Who's to Blame for Brett Hundley's Failure in 2017?
Brett Hundley’s 2017 season was an abject failure.
With an opportunity to all but single-handedly save the Packers’ season, Hundley laid an egg. His raw stats were ugly: nine touchdowns against 12 interceptions, two games with less than 100 passing yards, and a completion rate of just 60.8%.
The advanced stats were downright brutal. His QBR, a measurement developed by ESPN to calculate a quarterback’s overall contributions on a scale of 1 to 100, was just 40.5, 27th in the NFL. Pro Football Focus rated Hundley the 31st best quarterback in the league. His Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt figure was a pitiful 3.71, good for 33rd out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks.
Clearly, by just about any measure, Hundley was bad. His performance couldn’t have been further from what the Packers hoped for when they traded up to draft him in 2015, and his inability to perform at even an NFL-average level sunk the season.
Months after Hundley’s last pass (an interception late in the Packers’ Week 17 loss to the Lions, for what it’s worth), he’s preparing to fight for a roster spot with DeShone Kizer, acquired this offseason in large part because of Hundley’s inadequacy last season.
But one question from 2017 remains: who’s to blame for the quarterback disaster?
Ted Thompson’s longshot bet?
The Packers moved up 19 spots in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft to nab Hundley, a move former general manager Ted Thompson surely made with eyes on both the past and the future.
Though Aaron Rodgers was coming off an MVP campaign, the 2013 season was all but destroyed by Aaron Rodgers’ first collarbone injury. Having watched Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and Matt Flynn manage the barest minimum in keeping the team afloat, Thompson was all but predestined to take drastic action to fix his quarterback situation.
Whether drafting a quarterback in the fifth round is “drastic” is up for debate, but for Thompson it was a departure: he traded up to get a player he didn’t technically need.
At the time, it was not outrageous to consider Hundley a bit of a steal, even factoring in the trade up. Bob McGinn’s lauded pre-draft evaluation series pegged Hundley as the fourth best QB in the draft, and another anonymous scout put him third, just behind Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Considering the picks the Packers gave up turned out to be an unsuccessful long snapper and a cornerback who’s played six games in three seasons, it wasn’t a terrible gamble.
Or was it?
Thompson and company clearly thought of Hundley as a serious option as a backup quarterback. He took up a roster spot for all of 2015 but was never active, and the Packers went all of 2016 with Hundley as the primary backup to Rodgers, not offering any serious competition for their former fifth round pick. But why? Successful though he may have been in the 2015 preseason, there’s not exactly a long track record of quarterbacks drafted on day three turning out to be serious starters.
In the 20 years prior to Hundley’s selection, 154 quarterbacks were drafted in the fourth round or later. The top end of that group includes names like Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck, but the vast majority of players drafted near where Hundley was selected are closer in quality to Ricky Stanzi, Rohan Davey, and Scott Covington. 87 of the 154 players selected have a Career AV rating of 0 or lower from Pro Football Reference.
Thompson had a better than 50/50 shot of picking a guy who would literally make zero impact in his NFL career. He clearly thought Hundley could beat the odds, but the raw numbers show that a player in that category is little more than a long shot to be worth anything, much less a season saving backup. Thompson bears some of the responsibility for Hundley’s failure just for picking him at all.
Mike McCarthy’s development disaster?
Quarterbacks are Mike McCarthy’s calling card. After a few years coaching receivers and tight ends, McCarthy’s NFL career took off after getting a shot at coaching quarterbacks with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1995.
His subsequent success with quarterbacks fueled his rise to head coach, and most of that success apparently hinges on McCarthy’s offseason “Quarterback School.”
McCarthy’s famously intense quarterback program features 10-page tests on the nuances of the position, including minute detail on coverages, footwork, and general quarterback execution.
It got rave reviews, even from MVP-caliber passers like Rich Gannon.
"I've played 17 years and I never had a quarterback coach like Mike," Gannon said. "He was the best I ever had, because at the end of the week, I felt like the most prepared player on the field."
With that kind of resume, Hundley should have been well-prepared for success. He certainly got the full court press from the moment he arrived in Green Bay, and he had his work cut out for him. Though an athletically superior prospect, scouts dinged Hundley in college for hislack of nuance and accuracy. Quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt acknowledged that was a challenge for the Packers in 2015.
"It's hard for a guy to come in here," Van Pelt said. "We ask them to change your feet, change your release point, change your this, we want to tweak that.
"Now, all of a sudden, you've got to go out and read a defense and see a pressure and make that adjustment, and then get your feet right. That's a lot, and it's a process."
But if there was a problem with Hundley’s development, nobody seemed all that eager to talk about it. Until he was thrown into the fire in 2017, Hundley seemed like a model student and Mike McCarthy famously offered a confident assessment of Hundley’s prospects for success in the aftermath of Aaron Rodgers’ injury.
“I’ve got three years invested in Brett Hundley,” he said. “The quarterback room is exactly where it needs to be.”
Clearly it wasn't. Hundley looked unprepared, frazzled, and completely out of his depth as a starting quarterback. What’s more, he didn’t seem to improve from week to week, even as Mike McCarthy pared back the playbook and asked his beleaguered quarterback to do less.
So what happened to Hundley’s development? Is Mike McCarthy a quarterback guru or not?
Based on the results with Hundley, it’s hard for McCarthy’s reputation as a developer of quarterbacks to not take a hit, but it’s also possible that McCarthy’s Quarterback School doesn’t really exist any more, at least not in the form it did when Aaron Rodgers was becoming the MVP-caliber quarterback we know today.
The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement significantly cut back the amount of time coaches and players could spend together, leaving McCarthy with a much more limited time to implement his curriculum in the offseason. Once training camp arrives, there’s really no further opportunity for development.
Maybe Hundley never really got the chance to grow. Or maybe McCarthy’s reputation doesn’t hold up in the NFL today. Either way, Hundley’s development clearly didn’t proceed as planned.
Did Brett Hundley just choke?
Brett Hundley has always been the kind of player who forces coaches to talk in clichés. His college coach, Jim Mora Jr., even admitted as much.
"He's just a very motivated kid," Mora said. "He has the keys to the meeting room, he has a film machine at home. He's the first one in, and the last one out. All those clichés that describe great work ethic and great leadership ? Brett, he is the cliché."
Mora isn’t an exception. Every coach who’s been in contact with Hundley talks about him in similar terms. Former Packers personnel executive Eliot Wolf says that’s a big reason the Packers were interested in Hundley to begin with. The team loved his “football nerd” tendencies.
Hundley backs up the talk with confidence of his own. Prior to training camp in 2016, Hundley waxed eloquent about his golden opportunity to learn from Aaron Rodgers.
- "A lot of these guys get thrown into the fire," Hundley said, "and go downhill from there. To have this opportunity to learn - and learn from the best - it really will allow you to, when you do step into the game, to be that much better and ready for that moment.
"Obviously, Aaron is one of the best, if not the best, to ever do it. Hopefully I can follow that up."
How does the football nerd, the great athlete, the latest star pupil in a renowned Quarterback School end up with stat lines as putrid as Hundley put up? How does he consistently fail to improve from week to week?
Is it possible that Hundley just...failed himself?
We call out clichés for a reason: they’re often wildly untrue, especially in sports. The cliché of the motivated athlete doing everything he can to be ready to succeed is a pervasive one, but the reality is that even with all the preparation in the world, even with all the talent in the world, some players just don’t get it done when it’s their chance to shine.
Purely on the basis of physical tools, there’s very little difference from one particular player to another, but the execution of their particular duties makes small differences look like yawning chasms. That’s what separates great athletes from merely good ones, and good ones from bad ones, too.
It’s possible, even likely, that even with Hundley’s sterling reputation for preparation, he just came up short when he finally got his opportunity.
The reasons why may only ever be known to Hundley.
Should the blame be about Hundley at all?
Maybe Ted Thompson was wrong to think that a fifth round quarterback could ever be a capable backup. Maybe Mike McCarthy’s reputation as a quarterback whisperer is undeserved. Maybe Brett Hundley choked, and then choked and choked again for two months straight. Maybe it’s a little of all of these things.
Maybe it’s none of them.
Brett Hundley is ultimately only a part of the great 2017 quarterback failure. Clearly, he didn’t get the job done. That fact was apparent very early on. The real failure, therefore, may have been in not having another option available.
Hundley did look like an incapable quarterback in 2017, and maybe he was. So why did he keep getting chance to prove that fact? With the season on the line, why did the Packers keep trotting out a quarterback who clearly wasn’t the answer?
That’s a question we’ll probably never adequately address, but it’s worth remembering as Hundley prepares to fend of a challenge to his backup quarterback job this summer. He’s fighting for a job now. Maybe the fact that he didn’t have to do so in 2017 is the real reason the Packers ended up with a quarterback failure.