Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Could UCLA's Hundley fit Eagles offense?

INDIANAPOLIS - Chip Kelly once preferred Brett Hundley to Marcus Mariota. But Hundley chose UCLA and Kelly settled on Mariota, and somewhere over the next three years Oregon proved to get the better college quarterback.

INDIANAPOLIS - Chip Kelly once preferred Brett Hundley to Marcus Mariota. But Hundley chose UCLA and Kelly settled on Mariota, and somewhere over the next three years Oregon proved to get the better college quarterback.

Mariota is also expected to be the better NFL prospect and likely out of reach for Kelly and the Eagles, who have the 20th overall selection in the first round of the NFL draft. But Hundley should be available when the Eagles pick, and possibly in the second or third round, as well.

Could Kelly roll the dice on a quarterback he once recruited and one who, like Mariota, played in a spread offense similar to the one the Eagles employ? The odds would likely be safer than those for a team with a pro-style offense, and Hundley would cost significantly less and consummate a reunion of sorts with Kelly.

"He's a great individual, great man. I love him to death," Hundley said of Kelly on Thursday at the NFL combine. "I got to spend some time [with him] coming out of high school."

With so many college programs running spread offenses, NFL teams have had to spend more time projecting quarterbacks that play in those systems. But Kelly shouldn't have that problem - certainly not with Mariota and conceivably not with Hundley.

Asked to name an NFL offense that was similar to the one he ran at UCLA, Hundley mentioned only the Eagles. Other teams utilize various aspects of the spread or up-tempo or zone-read-based offense, but no one as much as Kelly. But even his offense, particularly since Nick Foles became the starter, has increasingly morphed into one that includes pro passing concepts.

"It is an advantage," Hundley said of playing in a similar system. "But at the same time there's always a learning curve everywhere you go."

Kelly spent the better part of his first two seasons in the NFL disputing the notion that he needs a dual-threat quarterback to effectively run his offense. He brought back Michael Vick in 2013, suggesting he saw the value of having a mobile quarterback. But he also handed the reins to Foles, drafted Matt Barkley, and acquired Mark Sanchez.

Talent supersedes scheme fit, of course, but every coach has a core philosophy, and finding the ideal quarterback to implement that belief system should be part of the evaluation process. At least that's what Texans coach Bill O'Brien thinks.

"You have to have a belief in your system. You have to believe in what you're doing and then you go try and find that guy that fits what you want to do," O'Brien said. "I would never say there's only one or two quarterbacks in this draft and it's like a nose dive. Who knows?"

O'Brien was referring to Mariota and Jameis Winston, widely considered the only prospects who are first-round-worthy. Then there's a cliff and then Hundley, Baylor's Bryce Petty, or Colorado State's Garrett Grayson, depending upon whom you ask, on the next plateau.

Hundley (6-foot-3, 226 pounds) is bigger and is more athletically gifted than the other two. But like Petty, there are concerns that he won't be able to adapt to a pro-style offense in which most of the throws are from the pocket, there's huddling, and the quarterback is often required to make the calls or check to other plays.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who once called the zone-read a "great college offense," continued to be a vocal critic of spread, up-tempo offenses in which the quarterback has little leeway to audible based on a pre-snap defensive read.

"They hold up a card on the sideline, he kicks his foot, and they snap the ball," Arians said. "That ain't playing QB. No leadership in that."

Arians might as well have been describing Kelly's offense. The Eagles finished fifth and second in total offense and third and fourth in points over the last two seasons, but some traditionalists still believe Kelly's scheme is a fad and won't be sustainable over the long haul because quarterbacks, for example, need to have pre-snap flexibility.

"Some of the offenses in college where they freeze the defense and they look over and the coach tells them what to do and then they go run the play - to me, I respect those offenses, but I think that would take away some leadership ability," O'Brien said. "The quarterback is just regurgitating what the coach is telling him to do."

O'Brien said that wasn't the case with Kelly's offense and noted that his friend beat his team last season. But the Eagles play at such a high tempo to put defenses on their heels that time is of the essence, and changing a play could negate the advantage of playing fast.

There are built-in post-snap options within each play. But NFL defenses have become so complex and coordinators have become so adapt at disguising looks that there sometimes isn't enough within one play to counter a shifting defense. The best quarterbacks use pre-snap time motioning players and using hard counts to decipher a defense's true motives.

UCLA had essentially the same package play elements and play-calling system as the Eagles. But there are other questions about Hundley aside from transitioning to a pro-style offense. Some scouts saw a quarterback who performed well when his first read was open, but if he had to go to No. 2 he often scrambled instead.

"If the time needs to be where I need to sit in the pocket and make all the throws, then I will do that," Hundley said. "In our offense, sometimes the situation dictated where if I didn't see something I was taking off and running."

Hundley put up comparable numbers to Mariota during his three years as a starter and appears to have the off-field necessities when it comes to character, dedication, and leadership. Those traits are likely what enticed Kelly five years ago.

Could it be enough on top of everything else to attract Kelly again?