Penn State lost to Georgia in their bowl meeting on Saturday. After the the game, QB Christian Hackenberg announced he’s headed to the NFL. He got hurt in the 1st half of the game (nothing long term) and if he had any doubts, I’m sure that sealed the deal.
Coming into the 2014 season, Hackenberg was thought to be an elite player. He had a strong Freshman year under coach Bill O’Brien. Unfortunately, O’Brien left for the Houston Texans job. James Franklin took over at Penn State and everyone thought he was handed a great QB that would help him and PSU do some big things (at least on offense).
Things did not go well for PSU or Hackenberg in 2014. Most people thought that would change in 2015. Franklin was in his second year. He and Hackenberg were supposed to look much improved.
Both PSU and Hackenberg were better this season, but both disappointed as well. Hackenberg never looked like the elite QB he was projected to be. PSU beat up on a bunch of mediocre teams and lost to every good team they played.
Hackenberg was once thought to be a Top 5 pick. He was supposed to be another Andrew Luck, a QB who would go first overall and be the key to a franchise. Those thoughts are long gone. There is still some talk about him in the 1st round, but he would go toward the bottom rather than at the top.
I would not spend a 1st round pick on Hackenberg. I see a talented player, but one with too many flaws to be seen as a likely star in the making. I watch Hackenberg and see a poor man’s Jay Cutler, a QB who loves his arm and hasn’t mastered the subtleties of the position.
He is talented. Put on a game and you will see a handful of plays where Hackenberg makes really good throws. There were a handful of plays this year where he made incredible throws. He does have a strong arm. He can throw with great accuracy. He’s also not afraid of throwing into coverage. Hackenberg trusts his arm and likes to give his receivers a chance to make plays.
Hackenberg has good size at 6-4, 230. He isn’t special athletically, but moves pretty well. He even caught a TD pass in the Illinois game. One of the big selling points for me would be that Hackenberg stayed at PSU after O’Brien left. That hurt him in the long run, but showed a lot of character. He’s not afraid of challenges.
There are issues, though. Hackenberg is overly mechanical at times and looks stiff. Tom Brady isn’t an athlete, but is smooth mechanically, has a quick release and moves well in the pocket. Hackenberg is pretty much the opposite. His footwork is terrible at times. He doesn’t move fluidly or quickly.
I wonder about his instincts. There are some times when he makes really strange decisions. He’ll throw the ball right at the LOS on 3rd/15 and then throw a deep ball on 3rd/2. He struggles to consistently put good touch on his throws. You saw this in the bowl game. Hackenberg threw some rocket balls at pass catchers that were just a few yards from him.
Hackenberg played behind a poor OL the last 2 years. He was a poor fit for the James Franklin offense. I think Franklin would strongly prefer a mobile QB who mastered short, quick throws.
While you have to take into account the OL problems and less than ideal scheme fit/playcalling, Hackenberg is hardly an innocent victim in all of this. Great players overcome less than ideal circumstances. Hackenberg did not. There were times when he seemed to make things worse.
I remember watching Matt Ryan as a Senior at Boston College. He had a solid OL, but no real skill talent to work with. He was able to bring out the best in those players and that team had some good wins, most notably an upset win at Va Tech (back when that was a big deal).
Ryan looked like a Top 5 pick to me. Hackenberg is a talented, but flawed project. He had some very good skill players to work with, but the PSU offense was terrible at times, especially when facing good defenses.
The career numbers aren’t impressive. He never completed 60 percent of his passes in a season (good college QBs are well above that). Hackenberg finished with 48 TDs and 31 INTs. As a point of comparison, Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty completed 72 percent of his passes this year and threw for 48 TDs. Different teams, different players, different circumstances, but still numbers worth considering.
I think a better question than should he go in the 1st round is whether he should be a Top 100 pick. I could easily see some NFL team falling in love with his potential and his highlights and spending a late 1st rounder on him, but I don’t think a team should do that. I just think there are too many concerns.
The ideal scenario would be for him to get picked by the Texans so he could be reunited with O’Brien, the coach who brought out the best in him. Hackenberg does have NFL talent. It just seems that most QBs who are flawed tend to stay flawed. If Hackenberg could sit and have time to adjust to the NFL and get good coaching, he might be one of the guys who ends up succeeding.