A pair of redshirt sophomore quarterbacks have made their way into the top half of the first-round mock drafts for NFLDraftScout.com analysts Rob Rang and Dane Brugler.
And neither one of them has trademarked the nickname Johnny Football.
Brett Hundley enjoyed a stellar freshman season, and has elevated his game so quickly in 2013 that Rang and Brugler both have him going No. 2 in their projected mocks. And depending on offensive scheme, Oregon's Marcus Mariota might prove to be more coveted by some NFL teams.
While Oregon's status as a national title contender has enabled many fans to get at least a little familiar with Mariota, much of the nation is just starting to become aware of Hundley - a 6-foot-3, 227-pound gifted athlete who is turning heads in the scouting community.
So we asked Rang and Brugler to enlighten us on Hundley while taking a deeper look at a trio of redshirt sophomore quarterbacks who are compelling the East Coast to stay up Saturday nights and watch Pac-12 highlights.
Q: Hundley had an impressive freshman season, but has really shot out of the gates in 2013. You both have him going No. 2 to the Cleveland Browns in your most reason mock drafts. What impresses you most about Hundley?
Rang: Hundley possesses an exciting combination of size, arm talent and athleticism, but more than just his physical talents I've been impressed with his ability to handle the big stage. Hundley plays with composure in pressure-packed situations, showing anticipation and mental toughness rare for a player with his limited experience (16 career starts).
Brugler: Hundley has numerous traits that lead me to believe he'll be a future high NFL Draft pick. First the physical skills: he looks the part with a tall, well-built frame and has the arm to unleash passes all over the field. He is a nimble, loose athlete for his size and does a nice job eluding defenders and extending plays with his legs. Hundley also shows the smarts and on-field charisma to be a leader at the next level. He's humble, but confident and his passion for the game shows. It's not all rainbows and roses as he does have his faults, just like any young quarterback, but the natural ability and maturity are easy to see and why so many think this young gun is a future high pick.
Q: For those who haven't seen Hundley in action, what style quarterback is he and how will his skill set potentially translate to the NFL?
Rang: Hundley is a talented runner, and will likely be lumped into the category of dual-threat passers. He does not possess the straight-line speed of a Colin Kaepernick or the raw power of a Cam Newton, but he does have very good lateral agility and vision to elude pass rushers and shows the arm strength and accuracy to make every NFL throw. If he continues to improve at this pace, he could emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback.
Brugler: Hundley falls in the Kaepernick mold in terms of "style" of quarterback, meaning he can run and forces the defense to respect his mobility, but he's a threat with his arm and prefers to stay in the pocket. It's obvious he has all the physical skills but his development will be important to watch. Right now, Hundley's ball placement is a work-in-progress and he needs to improve his pocket awareness to feel the rush and quicken his reads to find a target. Like most young quarterbacks, he needs to develop his anticipation as a passer and show better rhythm with his weapons, but he has the qualities that can't be coached.
Q: Hundley is one of three standout redshirt sophomore quarterbacks in the Pac-12 along with Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Stanford's Kevin Hogan. How would you stack rank them?
Rang: In terms of traditional drop-back quarterbacks, Hogan will get top honors from some scouts. The NFL appears to be evolving quickly towards dual-threat passers, however, which could push Mariota and Hundley ahead of him. Mariota is certainly the elite runner of the trio. Hundley is the best combination of runner and passer, in my opinion, and has done more with less talent surrounding him.
Brugler: 1a. 1b. and 1c. Seriously, it's not easy to rank these guys. All have exciting qualities that make you stop what you're doing and watch them play.
Mariota is part of the most explosive offense in the country, using his effortless arm strength to zip the ball up and down the field and his gazelle-like athleticism to out-run defenders. Some might write him off due to the offense he runs, but his skill-set projects well to the next level because he's a smart, confident passer who is just scratching the surface of what he can do.
Hogan is undefeated as a starter at Stanford and he does a very good job of using the talent around him to push the ball downfield. He is a big athlete with a big arm and the coaches have raved about his football acumen and strong practice habits.
Both Mariota and Hogan are worth mentioning with Hundley and it should be fun to watch these three kids develop in 2013.
Q: Mariota was a three-star prospect unearthed by Chip Kelly. A 6-3, 214-pound duel threat, would NFL scouts even be talking about Mariota without the massive success Kaepernick has enjoyed?
Rang: Kaepernick's success certainly makes it easier to project Mariota to the NFL, as the Oregon quarterback possesses a remarkably similar combination of size, straight-line speed and a laser-guided arm as the 49ers' star. Another factor to keep in mind is the early success that Kelly and his offense have had with Philadelphia. Ultimately, Mariota's early-round potential, however, is his due to his own exciting potential. Kaepernick and Kelly perhaps opened the door for Mariota, but his talent may have kicked it down without their assistance, anyway.
Brugler: I think so because of the production and team success, but what Kaepernick has done in the NFL will only help a quarterback like Mariota because scouts will be able to point to a similar pro who is having success with that type of skill-set.
Same thing with Hundley. NFL quarterbacks need to be passers first and if they can run and make plays with their athleticism, that's an added bonus. More than ever, teams are open to quarterbacks who are still developing as passers but are good-sized athletes who have the mental aptitude to handle everything the NFL will throw at them. Quarterback is a tough position to evaluate, might as well take a chance on one who has all the physical traits you want at the position.
Q: It's extremely rare for redshirt sophomore quarterbacks to make the leap to the NFL - much less have success. Without trying to read their minds, what has to happen between now and January for one or more of them to seriously consider leaving school?
Rang: While rare to leave with this much potential eligibility remaining, Hogan, Hundley and Mariota are each in their second full season as the starting quarterback so they won't lack for experience. Certainly, any of the three considering making this jump would have to continue to play exceptionally well in 2013 and presumably earn a high grade from the NFL Advisory Committee.
Winning a BCS title could also push any one of them out the door early. Don't rule out the potential impact of other factors. The quarterbacks could be influenced by teammates' decisions regarding an early NFL jump, as well as the play (especially if it's poor play) of other potentially draft-eligible quarterbacks.
Brugler: Not including a coaching change or something like that factoring into the equation, it will depend on where each quarterback feels they are in their development and whether or not another year at the college level will help their long-term goals. If one of them wins the Heisman or has immense success, it might be tough to return to school, but it will depend on what each of them has left to accomplish at the college level.
All three will have two years of starting experience after this season, so although they are only redshirt sophomores, they'll have the same amount of playing time as some senior prospects like LSU's Zach Mettenberger, who is in his second year as the Tigers' starting quarterback.
Q: You're the GM of an NFL team with a top 10 pick next spring and need a franchise quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd are off the board, are you going with Hundley or Mariota?
Rang: At this early juncture, I'd lean toward Hundley because I have seen him respond well in pressure-packed situations. Mariota is an exceptional athlete with a first-round arm but with the Ducks so frequently in control of games by halftime, I need more evidence of his poise. Needless to say, to warrant my consideration this high, the quarterbacks would also have to demonstrate the football intelligence and leadership in pre-draft interviews.
Brugler: I'm leaning Mariota at this point, but its close. Mariota is more decisive than Hundley at this point in their careers and I trust him a little more. Both will be fun to watch, especially when they go head-to-head Oct. 26 in Eugene.
Q: Because no football conversation is complete without mention of Johnny Football, why are Hundley and Mariota better NFL bets right now than Manziel - who isn't in either of your first-round mock drafts?
Rang: For me, it's simple. To this point, Hundley and Mariota appear to have the leadership traits I value at the quarterback position. There is no question in my mind that some scouts will give Manziel a first-round grade, as he is an extraordinary talent in much the same mold as former Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia. Manziel will not actually be drafted this high, however, unless his actions on and off the field earn the trust of at least one NFL franchise.
Brugler: More arm talent and reliable as passers. Manziel is a fascinating NFL prospect, even more so than Tim Tebow was, because he has the talent to make plays in the NFL. The big question with Manziel is, how reliable can he be? He gets away with a lot of throws and decisions that won't work at the next level. Can he adjust and adapt in the pros? That's the big question.
To be perfectly honest, I think Manziel ends up in the first round next May, but I also think most teams will have Mariota and Hundley higher on their draft boards.
Rob Rang and Dane Brugler are analysts for www.NFLDraftScout.com, owned and distributed by The Sports Xchange in partnership with CBSSports.com.