By Barbara Harrison
It is no secret that Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota are the two biggest stars in Thursday night’s NFL draft.
Quarterback is the beginning and the end for an NFL team.
If you’ve got a great QB you will be successful.
If you do not, you are toast.
Even though they can all throw the long ball, quarterbacks in this NFL draft class don’t go deep.
Quarterbacks could be selected 1-2 for just the sixth time in the modern era. Yet the talent pool in this class is far from overflowing.
There are some intriguing prospects who are not likely to be first-rounders, among them UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, but for the most part the pickings are slim — as slim as wiry Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, who at 6 feet 4 and 190 pounds looks more like a shooting guard.
“I don’t think this quarterback class is anywhere near some of the ones we’ve had in the past,” said Arizona Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians, who knows the position as well as anyone in the game.
Still, the spotlight is trained squarely on a couple of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks at the top, Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Theirs could be the first two names called Thursday night when the league gets its biggest off-season event underway.
Many NFL talent evaluators believe Hundley will go in the second or third round, followed by Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Grayson and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion. There will be some surprises, there always are, but for the most part quarterbacks appear to be afterthoughts in this class.
Historically, draft position hasn’t always been an accurate indicator of what type of pro a quarterback will be. Joe Montana was a third-rounder, Tom Brady went in the sixth, and just three years ago, Seattle used a third-round pick on Russell Wilson — who already has led the Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowls.
Hundley seems primed for the challenge.
“I think one thing I do every day is work hard,” he said at the scouting combine in February. “If you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to prove you wrong and do it.”
As he does every year, ESPN’s Jon Gruden had his QB Camp series, in which he spends time individually with each of the top quarterback prospects, conducting extensive interviews with them in his videotape-filled office in Tampa, Fla., and putting them through the paces on the field. This year, he sat down with Winston, Mariota, Hundley, Grayson and Petty.
Hundley, who is leaving UCLA with a year of eligibility remaining, finished his college career as the Bruins’ all-time leader in total offense with 11,713 yards. He passed for 9,966 yards, second in school history behind Cade McNown’s 10,708, and ran for 1,747 yards, second in school history among quarterbacks to John Sciarra’s 1,813.
Gruden was impressed by the “confident, charismatic vibe” of Hundley.
“You can see why he’s the captain at UCLA,” Gruden said. “You can see why the Bruins turned things around and became a top-10 football team, because they have a top-flight quarterback at the NCAA level.”
That said, Gruden said Hundley “needs to refine his pocket mechanics a little bit. There are some things in his delivery I think he can quicken.”
Hundley takes issue with the suggestion he lacks elite accuracy and points to his 67.6% completion rate at UCLA, and says he doesn’t need to rely on tucking the ball and running as much as he did in college.
“If I need to stay in the pocket and make all the throws, then I will do that,” he said. “In our offense, sometimes the situation dictated if I didn’t see something I’m taking off running. But . . . you can watch the tape, there’s sometimes I sat in the pocket.”