Footwork, eye discipline, and too upright are three common knocks you'll hear about when it comes to Penn State junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Two years ago, it appeared as the Palmyra, VA was going to be a future first overall pick. Two years and a coaching change later, many are wondering if the junior QB can make it in the NFL.
Last season, under the coaching of head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Josh Donovan, Hackenberg saw his stats drop off a cliff from where they were under former Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien. At the end of his freshman season, Hackenberg had passed for 2,955-yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Not too shabby numbers for a true freshman in the Big Ten.
Once O'Brien left for the Houston Texans after Hackenberg's freshman season, his play seemed to regress. As a sophomore, Hackenberg saw his completiton percentage drop three percent while failing to throw more touchdowns than interceptions as he only threw eight regular season touchdowns compared to fifteen interceptions. But then, there were games that Hackenberg looked like the potential first overall pick that many scouts and fans touted and hyped him up to be.
Two examples of such games in his sophomore season was the Nittany Lions first game against the University of Central Florida, whom they played in Ireland. In that game, Hackenberg threw for 454 yards, completing 68% of all his passes, while throwing for a touchdown. He did throw two interceptions in that game however.
Another such example would be the Nittany Lions last game of the season against Boston College. In that game, Hackenberg lead the Nittany Lions in a thrilling comeback win. Over the course of four quarters and overtime, he completed 68% for 371 yards and four touchdowns. Hackenberg would finish his sophomore season with 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
This season, while his completion percentage is at a career low, his ability to throw the deep ball accurately has never been better. Currently through Penn State's first eight games, Hackenberg has thrown for 11 touchdown passes just to two interceptions and hasn't thrown an interception in the Nittany Lions's last five games. He's on track to set a career high for touchdowns, while on track for a career low in passing attempts.
The junior quarterback recently set Penn State career records in passing yards, and completions and will be looking to set the career TD pass record in the next week. Hackenberg will need three more touchdowns to tie former Nittany Lion and current Oakland Raider Matt McGloin's program record 46 touchdown passes.
Many of Hackenberg's incompletions this year have been on "gimme-passes", which is concerning but at the same time could ultimately be fixed pretty easily as it comes down to footwork and adding a little bit more bend of the knees. But his ability to throw the deep ball accurately has never been better as he's been consistently hitting his receivers and limiting turnovers, which often leads NFL scouts drooling over his potential
Let's not even mention the fact over his last five games, he has thrown 10 touchdown passes and zero interceptions which shows that while his completion percentage is low, he's still making rather smart decisions of when throwing it in to coverage. His numbers certainly are not "sexy" but with his size of six-foot-four, and 230-pounds combined with his superb arm strength, Hackenberg has everything going for him to be a quarterback in the NFL.
One last aspect that will make a Hackenberg a draft pick, is that a team will be willing to take him in the first round is his ability to stay healthy. Over his three year career, the junior quarterback has been sacked an NCAA high over those three seasons of 92 times, with USC's Cody Kessler behind him with 72 sacks. Whilst being sacked 92 times, Hackenberg has yet to miss a game or even more than a drive due to an injury.
Hackenberg may not be the quarterback, that fans and scouts once thought he may be, but don't sleep on the junior quarterback. Stats alone don't always tell the full picture. While he does have his flaws, many of them are coachable and could be fixed with hard work. In the end, Hackenberg could end up being a quarterback very much like Jay Cutler.