Going into training camp, New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles indicated that the starting quarterback job was open to competition. Penn State alum Christian Hackenberg, who was selected No. 51 overall by the Jets in 2016, competed against journeyman Josh McCown and Bryce Petty, who made six appearances for Gang Green last season.
Ultimately, Hackenberg lost out to both of his competitors.
He is listed as the third-string quarterback on the Jets’ first depth chart of the 2017 season. While it’s disappointing to see that Hack will not open the season as QB1, it’s probably for the best, both for Hackenberg and the Jets.
From the Jets’ perspective, the team is currently in full rebuild mode. After a disappointing 5-11 season in 2016, owner Woody Johnson, general manager Mike Maccagnan, and the rest of the Jets front office cleaned house, offloading most of the team’s veteran talent.
Wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, center Nick Mangold, linebacker David Harris, and cornerback Darelle Revis were all cut, while safety Calvin Pryor was traded to Cleveland. Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa is also out for the season
The subtractions of Decker and Marshall effectively left the Jets with no weapons on offense, save for Jeremy Kerley (who re-signed with the Jets yesterday), and tailbacks Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. Forte is an every down tailback, but he will likely not be on the Jets beyond this season. The team will either replace him through the draft (Saquon? 👀), or via free agency next spring.
The team did acquire Jermaine Kearse from Seattle to replace Enunwa for this season, but two NFL-quality receivers and Bilal Powell is just not enough to evaluate the talent of a young quarterback such as Hack.
The last young QB to play for the Jets with real talent surrounding him was Mark Sanchez. As the aging offensive core of Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller, Shonn Greene, and LaDanian Tomlinson all left New York after bringing the team to two AFC Championship Games, Sanchez regressed massively and was eventually cut.
Another asset that Sanchez’s Jets had was a suffocating defense, but again, once the aging core of Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, Darelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Sione Pouha left, the defense couldn’t get the offense back on the field regularly enough, hurting Sanchez’s cause even more. The Jets’ famous playoff victory over New England in 2011 is a perfect example of how a young QB can flourish with good talent around him.
Right now, the team’s defense is decent, but it is nowhere near as good as the 2010 Jets. Led by safety Jamal Adams and defensive end Leonard Williams, the group has potential, but there are weaknesses. They will likely not be able to get the Jets’ offense back on the field as consistently as the 2010 defense did.
Additionally, the loss of center Nick Mangold significantly weakens the offensive line, which was already sub-par. Mangold was a steadying presence at the heart of Gang Green’s offensive line, and his replacement, Wesley Johnson, spent his career as Mangold’s backup prior to this season.
Much like his time at Penn State, the Jets’ offensive line did not take good care of Hack during his preseason appearances, and they almost got him killed on more than one occasion.
Someone make sure Christian Hackenberg is okay. pic.twitter.com/v3heBo9OOo
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) August 19, 2017
Simply put, the current Jets roster isn’t good enough for Hack to flourish. There are three NFL quality weapons that Hack has to choose from, and two are running backs, so they will most likely not see the field at the same time.
From Hackenberg’s perspective, it’s obviously disappointing for him to lose an open competition. He wasn’t awful in preseason, but he also didn’t turn heads and stand out. The Jets’ offensive line is not good enough for a young quarterback to thrive in.
Going back to Sanchez, he had a very strong offensive line in his two best seasons as a Jet. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Brandon Moore, Nick Mangold, Matt Slauson, and Wayne Hunter were part of the reason why New York’s offense was so successful. When they regressed and/or left the team, Sanchez was much worse off.
The Jets’ offensive line is not among the best in the league right now; it is definitely worse than what Sanchez had to work with in 2009-10. Without a good offensive line, neither the running game nor the passing game will excel, no matter who plays in each skill position.
With a team as objectively bad as the Jets surrounding him, Hackenberg starting at quarterback this season would potentially ruin his career. Rushing any quarterback into the spotlight too soon will stunt their development and ruin their chances of having a productive NFL career, a fate that ex-Jets like Sanchez and Geno Smith have suffered.
Hack is a talented QB, but it is impossible to evaluate that talent without a decent team surrounding him. This is why the Jets gave the starting job to a 38-year old journeyman instead of one of its prospects.
If he develops properly, Hackenberg will be better suited to take the starting QB job if and when the Jets can re-stock their team with talent on either side of the ball (based on the team’s history, this isn’t guaranteed to happen through the draft).
The Jets open their season at Ralph Wilson Stadium against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at 1 p.m.