There has been a shift in how the NFL views quarterback prospects in the first round of the draft.
During the four drafts from 2007 to 2010, a total of nine quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Those nine quarterbacks averaged 211 rushing attempts, 447 yards and 13.5 touchdowns with a 2.1 yard per carry average during their time in college. If you remove Tim Tebow's 692 carries for 2,947 yards and 57 touchdowns, those averages drop to 151 rushing attempts, 135 yards, 8 touchdowns and a 0.9 average per carry.
During the four drafts since the 2010 draft, there were 12 quarterbacks taken in the first round. Those 12 quarterbacks averaged 264 attempts, 998 yards and 14.6 touchdowns with a 3.6 yard per carry average. There is no obvious outlier amongst this group as each of Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Jake Locker eclipsed 1,500 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in college. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson were also selected during this time, but neither player was taken in the first round of the draft.
The difference between the averages of those two groups is 113 attempts, 863 yards and 6.6 touchdowns.
Clearly, the NFL is more willing to invest higher picks in more athletic players at the quarterback position. No longer is athleticism being seen as something that solely heightens the risk for injury, but rather a complementary skill that can become vital for determining a player's success.
One player who is hoping to benefit from this newfound approach is UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
Through two seasons as a starter in college football, Hundley has 849 pass attempts for 6,811 yards and 24 touchdowns, with 320 rushing attempts for 1,103 yards and 20 touchdowns. He appears to be a borderline first round talent whose stock is less certain than Marcus Mariota of Oregon or Jameis Winston of Florida State.
Hundley isn't a dual-threat quarterback in the fashion of Cam Newton or Johnny Manziel, two players who rushed for over 1,400 yards in single seasons of college football. However he does have enough quickness, vision and strength to project forward as an effective scrambler on the next level.
Athleticism will always be a positive for Hundley's draft evaluation, but he has a few issues that need to be addressed during the upcoming season if he is to be the next EJ Manuel instead of the next Tajh Boyd (in terms of draft position).
In Jim Mora's offense, Hundley appeared to be encouraged to get rid of the football quickly to receivers outside. He rarely had to hold the ball in the pocket while elaborate deep routes developed down the field. Various screens, curl routes and quick out routes helped Hundley attack the underneath of the opponent's coverage on a weekly basis.
With receivers who impressed after the catch and a commitment to running the football, UCLA averaged over 43 rush attempts per game last year, this short passing attack was tough for defenses to stop in 2013.
While this helps him be a more productive college quarterback, it also masks aspects of his game that should affect his draft stock.
Because he gets rid of the ball quickly and opposing defenses are generally more concerned with the offense's rushing ability as a whole, Hundley doesn't regularly have to manage the pocket. This is something that should change entering his third season, so when Hundley is asked to manage the pocket and make throws under pressure from between the tackles, he needs to be more consistent than he was in 2013.
Often when you are dealing with quarterbacks who have the athleticism to make big plays with their feet you are dealing with players who don't have the subtlety to manage the pocket. Movements become too elongated and the temptation to leave the pocket is stronger than it is for those with less ability in space. Hundley doesn't appear to have that problem.
In fact, when he manages the pocket well, Hundley often manages it perfectly.
This play is a great example of what UCLA and NFL scouts will want to see from Hundley this season.
As the 21-year-old quarterback drops back into the pocket, he is looking to the right of the field where he has three receiving options. Hundley appears to be initially focused on his two wide receivers, while his running back should act as a checkdown option if neither of those players comes free.
At the top of his drop, Hundley turns his shoulders further towards the right sideline and shifts his feet to angle towards where his running back was seemingly running to. Hundley is ready to begin his throwing motion at this point and there is no pressure to disrupt him as the defense only rushed four defenders.
Hundley stays with the right side of the offense for a moment and he shuffles his feet forward slightly so he is ready to begin his throwing motion. As the pressure begins to close in on him, he shuffles his feet backwards before turning towards the middle of the field to step up in the pocket.
The quarterback keeps his eyes downfield as he moves forward, while shuffling his feet so that he can throw from an established base. The defender who is coming free behind him has no opportunity to knock the ball away from behind because Hundley wasted no motion throughout this play.
After not being comfortable with his initial read, Hundley finds one of the two receivers who initially lined up on the right side as they run a deep in route. Hundley throws the ball slightly behind him, but his pass is catchable and allows his receiver to convert for a first down.
The athleticism and technical precision shown on this play was exactly what was required for the offense to convert in an unfavorable situation.
Stepping up in the pocket to negate edge pressure is something that the best quarterbacks in the NFL do on a regular basis. While it seems like a straight-forward movement(mind the pun), the physical action isn't as simple as it looks. Hundley's balance and quick feet allow him to always be in a position to throw the football while still being fast enough to evade incoming rushers.
Working his feet well is only one part of the process though. Hundley must also keep his eyes downfield and feel the pressure in his peripherals so as to not miss any opportunities for big plays.