Rookie Taysom Hill is the latest quarterbacking flavor of the month in the Green Bay Packers’ training camp, following in the footsteps of Brett Hundley in 2015 and Joe Callahan last year.
The month, of course, is August, which is when young quarterbacks get their chance to shine while the starter — in this case, Aaron Rodgers — remains safely on the sideline for the most part during exhibition games.
As the Packers’ latest Mr. August, Hill has nudged Hundley and Callahan out of the spotlight. Old at 27 and with a lengthy injury history, Hill’s strong arm and quick feet nevertheless have made a sizable impression.
But while the focus has been on the battle between Callahan and Hill for the third quarterback spot, the biggest development at the position is being overlooked. Playing with and against the No. 1 and No. 2 units, Hundley has raised his stock markedly in the first two preseason games.
Hundley’s fast start is exactly what the Packers hoped for. They’d never say it, of course, but their No. 1 goal at quarterback in this camp is to continue the development of Hundley into a valuable trade piece — either now or, more likely, during the offseason — and showcase his skills to teams desperate for a quarterback. If anything, Hill’s performance has ramped up the trade buzz because coach Mike McCarthy might be comfortable enough with the Callahan-Hill combo to trade Hundley at some point.
As a rookie fifth-round draft pick, Hundley played brilliantly in August of 2015 but only got a handful of snaps last preseason due to an ankle injury. In two games this year, he picked up right where he left off as a rookie, completing 17 of 25 passes for 197 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 101.6 passer rating. Five of his incompletions were dropped passes or his numbers would really sparkle.
In 2015, Hundley was 45-for-65 for 630 yards, seven touchdowns, one interception and a 129.6 passer rating. Since Hundley has thrown only 10 regular-season passes, potential suitors will be scouring his preseason film to see if he has what it takes to be a franchise quarterback.
Hundley, who is 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds, has two things going for him in that regard. He has all the physical talent — size, mobility, arm strength — a starting NFL quarterback needs. He also has spent three offseasons refining his game in McCarthy’s respected quarterback school.
A three-year starter at UCLA, Hundley was expected to be the third quarterback taken in the 2015 draft behind Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta, possibly as high as the second round. But while those two went first and second overall, respectively, Hundley saw three more quarterbacks taken ahead of him, his stock dropping due to concerns over his accuracy and pocket presence.
The Packers saw Hundley still on the board early in the fifth round and traded up to get him. Now they’re looking for a return on their investment. Draft, develop and trade had been a successful strategy at quarterback in the past for the Packers, which is why Hundley’s continued development this August is so important.
The Packers used this strategy often in the 1990s when then-general manager Ron Wolf and then-coach Mike Holmgren kept finding diamonds in the rough, drafting them in the mid- to late rounds, polishing them up and eventually trading them for a better draft pick than they had used on them originally.
It was a true win-win scenario because the Packers also maintained excellent insurance protection should their starter go down.
The Packers’ secret was that Holmgren was a master developer of quarterbacks and trade suitors knew they would be getting a passer who was well-trained.
McCarthy carries a similar reputation in NFL circles.
Three examples from that era show how valuable this August could be, both for Hundley and the Packers:
• Mark Brunell was a fifth-round pick in 1993 — Holmgren considered him a second-round talent — and was good enough that Holmgren at one point considered sitting Brett Favre and giving Brunell a chance. Holmgren was talked out of it and Favre went on to a Hall of Fame career, but Brunell became valuable trade bait.
Though Brunell had only 27 regular-season pass attempts, the Packers dealt him to Jacksonville prior to the 1995 draft, getting third and fifth-round draft picks in return.
Those picks were turned into fullback William Henderson and special teams ace Travis Jervey, each of whom went on to make a Pro Bowl.
• At the recommendation of then-quarterbacks coach Andy Reid, the Packers drafted Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth round in 1998.
Hasselbeck was outstanding over several preseasons and Holmgren, by then coaching in Seattle, made a trade in 2001 to get him as his starter even though Hasselbeck had thrown only 29 regular-season passes.
In the trade, Green Bay moved up seven spots in the first round (to No. 10 overall) and acquired an additional third-round pick for Hasselbeck.
Unfortunately for the Packers, they failed to capitalize because they used those picks on linebackers Jamal Reynolds and Torrance Marshall, each of whom proved to be busts.
• Despite Hasselbeck’s presence, the Packers used a fourth-round pick on Aaron Brooks in the 1999 draft.
With McCarthy in his one season as Green Bay’s quarterbacks coach, Brooks showed immediate promise and the Packers traded him to New Orleans in 2000.
Though there were two other players involved, the Packers essentially got a third-round pick for Brooks, one that was later dealt in a draft-day trade.
All three quarterbacks Green Bay developed and traded went on to successful NFL careers. The Packers didn’t need them long-term but benefited from the league’s insatiable demand for quarterbacks.
With Hundley entering Year 3 of his four-year rookie contract, the Packers might be able to flip him for a second- or third-round pick. They reportedly were close to such a deal on draft day this year.
To do that, however, it is imperative that he remain Mr. August.