Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson’s decision to move up in the fifth round to draft quarterback Brett Hundley is looking like a stroke of genius.
After an offseason in which Hundley looked like he was in over his head and a start to training camp that wasn’t a whole lot better, Hundley’s rise was nothing short of meteoric. Based on the NFL’s standard of 14 passes per game, Hundley wound up leading the league with a 129.6 passer rating, seven touchdowns and 9.7 yards per attempt.
On Thursday night, the Packers trailed 10-0 when Hundley replaced Scott Tolzien with about 10 minutes left in the first half. By game’s end, Hundley had thrown for four touchdowns and helped the Packers outscore the Saints 38-0.
“Just seeing from where I was in OTAs, I can attest it, I was swimming out there. I was swimming,” Hundley said. “But now, I feel a lot more comfortable with the offense, I’m able to make more reads, make my checks. The coaching staff has helped a lot with the play calls. It’s just an awesome experience to be able to see the growth and have it come to fruition.”
Despite a record-setting career at UCLA, Hundley was seen as a project by teams – including the Saints, who went with pro-style passer Garrett Grayson in the third round -- because of his background in the Bruins’ simplistic spread offense that was built around his arm and mobility. Could he thrive behind center rather than lining up in shotgun every play? Did he have the pocket presence to make plays in the pocket rather than looking to run at the first sign of trouble? That’s why, despite obvious talent, he fell to the fifth round.
“Brett Hundley is a heck of a football player,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “I always enjoyed watching him on the TV when he played for UCLA; Jim Mora does a great job out there. So coming here, just a very conscientious young man, wanting to do things right. Fully realized the opportunity that was in front of him, the room that he was in with Aaron Rodgers and the other quarterbacks. I just really like his approach, the way he's gone about it. He's picked it up quickly and done some things. You know, (he needs) those reps as a young player, so really the last two weeks have been huge for Brett just for the fact that he's been able to get out there and play, see some different things. He's performed very well. I think he's off to an excellent start.”
Against the Saints, Hundley completed 16 of 23 passes for 236 yards. Yes, those numbers were padded by a 7-yard completion that turned into a 77-yard touchdown by Larry Pinkard, and defensive penalties on third down extended drives that resulted in a field goal and a touchdown. But time and again, Hundley came through in key situations.
On the first touchdown drive, Hundley scrambled for 13 on third-and-10 and hit Jeff Janis for a 14-yard touchdown on third-and-3. The go-ahead touchdown, the catch-and-run by Pinkard, came on third-and-2. The two short touchdown passes to Myles White came on fourth-and-goal.
“It’s just hard work, honestly,” Hundley said. “That’s my tip for everybody – just work hard and usually good things will come from it.”
That work was noted by McCarthy at the postgame podium, his teammates in the locker room and Saints star Drew Brees on the field after the game.
“You grow up watching these guys,” Hundley said. “I’ve had a CD of Aaron Rodgers since I was young, and I would just watch him, just watch every throw. And then I’m on the side next to him, I’m his partner in practice and stuff. And after games, now you have Mark Sanchez, Drew Brees come up to you and say something to you, say ‘Great job’ and ‘Good luck in your career.’ It’s awesome. It’s an awesome experience. It’s an awesome experience.”
Barring an emergency, Hundley’s improvement is going to have to continue on the practice field. His glittering stats notwithstanding, McCarthy noted that Hundley “has a lot to learn.” Tolzien, who’s in his third year in the system and has had a strong summer in his own right, is entrenched as the No. 2 quarterback behind MVP Aaron Rodgers.
“I’ve just got to keep working,” Hundley said. “My mind-set coming into this was always competing, always competing. I’m never going to stop competing. But also knowing that Aaron is the best quarterback and I’ve been placed in this opportunity, thankfully, to be able to learn from the greatest quarterback in the game right now, I’m going to learn the most I can. I’m going to work my butt off even harder and I’m going to learn as much as possible and try to be the best quarterback I can be.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.