Basically, all of the Packers’ hopes for championship-level success rested on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately, there’s now a fractured collarbone just a few inches from those shoulders, and Rodgers is slated to miss most—if not all—of the rest of the season.
But Green Bay’s season is not over. The Packers are 4-2 in a league with just two 5-1 teams, and are competing for a playoff spot with NFC North teams that are equally quarterback-frazzled. Teddy Bridgewater is cleared to practice again, which is neat, but the Vikings are still playing Case Keenum, who is Bridgewater’s backup’s backup. The Bears have returned $45 million man Mike Glennon to the backup position he deserved all along, and their season will come down to whether rookie Mitch Trubisky loves to throw TDs as much as he loves to kiss … well, anyway, moving on. The Lions don’t have any quarterback injuries—Matt Stafford is as healthy as ever and having a great season!—but they’re the Lions, and certainly some cruel doom will befall them.
For the Packers, everything now comes down to Brett Hundley, a third-year quarterback whose NFL capabilities are still entirely unknown. At UCLA, his physical attributes made him an obvious NFL draft prospect—he’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast. He increased his completion percentage while decreasing his interceptions thrown in each of his three seasons as the Bruins’ starter, and he threw for 22 touchdowns and added 10 more on the ground as a junior before declaring for the NFL draft in 2015 as the school’s all-time leader in TD passes and total offense.
But there have always been questions about Hundley. Almost all of his throws in college were short—54 percent of his throws traveled less than 6 yards downfield and 29 percent were behind the line of scrimmage. UCLA never could quite get over the hump with Hundley—his Bruins went 29-11 in his three seasons as a starter, but went 0-4 vs. Stanford and 0-2 against Oregon. And Hundley’s mostly stayed hidden in the pros, despite two full seasons on an NFL roster. Before Sunday’s game, he’d thrown only 11 career passes, completing two and throwing a flukey interception. He threw three more picks on Sunday after Rodgers’s injury, going 18-for-33 for 157 yards and adding his first career touchdown.
Can Hundley become the greatest quarterback named Brett in Packers history? Probably not, but let’s learn all about him.
He’s a Preseason Hero
In August, I did a comprehensive search in hopes of finding the greatest preseason performances of all time and found Hundley had played one of the greatest preseason games of all time. He threw for 236 yards and four touchdowns against the Saints in Week 4 of the 2015 preseason:
But that wasn’t Hundley’s only brush with preseason magic. Just a week earlier, he’d thrown for 315 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles’ starters.
Do you realize how hard it is to throw for 300 yards or four touchdowns in a preseason game? Nobody plays long enough to put up stats like that.
Hundley was injured in last year’s preseason, but the preseason superstar was back again this year—he went 9-for-10 for 107 yards and a touchdown against Washington. The man’s an exhibition god.
He’s Already Proved to Be an Excellent Stand-in for Rodgers
One of the greatest traditions in sports is Aaron Rodgers’s weekly photobombing of the Packers’ captains photo. Every week before kickoff, a team photographer takes a picture of the team’s captains for the week, and Rodgers always makes his way into the photo. He’s been doing it since he was a rookie.
But for some games, Rodgers is a team captain. And Hundley knows how to step into the man’s shoes.
Rodgers taught him well.
The Arm Is Strong
Analyst Justis Mosqueda charted Hundley’s performance on Sunday, and while it wasn’t pretty, there was a situation where he thrived—on throws outside of the numbers, Hundley was excellent, with just one mistake and 11 catchable passes on 14 attempts. Whether short or long, Hundley is confident throwing the ball to the sidelines—see his 38-yard bomb to Jeff Janis here, or his 26-yard pass to Jordy Nelson on Sunday. His completions haven’t been easy.
Hundley’s powerful arm has long been one of his selling points. He can make the difficult throws, which gives Green Bay a chance at surviving.
He Badly Needs Somebody to Play Him in Dominoes
Less than a week before being forced into NFL action, Hundley was desperately seeking somebody—anybody—to play him in dominoes:
All game invitations welcome.... pic.twitter.com/U4QjzhVPV9— Brett A. Hundley Jr (@bretthundley7) October 6, 2017
I’m going to have to teach all of my old Cuban male relatives how to use phones so Brett has somebody to play with. Brett also needs somebody to play Destiny 2 with. It turns out there’s not much for a young millionaire to do in Green Bay, so Brett’s been teaching himself to cook, and he also attempted bow-hunting deer. (For the record, “attempting to bow-hunt deer” basically means “sitting in a cold-ass tree for a prolonged period of time without shooting any deer.”)
He Struggled Under Pressure—but He Can Do Better
Hundley had a miserable 8.1 QB rating when pressured on Sunday. His final two interceptions came when he was being hassled—on his second, he stepped up in the pocket to avoid a rusher and calmly fired a ball that couldn’t have been caught by anybody besides Vikings linebacker Harrison Smith. On his third, he was hit by a rusher and threw a ball that was tapped into the arms of Trae Waynes.
But Hundley has shown he can make exceptional plays under pressure. He’s got the physical gifts—just look at this 13-yard dash-and-dive for a touchdown in the preseason. Hundley’s lone touchdown against the Vikings also came under pressure—he felt the rush, sprinted toward the line of scrimmage, drew the attention of a linebacker who should have been guarding wide receiver Davante Adams, and made an off-balance throw to hit the wide receiver a few yards in front of the end zone.
Green Bay’s offensive line is one of the most banged up units in the league, and has struggled to protect the quarterback all season. Aaron Rodgers has disguised their incompetence because he is better than virtually any quarterback in league history under pressure. But it’s understandable that Hundley struggled against the rush being forced into action off the bench. How he survives going forward will be critical.
He Has a Similar Story to Aaron Rodgers, but Isn’t Aaron Rodgers
We can remember another time the Packers had a franchise quarterback but drafted a young player and kept him as an understudy. In 2005, Green Bay’s quarterback was Brett Favre. But Rodgers, projected to go as one of the top picks, fell all the way to 24th. The Packers didn’t need a quarterback, but couldn’t afford to pass.
Ten years later, another QB from a California school had an awkward draft. He was projected by some to be a second-rounder, the third-best quarterback in the draft behind Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. But he fell to the fifth round, ended up being the sixth quarterback off the board, behind Winston, Mariota, Garrett Grayson, Sean Mannion, and Bryce Petty. Again, the Packers took a player who had fallen so far because they couldn’t afford to pass on him.
But there’s a big difference in between a player dropping to 24th and a guy dropping to 147th. Even a few years in, the trade value on Hundley seems to be about a second- or third-round pick—and teams didn’t bite when the Packers tried to move him during this year’s draft. The upside here is that Hundley can hopefully become a consistent NFL starter. Rodgers, of course, is so much more.
He Can Scare His Dog
Starting for the Packers might cut into Hundley’s Halloween preparation time, which is good news for his dog:
Dog didn't exactly like my Halloween Costume.... pic.twitter.com/Pffe4k6oji— Brett A. Hundley Jr (@bretthundley7) November 1, 2016
Green Bay Really, Really, Really, Really Needs Him
The Packers are rolling with Joe Callahan as Hundley’s backup. Don’t know who Joe Callahan is? It’s OK—I don’t know much about him either, and I’m a professional college football obsessive. Callahan played for Division III Wesley College in Delaware. He won the Gagliardi Trophy, which is the Heisman for Division III football, after throwing for 5,063 yards and 55 touchdowns as a senior.
No offense to Division III football, but it would be very strange for a D-III quarterback to play meaningful snaps in an NFL game. The only Division III quarterback I know of that has ever played in an NFL game is Alex Tanney, who is currently on injured reserve for the Titans. Tanney set basically every Division III passing record there is to set, then became more famous for recording a viral trick shot video, then spent five years trying to prove himself as more than a viral video star to NFL teams before finally getting into a Week 17 game two seasons ago. Only one D-III quarterback has ever been drafted—Larry Wanke, who transferred from Pitt to John Carroll and was drafted last overall in 1991, but never played an NFL game. A few Division II quarterbacks have made it in the NFL—Jon Kitna and Todd Bouman carved out respectable careers—but D-II players get scholarships. D-III players don’t. It’s possible for NFL-caliber talent to exist in D-III; we’ve seen players like Buccaneers offensive lineman Ali Marpet and 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon succeed. But it’s unlikely to find top-flight talent in the lower levels of college ball, especially at QB.
Callahan did not exactly win the Packers third-string job out of training camp. It would be more accurate to say that he lost the audition to get signed by another team. BYU product Taysom Hill was the third-stringer in training camp and preseason, but the Packers cut him and Callahan because they wanted to carry only two quarterbacks on their 53-man active roster, and the Saints swooped in and claimed Hill. Callahan didn’t get much playing time this preseason, but looked all right last year, going 54-for-88 with 499 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks—not bad, even against third- and fourth-stringers. But Callahan took a whopping 10 sacks last preseason, and four more on just 25 dropbacks this year, and fumbled twice each year. No matter how bad the Packers’ third-string offensive line was, that tells me Callahan is likely deeply unready to handle an NFL-level pass rush after facing non-scholarship players for the entirety of his college career.
This is the part where we discuss how ridiculous it is that the NFL calls itself a meritocracy. Packers coach Mike McCarthy sneered at the concept of signing Colin Kaepernick despite having $12 million in cap space and being a single injury from playing a Division III quarterback with 10 games left to go in a wide-open division. Apologies for sticking to sports, but Colin Kaepernick is a much better football player than Joe Callahan.