Christian Hackenberg was always supposed to be the next big thing. The top-rated pocket quarterback coming out of high school, Hackenberg made a decision to honor his commitment to Penn State in the face of scandal and sanctions to play for Bill O’Brien. He was a guaranteed top ten pick, but then…wasn’t.
Named the starter as a true freshman, Hackenberg thrived in O’Brien’s system, completing 231 passes for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns along with 10 INTs. While not perfect, the quarterback from Palmyra, Virginia showed potential to be a future star. However, after his coach jumped ship to the Houston Texans and James Franklin took over, Hackenberg’s growth became stunted.
The two seasons under James Franklin saw the quarterback deal with a stagnant offense led by coordinator John Donovan. Poor offensive line play and a lack of a run game made things difficult for the Nittany Lions. Sure, Penn State had freshman phenom Saquon Barkley rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2015, but that wasn’t enough to take pressure off their quarterback.
In the James Franklin era, Penn State’s offensive line was always a work in progress. From losing starters John Urshel and Donovan Smith to the NFL, along with injuries and being forced to play D-Tackles at guard, Christian Hackenberg rarely had a stable pocket to throw from. And when he did, he had clear discomfort, leading to poor decisions. But, that’s to be expected of someone who was sacked 103 times in his college career.
He finished his college career throwing for 8,457 yards and 48 touchdowns (both Penn State records) as well as 31 interceptions.
At the scouting combine, Hackenberg impressed with his prototypical size, measuring 6-foot-4 and 223 lbs. He also ran a 4.78 second 40-yard dash and a 7.04 second three-cone drill time, good enough for top-five in both categories. However, when it came to the throwing portion of his workout, concerns about his accuracy resurfaced.
NFL Hall of Famer Bill Polian said on ESPN’s Mike and Mike that Hackenberg’s accuracy issues stem from the “terrible beating he took at Penn State.”
“Hackenberg has got terrible mechanical issues that I think need to be straightened out…I’ve never seen a quarterback survive the kind of beating that he took this year. The fact that he did is to his credit, but he needs some developmental work because when you take a beating like that, your mechanics go all to heck.” — Bill Polian
But even with all of this, there was still one glimmer of hope for Hackenberg’s draft stock: Bill O’Brien. The Houston Texans have needed a quarterback since Matt Schaub’s play fell off a cliff in 2013, and after Brian Hoyer’s five-turnover game in the AFC Wildcard round, it was obvious that the Texans desperately needed an upgrade at QB to be contenders. If he was going to be taken in the first round, Bill O’Brien was his last hope.
Those dreams came crashing down on the first day of free agency when the Houston Texans signed former Broncos QB Brock Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contact with $37 million guaranteed. With that kind of contract, there’s no chance the Texans invest a high-draft pick in a passer.
Always someone who was always rated based on his potential instead of his production, the best case scenario for Christian Hackenberg is to get drafted by a team with an established veteran starter with a talented offensive line to give him a year or two to grow and develop and get his mechanics smoothed out. If they thought the price was right, the Dallas Cowboys would be perfect for Hackenberg.
Hackenberg’s last chance to dazzle scouts is at Penn State’s pro day on March 17. The first round of the NFL draft begins April 28.