Projecting Christian Hackenberg’s NFL Fit
With NFL Combine and Pro Day season in the rearview mirror, Penn State’s top NFL Draft hopefuls enter the home stretch in what figures to be a long month of waiting to hear their NFL destiny. Some, like quarterback Christian Hackenberg, will hear their names earlier than others. But while the five Nittany Lions are all expected to be selected, each player fits a different mold, and some teams are better suited for a player than others. We’ll take a look at each Nittany Lion prospect and break down which destinations would best fit their on-field abilities and correspond with that particular team’s draft need in our series.
QB Christian Hackenberg — Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns
Despite inconsistent game film, Christian Hackenberg possesses worlds of tapped and untapped potential. He’s made brilliant throws only a select few quarterbacks could possibly make, but he’s gotten in his own way far more often than he should, making careless throws in key situations. Projecting Hackenberg’s pro prospects for certain NFL scouts is like solving an actuarial mathematics problem; he’s got all the talent, but he’s difficult to figure out. But, Hackenberg did himself a favor during his pro day by turning in a respectable performance that showed cleaner footwork, added zip on the ball, and consistency in his throws. Those 60 passes he threw in Holuba Hall might result in a higher draft selection, but the question still remains — who will that suitor be?
The reigning Super Bowl champions make sense for a litany of reasons, with the main being that Denver’s only two quarterbacks as of right now are Mark Sanchez and 2015 seventh round pick Trevor Siemian. Peyton Manning’s anticipated departure along with Brock Osweiler’s decision to bolt for Houston (to the tune of $37 million in guaranteed money) left Broncos GM John Elway scrambling to find a competent replacement to fill Manning’s legendary shoes. On the surface, Hackenberg to Denver makes sense. Though Sanchez remains the butt of most jokes made by fans league-wide, he’s a seven-year vet who’s started two AFC Championship games in his career. He’s not great, but he knows how to stay on a roster, and would be able to teach Hackenberg a thing or two before handing off the ropes.
We all saw what Hackenberg could do as an 18-year old flanked by a star receiver and protected by a sturdy offensive line. The situation he’d walk into in Denver would be eerily reminiscent of that, where All-Pro wide receiver Demaryius Thomas would be his No. 1 pass-catcher, and a solid offensive line that just added former Pro Bowl LT Russell Okung would keep him clean in the pocket — a relatively new concept for a player who took a school-record 103 sacks during his college career. Reigning Super Bowl MVP Von Miller leads a loaded young defense that can provide a young quarterback with a comfortable cushion, meaning the brunt of the scoring burden wouldn’t be solely placed on Hackenberg’s shoulders. Along with championship-caliber pieces already in place, the Broncos decided to match the offer sheet extended to restricted free agent running back C.J. Anderson which would give a young gunslinger like Hackenberg all the necessary to be successful in the NFL. Gary Kubiak’s system fits him well, and having the support of a legend like Elway couldn’t hurt either.
Now, the situation Hackenberg would walk into with Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland would be vastly different. The Buffalo Bills are certainly looking for other options given the fact they’ve already raised the white flag with EJ Manuel. It seems as though they’ve found a long-term starter in Tyrod Taylor (who made the Pro Bowl in 2015), that may not be the case according to Bleacher Report. B/R’s Matt Miller says Bills brass view Taylor as merely “average,” and want to build depth at the position. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach David Lee were both in attendance for Hackenberg’s pro day and spent a majority of that time speaking with either Hackenberg or trainer Jordan Palmer.
Hackenberg would be given the chance to sit and learn under the tutelage of Lee behind Taylor if Buffalo selects him. He’s also the perfect kind of quarterback the Bills would want for budding superstar wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who’s only scratched at the surface of his potential in his two NFL seasons. Watkins is similar to Allen Robinson in the sense that he’ll catch virtually anything thrown within a five yard radius, making him the perfect receiver for a young, fireball thrower like Hackenberg.
The Jets might need a new quarterback as their contract impasse with starter Ryan Fitzpatrick drags on. Former second round pick Geno Smith has been the recipient of his fair share of vitriol after two years of lackluster play, and the Jets front office might fear a revolt from fans if they turn to him. It wouldn’t be ideal for Hackenberg to be thrown to the dogs early in his career in terms of development , but the Jets may be left with no other option. Cleveland’s needs are somewhat similar in that the team needs to start over at the position, but 2016 will be a rebuilding year.
The Browns have been linked to a quarterback at the top of the draft, but new reports suggest they’ll select do-it-all Florida State CB/S Jaylen Ramsey at No. 2 overall. If that happens, they’ll likely take a fresh quarterback in rounds two-three, and Hackenberg could wind up in Cleveland once the draft dust settles. Let’s face it — the Browns are an unmitigated disaster currently. The front office finally washed their hands clean of the Johnny Manziel fiasco, and Hackenberg could be a viable option to sit and learn for a year under new head coach Hue Jackson and 36-year old journeyman quarterback Josh McCown. Starting him from day one could exacerbate the issues faced with the rebuilding year, and could significantly hinder his long-term development.
Josh Gordon’s much-anticipated return to the field gives the Browns one of the best young wideouts in the league, and having someone like him catching passes would only help Hackenberg as he adjusts to the pro game. The young gunslinger is far from a safe prospect by any means, but if he maximizes his potential, Cleveland could hit a home-run in the draft and finally quell its decades long search for a franchise quarterback.
Let us know where you think Hackenberg will end up in the comments section, and enjoy this picture of Penn State’s golden child donning a Buffalo Bills jersey.