NFL whiffed on evaluating Tyler Huntley before the 2020 draft

NFL whiffed on evaluating Tyler Huntley before the 2020 draft

It’s too early to say for sure what kind of career Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley will have. But Huntley has done enough this season that it’s not too early to say that NFL talent evaluators significantly underestimated him in the 2020 draft.

The 23-year-old Huntley has started two games for the Ravens this season and played most of another, when Lamar Jackson exited early in Cleveland with an ankle injury, and Huntley has played about as well as Jackson has: Huntley has a slightly higher passer rating than Jackson, 88.8 to 87.0, and Huntley and Jackson average an identical 5.8 yards per carry running the ball.

Huntley is fast, good at recognizing the pass rush and using his legs to get out of trouble, and has a good arm. A player with his talent at the NFL’s most important position is obviously worth taking a chance on in the draft, and yet Huntley went undrafted in 2020.

But Huntley didn’t only go undrafted. He wasn’t even invited to the Scouting Combine, not even as one of the extra quarterbacks who goes to the Combine to throw passes in the receiver drills. Several quarterbacks who were invited to the Combine in 2020 have already washed out of the NFL and were watching on their couches as Huntley threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more on Sunday against the Packers.

And it’s not like Huntley was some nobody in college. He was a three-year starter at Utah who was chosen first-team All-Pac-12 in 2019 — chosen over, among others, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who went sixth overall in the 2020 draft to the Chargers and is now one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

It would be tempting to credit the Ravens for being the one team that recognized Huntley’s talent, but the Ravens really didn’t recognize it either. If they had, they would have drafted him. Instead they brought him to camp only as an undrafted free agent, then they put him on waivers at the end of training camp, giving any other team a chance to claim him, and then for most of his rookie season they left him on their practice squad, where any other team could have signed him away.

If the Ravens had any idea that Huntley would play the way he’s playing this, they never would have risked losing him last year.

It might sound like 20/20 hindsight to say Huntley should have been drafted in 2020, but there were some people saying so before the 2020 draft. Paul Noonan wrote for SB Nation a week before the draft that Huntley was the best late-round prospect in the draft at any position, and that Huntley actually should be thought of as “one of the best prospects in the class and not some late-round flier.” And although the use of analytics for determining which players to draft is still in its infancy, it’s worth noting that several people who attempt to use analytics to evaluate draft prospects were very high on Huntley a year and a half ago.

A whole lot of teams wish they could have a do-over in 2020 and spend a draft pick on Huntley. It’s too late for that, but smart teams are surely examining how they whiffed on Huntley, and vowing not to repeat the mistake of letting a talented quarterback go undrafted.