Christian Hackenberg to the NFL

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.

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Around the League

TE Jordan Reed is having a great year for the Skins. DeSean Jackson is the weapon that gets most of the hype and certainly Kirk Cousins deserves the praise he’s getting, but Reed is the guy that defenses are struggling to stop.

Reed has 83 catches for 907 yards and 11 TDs with one game left to go. Those are big time numbers. To put that in perspective, DeSean Jackson has played 24 games for the Skins and scored 10 TDs in that time.

Reed lists at 6-3, 236. He is a very tough matchup for defenses. Reed is a great route-runner and has a knack for getting open. He is a physical receiver that can play through contact and make tough catches. If you put a LB on him, Reed will use athleticism to win. If you put a DB on him, he will use size to win.

The big deficiency for Reed right now is blocking. His technique, strength and effort are all lacking. He is a valuable enough receiver that you overlook that, but needs to keep working to become functional.

*****

Having a franchise QB isn’t the answer to all of life’s problems. The Colts have Andrew Luck, but that is one dysfunctional organization right now. Luck has been erratic on the field this year and the team has actually won more games with Matt Hasselbeck staring (5 to 2).

Aaron Rodgers might be the best player in football, but Green Bay’s offense has struggled at times this year. The Jaguars have actually scored more points than the Packers this year. That phrase just doesn’t sound right.

Drew Brees and Philip Rivers have combined to win 10 games this year while Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Hoyer will likely be starting playoff games.

The point of this isn’t to de-value franchise QBs. You want one if you can get one. However, you need a whole team to win. Just having a stud QB doesn’t guarantee success. We tend to forget that the Colts played great defense the year that Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl. Desmond Howard was the Super Bowl MVP the year that Brett Favre got his ring (GB also had the #1 defense in the league).

Find that stud QB and keep building the overall roster.

*****

There are several CBs having breakout seasons in the NFL this year. One of them is Trumaine Johnson of the Rams. He has broken up 16 passes and has 7 interceptions. In 3 previous seasons, Johnson had a total of 8 picks. Having a player like Aaron Donald bring pressure up the middle over and over can force QBs to make some risky throws. Johnson is doing a great job of taking advantage of those plays when the ball is there for the taking.

*****

Pass rushers and cover guys tend to be the focus of NFL defenses, but there are some 4-3 LBs playing really well this year and making sure people don’t forget the value of that position.

The first guy that comes to mind is Luke Kuechly. He is playing at an elite level and is a huge reason the Panthers are 14-1. He is good against the run, but he is special when it comes to covering ground as a pass defender. You saw him last week 30 yards downfield all over Julio Jones. Jones was able to reach over him and make a spectacular catch, but few LBs would have even been there to challenge Jones on the play.

The Vikings defense is playing well, in large part due to the play of a trio of LBs. Rookie Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway are the team’s leading tacklers. They have also combined for 9 sacks, 3 FFs and 2 INTs.

Sean Lee has been great for Dallas. That defense has been better than expected and the play of Lee is one of the key reasons. He is incredibly active as a run defender and covers a lot of ground in coverage. MLB Rolando McClain has been erratic. If you put on the Tampa game, he looks like a star. There are too many other games where he failed to stand out, even struggling at times.

*****

Blaine Gabbert was a punchline for most of his career, but he’s actually done some good things this season. He has a rating of 86.1 and has thrown for 295 or more yards twice in 7 starts. That’s nothing special, but the fact it is noteworthy tells you how bad he was prior to this year. Gabbert has also run for 178 yards this season.

I don’t think any team will identify Gabbert as someone they want starting for their team, but he has shown that he has value as a backup and spot starter.

*****

The Broncos have allowed the fewest yards in the NFL this year. They are 4th in points allowed.

The defense has a chance to pull off a rare feat. They have allowed the fewest passing yards this season. They are second in rushing yards allowed. Prior to last week’s game, they had allowed the fewest rushing yards.

Very few teams can claim to allow the fewest rushing and passing yards in the same season. The 1991 Eagles did it. The 1975 Vikings did it. We’ll see if the 2015 Broncos can match that feat.

*****

The Chiefs might be the most confusing team in the league. They started off 1-5 and they’ve gone 9-0 since then. They’ve done that without the services of RB Jamal Charles, who is out for the year.

You might think KC has relied on Alex Smith recently. That’s not the case either. He has 4 straight games with less than 180 passing yards. The Chiefs have gotten several defensive TDs in recent weeks and combined that with timely offense to keep winning games.

This kind of formula doesn’t always translate well to the postseason. You can’t count on takeaways and pick-sixes every game. Still, it is impressive that the Chiefs have saved their season and found different ways to win.

You do have to give credit to their OL and run game as well. The Chiefs average 4.7 yards per carry. That is an impressive ground attack.

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GM Updates

Black Monday is almost here and moves are already being made.

The Dolphins have fired GM Dennis Hickey. Mike Tannenbaum is running things for now and will be looking for a replacement for Hickey.

There are rumors (from reliable sources) that the Browns are set to fire coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer on Sunday night. Pettine has a good track record as a defensive coordinator. Farmer did a good job when he worked in the personnel department for the Chiefs. Both men struggled in Cleveland. How much of that is them and how much is the dysfunctional organization is the tricky question.

No one is sure what will happen in Indy. Coach Chuck Pagano seems to be sure to be fired and GM Ryan Grigson could be gone as well. Things have really fallen apart for that franchise.

There are a handful of other teams who could make front office moves.

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More Underclassmen News

Lee is an outstanding athlete. 4-3 teams that like speedy LBs will have a lot of interest in him.

*****

 

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Senior Bowl Updates

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Bosa Goes

Joey Bosa is an elite prospect. He didn’t post great numbers in 2015, but anyone who watched the games saw what an impact he had. Bosa eats up blockers, makes plays and forces offenses to gameplan for him.

He was ejected from the bowl game in the 1st quarter for targeting. Up to that point, ND had struggled to contain him and done very little on offense.

There will be a lot of discussion about his best position. Some feel he really needs to be a 3-4 DE. Others think he can be a LDE in a 4-3 defense. There might be some people who think Bosa could even play OLB in the 3-4.

I expect him to be a Top 10 pick at the worst.

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Praise for Jared Goff

Cal QB Jared Goff has wrapped up a great college career and is headed off to the NFL. His offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin, offered some strong praise for Goff.

– Tony Franklin made a statement you don’t often hear. Cal quarterback Jared Goff turned pro, and Franklin’s said Goff is one of the best and smartest QB’s he’s ever worked with, but he called out the mindset of NFL teams.

“In Jared’s final season of 2015, he had complete freedom to change routes, protections, and schemes – more than any quarterback I’ve coached in my 35 years in this business,” Franklin said in a statement. “I gave him this freedom because he earned it and it helped us to win more games.

“The NFL is sometimes referred to as a `different game’ than college. It really isn’t. I hope Jared gets lucky and ends up with one of the few coaches in that league who recognize a skill set and develop it, rather than one who only criticizes his college experiences and attempts to make football a much more complicated game than it really is.”

We hear a lot about college QBs not being prepared for the NFL. Goff certainly sounds like a player who will be ready for the mental challenges of dealing with an NFL offense.

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Myles Jack

Good info here on the size/speed of UCLA star Myles Jack.

He could play MLB or OLB. He was great as a RB in the past, but most teams are likely to project him at LB. He missed most of this season with an injury, but should still be a high pick.

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DTs Heading to the NFL

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QBs Coming Out

Lots of talent there.

I am not a huge fan of Cardale Jones. There is no denying he has the size, athleticism and arm strength to be a starting NFL QB, but his play was highly inconsistent in 2015. He had a great stretch of games late in 2014 that led to OSU winning the national title, but that looks more like an anomaly than reality right now.

Goff and Lynch look like 1st round picks. Lynch had a poor showing in his bowl game, but that doesn’t overshadow the great season he put together.

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