USC
8. CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
7. RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
Hundley came in with as much hype as any UCLA recruit in recent memory. he was a five-star prospect out of Arizona in 2011 who proved to be a major coup for then head coach Neuheisel. Some even argued that Hundley might be the guy who could save Neuheisel's job. Hundley enrolled a semester early and participated in spring practices in 2011 and by all accounts was very much in the thick of UCLA's QB race that offseason. However, a knee injury cost him a significant portion of fall camp and as a result, Hundley fell behind far less talented veterans Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut and ended up redshirting. Hundley watched from the sideline as the Bruins floundered to a 6-8 record that ultimately forced coach Neuheisel to clear out his desk and move on to the Pac-12 Network.

With a new coach and new offensive system in place, Hundley took everything he learned in his season on the bench, stayed healthy, and won Jim L. Mora's first QB competition. Hundley proceeded to take the field and became one of the nation's best passers overnight. he scored a 72 yard rushing touchdown on his first career play and never looked back. With the Bruins running a no-huddle spread offense for the first time in school history, Hundley took command of the offense and a group of players recruited to play a different system and led them to the Pac-12 South division title, the school's first win over hated USC in six years, and its best record in seven years. All totaled, Hundley impressed with 3740 passing yards and 29 touchdowns on 66.5% completions and another 355 yards and nine more scores on the ground. By air and by ground, Hundley immediately translated his unlimited talent into on field success and would have been a freshman All-American in just about any other year (Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota send their apologies).

Hundley is very well built. he fits the ideal athletic profile of a modern quarterback at 6-3 and 222 pounds. he isn't exceptionally tall and lumbering, and he isn't short and lacking durability. He has a very strong and accurate arm, very quick feet, good presence in the pocket, and a good grasp of the UCLA offense and going through his progressions. I also like his intangibles as he seems very calm and cool on the field and the sideline and he appeared to have the unanimous trust and respect of his teammates from day one, a rare feat for a freshman.

One unique trait that I love about Hundley is how well he can carry out play action fakes and make a strong throw seemingly in one motion. UCLA's offense is predicated on a lot of different reads. Hundley often has to read a linebacker or defensive end on both run plays and pass plays. in fact, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone often packages short pass options within his run plays. You can see throughout the clip on the right how Hundley is able to be the ideal trigger man in this offense. You can see at 0:42 seconds, Hundley carries out a fake to the RB, and throws an accurate fastball through a tight window for a 10 yard gain in the span of about a second. 

A common criticism of Hundley and the UCLA offense is that Mazzone's system is mostly passed on screens and short passes that inflate Hundley's numbers, particularly his completion percentage and passer efficiency. I don't necessarily disagree but watch all the screens from this game against ASU or any other UCLA opponents from last year. Every screen throw is perfect. You never see a UCLA receiver reaching behind themselves or above their head or down to their shoestrings. Every throw hits the receiver in the mid section and is laid out in front of them. Screen passes do inflate completion percentages but they aren't effective unless they are thrown well and Hundley is always on target with those throws. I also want to highlight his calmness in the pocket. Hundley had every excuse to be antsy last year considering how poor UCLA's O-line was in pass protection (52 sacks allowed in 14 games) but at 1:40, you can see Hundley read the blitz coming from his left without ever looking that direction and just slide to the right and makes and accurate throw on the run and under pressure for a short gain.

You can also see how Hundley remains accurate on longer throws on his first touchdown. Hundley reads a mismatch with athletic wide receiver Devin Fuller matched up with a safety. he knows he has that mismatch and that he will throw that direction before the snap but you can see him look off to the other receiver on the right side of the formation and use his eyes to affect the safety. Then Hundley turns and fires a perfect pass right as Fuller makes his break to the middle of the field, over the head of a helpless linebacker and into Fuller's hands who once again does not have to jump, dive, or reach backwards to haul it in.

My one serious gripe with Hundley is that he sometimes holds onto the ball too long. I love how calm he looks in the pocket but sometimes he's a little too calm as he stands there and eventually allows himself to be sacked or to throw a poor pass into coverage. He needs to develop that four to five second clock in his head that tells him to either find a running lane or throw the ball away when it expires. Other than that, he is an ideal QB. He has good size, a great arm, very good accuracy, a quick and fluid throwing motion, tremendous athleticism, a good grasp of the offense, and very sound intangibles. He's eligible to enter the draft after this season and I could certainly see him doing that as he holds all the tools to be a top 10 pick. Whatever he decides to do, I think Hundley is going to be a great player for a long time and a guy who will only continue to get better.

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