What Can We Take Away From Brett Hundley’s 2017 Audition?

Hundley's time as the Packers' starting quarterback was filled with ups and downs. Did he show enough to prove he can be starter material in the future?

I first got bit by the acting bug in fourth grade, when I played the pork-allergic Big Bad Wolf in a production of The Three Little Pigs Go West, and I loved every second of it. I was enthralled by the chance to step out of my skin and into someone else’s for a change. That’s what I tell my students today: the best part of theatre is the ability to let your own worries go for a little while.

But I stopped. The pressure of auditioning for others is much more intense than the practice of making theatre on your own, or just simply acting itself. It’s hard to get knocked down every day and still come back for more the next.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley knows that feeling exactly, having been thrust into the limelight this year and forced to start seven games in relief of starter Aaron Rodgers. Hundley has gotten chewed up, spit out, and still got back up. With Rodgers back under center for Week 15, however, we can reflect on Hundley’s first taste of the starter’s job.

Was his song and dance good enough to get a lead role for an NFL team in the future?

My Shot

Hundley has gotten some fantasy fame this year for having the kind of skillset that our former contributor Rich Hribar dubbed “The Konami Code”. For fantasy, we love dual-threat quarterbacks who throw the ball downfield for big plays (despite interception risk), but sometimes the things that make for decent fantasy options aren’t always exactly what you want in a real-life signal-caller.

We try to break down exactly what makes for a valuable pro passer by using our signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP).

NEP is a metric that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring, and the passing variant specifically measures contributions every time a quarterback drops back. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score production, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

When we measure Hundley up to other quarterbacks this year, the picture isn’t pretty.

Among the 35 other quarterbacks to drop back at least 200 times in 2017, Hundley’s -0.07 Passing NEP per drop back ranks sixth-worst. He’s virtually tied with Trevor Siemian, and he's not far enough ahead of Brian Hoyer, Tom Savage, C.J. Beathard, or DeShone Kizer to feel comfortable.

Player Drop Backs Pass NEP Per Drop Back
Brett Hundley 276 -0.07
Trevor Siemian 371 -0.07
Brian Hoyer 224 -0.08
Tom Savage 244 -0.12
C.J. Beathard 243 -0.15
DeShone Kizer 402 -0.16

To make matters worse, he’s compiled just a 42.39 percent Passing Success Rate – the percentage of his drop backs which positively impact NEP. That’s ninth-worst among 2017 quarterbacks.

To place Hundley’s 2017 season in context, the average Passing NEP per drop back this year is 0.07; Hundley’s rate is 0.14 below that. Compared to all 610 quarterback seasons since 2000 with at least 200 drop backs, Hundley’s -0.14 production adjusted for the yearly average would be among the 100 worst outputs in the history of our database.

While there have been distinct flashes of success, the numbers show that Hundley’s first taste of being a leading man has been largely a flop.

History Has Its Eyes On You

One year’s failure doesn’t dictate a player's entire future, but it does help to look at the history of the league and see how similar players have fared.

Hundley has an interesting profile to draw comparisons to, as a fifth-round draft selection who totaled just 10 passes in his first two years, before tossing 252 passing attempts this season.

In terms of specific players, Hundley’s career path looks oddly similar to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo was picked outside the first round of the draft, had to sit behind Tom Brady for a few years, and only got a brief taste of playing time when Brady was suspended. Garoppolo looks to be going into the 2018 season with a starting gig locked down, but he’s just one example out of many.

How often do future stars and starters emerge from the ranks of backups?

I used the Pro Football Reference database to find every quarterback season from 1990 onward in which the player was in their second, third, or fourth NFL season (Hundley is in his third) and attempted between 100 and 300 passes. This came up with 78 results over the last 28 years, with 58 unique quarterbacks to meet these criteria.

Hundley sits squarely in the middle of the list, with his 5.29 adjusted yards per attempt tied for 44th. His statistical profile is eerily similar to that of Josh McCown and Matt Schaub.

The table below displays the average number of years these players remained in the NFL as well as the percent that started 12 games in a season at least once more over the rest of their careers, the percent that made a Pro Bowl, and the percent that made a First Team All-Pro roster.

Years in Pros Future Starter Pro Bowl All-Pro
6.82 28.07% 19.30% 0.00%

If Hundley has a career like the average of these backups, he could last in the league for a few more years, but he has just over a one-in-four shot at eventually starting for another team (and many of the samples started just one more season in their careers). If he does get a chance to start, there’s little chance he ever develops into a true top-tier star.

All in all, Hundley did his job in 2017 -- he kept the Packers afloat while their franchise quarterback was out. These seven weeks may end up the only 15 minutes of fame in his career, but that doesn’t mean he has no shot of being a meaningful contributor down the road. The odds aren't in his favor, though.