For years, the Wizard of Westwood moniker has belonged to John Wooden, but the revival of UCLA's football program under the direction of Brett Hundley should prompt Bruins fans to affix the nickname to the young superstar quarterback.
The redshirt sophomore has helped transform UCLA into a budding powerhouse, displaying a diverse set of skills that has NFL scouts salivating about his potential as a franchise quarterback. With the buzz building about Hundley's game and pro prospects, I thought I would dig into the All-22 coaches footage to see where he stands in his development with a big game against Stanford on tap Saturday. Here's what I discovered:
Hundley is another in a long line of dual-threat quarterbacks dominating the college ranks. Although he isn't a run-first playmaker like Braxton Miller and some other spread-option triggermen, he is a capable runner with the speed and quickness to get to the second level on designed quarterback runs. Additionally, Hundley is a legitimate threat on zone-read plays, which makes him a dangerous weapon in a cutting-edge offense. Hundley's athleticism will also allow him to shine in a traditional pro-style offense that places a premium on quarterbacks with athleticism and mobility to extend plays in the pocket. Given the speed and explosiveness of NFL defenders, Hundley's athleticism could help him be a difference-maker at the next level.
Hundley ranks as one of the most talented natural passers in college football. He displays impressive arm strength and range and has the ability to alter the pace, trajectory and touch on finesse throws. Hundley excels within a quick-rhythm passing game that emphasizes a variety of intermediate throws between the numbers. While he is capable of pushing the ball to the sidelines, Hundley is a little inconsistent with his accuracy and ball placement on vertical throws to the boundary. He repeatedly sailed fade routes out of bounds against Nevada, Nebraska and Utah. Although he has shown the ability to make those throws, the fact that he has consistently missed on the route is a bit concerning.
Hundley plays with a calm, cool demeanor that is reminiscent of a 10-year NFL veteran. He is rarely fazed by pre-snap defensive movement and doesn't blink when facing pressure in the pocket. Hundley's willingness to hang in the pocket allows the Bruins to punish opponents for bringing heat by utilizing sight adjustments and hot reads within routes. While most associate the effective utilization of these concepts with instincts and awareness, the quarterback must be courageous enough to withstand a pounding to deliver accurate throws to receivers on the perimeter. Most important, a quarterback must exhibit the combination of football intelligence, awareness and fortitude to function within the chaos of the pocket. Hundley not only exhibits those traits, but he consistently demonstrates the ability to thrive within collapsing pocket, which makes him an ideal passer in a pro-style offense.
Coaches will cite arm talent and pocket poise as key traits in the quarterback evaluation, but elite players at the position display exceptional football intelligence. From diagnosing fronts and coverage in the pre-snap phase to quickly reacting to delayed pressures, the elite quarterbacks in football decipher complex looks in a split-second and make sound decisions with the ball. Hundley earns high marks with his intelligence, awareness and instincts. He processes information quickly and consistently finds the open receiver against late-moving coverage. While some of Hundley's success is clearly by play design, his ability to consistently target the proper receiver says a lot about his mastery of the Bruins' offense and his ability to read coverage.
Elite quarterbacks are able to take their game to another level in key moments. Those instances typically occur on third-down, two-minute situations and late-game drives. Scouts can assess a prospect's confidence, composure and savvy with the outcome of the game hinging on every throw. When I've watched Hundley perform in those situations this season, I've been impressed with his execution and focus under pressure. He gets the ball to his playmakers quickly and finds a way to move the chains when the Bruins need to sustain drives. Watching his performances against Nebraska and Utah, Hundley repeatedly made plays with his arm and legs to gain critical first downs in key moments. Interestingly, Hundley had 19-plus rushing attempts in each of those games, which suggests that he is willing to use his entire skill set to move the chains with the game on the line. With improvisational playmakers capable of extending plays in chaotic situations, Hundley's versatile skills and unflappable demeanor make him a dangerous weapon in the clutch.
Hundley has quickly become one of the top quarterbacks in college football during his three years in Westwood. He has not only become a polished passer from the pocket, but has also shown the kind of improvisational skills that are needed to thrive in the NFL. While he still must make strides as a deep-ball passer, Hundley has all of the tools to develop into a quality starting quarterback as a pro.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.