INDIANAPOLIS—A funny thing happened at the NFL combine on Wednesday: everyone wanted to talk about Josh McCown. Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan confirmed his team's interest in McCown. Mike Maccagnan, the Jets' new general manager, did the same for his team. Chicago coach John Fox called McCown "the right kinda guy ... that you want on your football team", mere moments after declining to extend Jay Cutler any comparable praise.
No offense to McCown here, but it was a lot of chatter for a 35-year-old journeyman quarterback who was recently released from a Tampa Bay squad that went 2-14 last season. McCown was 1-10 as a starter in 2014 and threw more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (11).
And yet, the fact that teams are lining up for a shot at him is just the latest reminder that this year's quarterback classes—both free-agent and draft—are a bit on the lean side.
This brings us to UCLA's Brett Hundley. He entered the 2014 season expected to be on par with the likes of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston come draft time, then fell back to the pack during an inconsistent redshirt junior season. He could also be the best quarterback left by the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, should Tampa Bay and Tennessee (or any team willing to trade up) nab Mariota and Winston with the first and second picks.
So, will Hundley emerge as a third viable option for franchises seeking quarterback help? Or will the critiques of his game cause NFL teams to shy away until the later rounds, thereby furthering the notion that this quarterback class consists of Mariota, Winston and a bunch of mediocre prospects?
"We're going to have to prove 'em wrong," Hundley said during a 14-minute long session with the media on Thursday. "Obviously, me, Jameis, Mariota, [Bryce] Petty, [Garrett] Grayson make up a great quarterback class. ... We're ready to show the nation that we're better than people make us out to be."
The next step in that process comes Saturday when the quarterbacks take to the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium. Hundley said he will participate in every drill this weekend, an announcement made more significant by his decision to skip the Senior Bowl. Hundley was one of nine players that Senior Bowl exec Phil Savage recommended teams "dig a little deeper on"—a rather direct call-out of those prospects who chose to pass on the event. Hundley reiterated Thursday that he had been dealing with shoulder and elbow injuries and wanted to be 100 percent for the combine. But even so, his absence in Mobile meant a missed opportunity for him to close the gap on the Mariota-Winston duo and to separate himself from the rest of the 2015 draft class of quarterbacks.
"[I was] trying to get healthy," Hundley said. "That's the No. 1 thing you have to take into consideration when going to the Senior Bowl or NFLPA game and I wasn't there yet."
Between throwing to unfamiliar receivers and taking on all-star defenses comprised of future draft picks, the Senior Bowl presents a tough challenge for any quarterback. Petty and those quarterbacks who did attend turned in subpar performances that underscored those issues. On the other hand, Hundley passed up his last real chance to compete against an actual defense in the week's worth of Senior Bowl practices and the subsequent game. There's not much more scouts can learn about Hundley from Saturday's workout at the combine.
"I don't think he can change what the negatives are about him by throwing 20 passes in shorts," NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said of Hundley. "There's people that think he ducked the Senior Bowl, even though there was some medical that says it was O.K. for him not to be there, obviously. ... The things that are hurting him in the evaluation process are anticipation, pocket awareness, things like that that you can't really show at the combine."
Hundley seems to know it, too.
"Obviously, you can get on the field and do what you can, but you're not going to see live action," he said, "so that's the one big thing where you have to sit down and talk to [teams]. ... Going over film with them is huge. These formal interviews we get to do, sit in a classroom and talk to them, that's when we get an opportunity to really express our reads, our thoughts."
For Hundley, the explanations will be required to figure out why he so often appeared flustered when he dropped to throw. Despite his clear athletic abilities, Hundley took 125 sacks over his three seasons as a starter. "The things that are hurting him in the evaluation process," Mayock said, "are anticipation, pocket awareness—things like that that you can't really show at the combine."
When push comes to shove at the draft, Hundley's upside may be too great to ignore. His size (including massive 10 1/2-inch hands) and ability to punish defenses on the ground are jumping-off points on the list of positives. He'll also probably mention to the coaches he meets with this week that he posted a 67.4% completion rate and 75-to-25 TD:INT ratio in college.
Once Mariota and Winston are off the board, those positives could loom far larger than they do right now.
"If the time needs be where I need to sit in the pocket and make all the throws, I'll do that," said Hundley in addressing concerns about his ability to get to second, third or fourth options on passing plays. "Sometimes in our offense, the situation dictated where if I didn't see something, I'm taking off running. If that is the offense and that is what I need to do ... you can watch tape, there's times where I sat in the pocket, I made throws and I felt like I did that consistently.
"There are times when the offense needs something and you take what's there."
That last line should be the unofficial slogan for teams after Mariota and Winston have their new homes. Need something at quarterback? You take what's there. Maybe that will lead front offices to retreads like McCown or to trades for Jay Cutler or Sam Bradford. But Hundley is hopeful someone will see him as an answer, rather than as an afterthought.
"You tell me I can't do something," Hundley said, "I'll prove 'em wrong and I'll do it."
We'll find out soon enough. After all, Josh McCown can't sign with every team.