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A rare sighting: Christian Hackenberg throwing a pass for the Jets

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was a very polarizing prospect. Pro Football Focus called him undraftable, and he ranked as the 2nd-worst quarterback in college football in 2014.

But there’s one thing we know: at least someone in the Jets organization really liked him. That person, presumably, is general manager Mike Maccagnan, although it’s likely that head coach Todd Bowles and now-retired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey (and perhaps owner Woody Johnson) had positive thoughts about Hackenberg, too. We know this because the Jets drafted Hackenberg with the 51st pick in the 2016 Draft, so obviously New York wanted him on the team.

Hackenberg was stuck behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, and Bryce Petty as a rookie.  He was the fourth string quarterback for much of the year, so even once Smith and Petty were hurt, Hackenberg never had enough reps to make him prepared to take the field over Fitzpatrick even in the season finale.

So where do the Jets (which I am using as a stand in for Maccagnan, or a combination of Maccagnan and Bowles) stand on Hackenberg now? There are a few possibilities:

  • Option 2: The Jets thought Hackenberg was a future superstar QB, and the plan all along was to redshirt Hackenberg for two years. The thinking would be Hackenberg was a great physical talent, but what he really needed was to have his mechanics fixed, which could take two years.  This means he never had any chance of playing in 2016, and we can ignore all of that evidence.  The issue here? Redshirting a QB for 2 years is really hard to justify: the only way that makes sense is if the player turns into a superstar.  You lose two of the four years on the rookie, cost-controlled contract, and there is a significant time value cost.  You’re essentially trading the 51st pick in 2016 with a 4-year, cheap contract for the X pick in 2018, on a 2-year contract.  How high would that pick have to be?  Probably top 5, based on what we know about trading future first round picks and the value of salary cap dollars.
  • Option 3: The Jets were high on Hackenberg in April, and the team plans on starting him in 2017. This scenario seems pretty plausible to me: given how many questions there were about Hackenberg, it’s hard for me to imagine the Jets thought he was such a good prospect that they could put him in carbonite for two years.  And I don’t know how much a player can hurt his stock with the team by not playing (or, perhaps more importantly, I don’t know how we on the outside can notice this).  The assumption here is that Hackenberg would sit behind Fitzpatrick for a year, while he was “coached up” and then given the job in 2017.  The test here will be to see what the Jets do when it comes to adding quarterbacks: if no notable addition is made, then I think we are squarely in this camp.
  • Option 3a: A swing and a miss.  Implied in Option 3 is that the Jets thought Hackenberg had a good chance to be the quarterback of the future, and they were going to build the team around him. This is a slightly different take on it: Maybe the Jets didn’t view Hackenberg as a future franchise quarterback, but thought he had the potential to be one, and were willing to roll the dice on him with a 2nd round pick.  Many 2nd round picks flame out, so if the organization thought there was even a 30% chance he could be a star QB, it was worth it. But so far, the team is uimpressed with his development.
  • Option 4: The Jets thought Hackenberg was just the best player available when they took him at 51, and he has failed to impress the team so far.  While unlikely, it’s possible that the Jets thought Hackenberg was a great prospect, and took him because he “fell” to them at 51. Then, in training camp and practice, he failed to impress.  This option would make the most sense if the Jets go after a high-profile veteran QB, or spend a first round pick on a quarterback.
  • Option 5: The Jets always thought Hackenberg stunk, drafted him anyway, and therefore — since he stinks — there’s no way he’s in the team’s future plans.  This option doesn’t make any sense, of course, but seems to be the way many in the media talk about him.  As long as Maccagnan and Bowles (and heck, Johnson) are still with the Jets, someone in power was a big fan of Hackenberg 8 months ago, enough to “overdraft him” by most standards, because presumably the Jets were too worried they would lose him.  How much that has changed is open to speculation, but there is almost no evidence to indicate why the team has soured on him.

What do you guys think?  I’m in the camp of option 3 or 3a, with 3a probably being the most likely.  The reason I fall there is you don’t see the organization talking about him like he’s the quarterback of the future: if it was pure option 3, the Jets would, I think, be more vocal about it, and also would give him all the reps this year in minicamp and training camp (TBD, of course, but that doesn’t sound like the plan so far…. and if it was truly an option 3 situation, it’s fair to wonder why he wasn’t given more reps in 2016, too).

Where do you fall, or is there another option I’m missing?


  • sacramento gold miners

    Option 6: I don’t think the Jets know what they’re doing at the QB position, dating back to the Geno Smith selection.

    I also think Christian Hackenberg made a big mistake leaving Penn State early after having a disappointing junior season. Even some QBs with strong junior seasons seem to benefit with that final year at college.

    • [~Steve Gailey~]

      Agreed.. Except it was more the Development and Forcing Geno to play as a project in arguably one of the worst Offensive situations possible where they screwed the Geno pick… then not getting a clear look just because some Psycho started a fight… But, yeah, this new Front office is SCREAMING Ineptness and just Wasted 2 years with no QB in site..

    • Do you think the Jets think they don’t know what they’re doing at the QB position? How would that impact how they decide whether or not to draft a QB?

      Also, Macc wasn’t there for Geno Smith, so that’s not relevant to what Macc’s intentions are.

    • Richie

      Why stop at Geno Smith? It looks like the last decent QB they drafted was Chad Pennington in 2000. (Unless you want to count Mark Sanchez as decent.) Before that was probably Ken O’Brien in 1983. That’s basically 2 good picks (pending Hackenberg and Petty) of their last 18 QB picks.

      (The Dolphins are just slightly better with 2 hits (Tannehill, Marino) in their last 14.)

    • Deacon Drake

      He did not have the option of staying in school. He was Bill OB’s guy and Franklin hated him, and vice versa. He was good as a freshman, but need a QB whisperer… instead got dysfunction.

      Honestly, no idea what the Jets were doing. They need to go into camp with him as the primary backup… who the starter is, nobody knows.

  • [~Steve Gailey~]

    Just Weird… and the departure of Gaily Makes it weirder – I have a TON of respect for Gailey and If I’m an owner, GM or Defensive HC I rely on Gaily’s QB opinion maybe up to 75%….. I also don’t invest in a project unless I have a clear learning path in a clear system with an OC that is going to nurture the prospect every step of the way…. Knowing Gailey was on borrowed time as they did, is a major Red Flag for me on this front office…. Also the comments By Gailey about Hack needed offseason work on his Delivery are alarming… I’d have to 100% assume that if Gailey was on board with Hack and he really thought Hack was the next great thing, he’d never leave at this point and want to ride out the young QB to the Greatness he had major input on… Whole thing sounds to me (including Fitz/Geno fiasco) like they didn’t value Gailey input too much and McCaggan Screwed 2 years so far wasting money on old players, not Developing young a young QB / seeing what Geno could do… McCaggan is now starting over…. and in worse spot than he inherited…. Pretty Disgusting – Probably the 30th ranked situation in all of football now…

  • 3a. Seems the most likely to me by far. My hunch is that they wanted to take a shot on a quarterback in a mid-round — not a bad strategy given the success of guys like Wilson, Cousins, and Prescott — and had Hackenberg in mind. But when their second round selection came around, they jumped the gun and selected Hackenberg lest somebody else draft him.

    In fantasy drafts I sometimes lock in a guy I want and then I overthink it and get paranoid everybody wants him too, so I draft him, and then I find out later that he would have been available three rounds later. One of the great decisions in recent drafts is the Seahawks not picking Russell Wilson in the second round, even though they were very high on him. This allowed them to get Bobby Wagner and Wilson, which obviously was huge. I think the Jets just didn’t have this type of discipline.

    • Yeah, I was leaning 3a but there has been such little positive news about him that it makes me think 3b is closer. Either way, I’d take Hack over any other person on the planet (but not the fields) in my “who will be the jets 2017 QB” bet.

  • Richie

    I think the plan is to switch him to #14 and watch the passing yards pile up.

  • Marcus Clendenin

    If you believe the Jets story that Gailey told Bowles that he was retiring at the end of this season back in January, maybe the idea of the redshirt year was to keep him as the Scout team QB and see which type of plays he picked up the best. Then he could start fresh with the new OC this offseason.

  • Dave

    I’ll go with option 1. I don’t think teams ever really know about SOME of these prospects until they have them in-house.

    If I were in the Jets situation (I’m not even close to being an NFL executive, I’m just another bozo at sitting behind a desk), I would dump all the QB’s on the roster, draft three, and sign a veteran FA. Why waste your time with QB’s who you know aren’t ever going to help get you to a Super Bowl?

    • Richie

      Just dumping all your QB’s is probably a tactic more teams should employ. I think it’s a tough thing to do, when you have invested a draft pick in a guy. Plus, you are afraid he’ll come back to haunt you on another team. But odds are you’ll be better off.

      I still hold hope that Tannehill will win some playoff games for the Dolphins. But purely from the perspective of maximizing roster talent, the Dolphins probably would be better off today had they moved on from Tannehill after the 2013 season.

      Houston, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Chicago, New York Jets and some others should probably do that this offseason.

  • John

    He was terrible in college.

  • Id lean towards 3A though given the Jets recent draft success particularly in the 2nd round I cant completely discount option 5 no matter how crazy it sounds and call it organizational failure at the top. If you look at the Jets push on Fitzpatrick all along they were basically looking for a 2 or 3 year deal. The way it was rumored to be structured sounded very much like he would start in 2016 with some flexibility to make him a backup in 2017 if needed and 2018 just being a funny money year. While there was some desperation at play they didnt come off that 2nd year until they drafted Hackenberg. So I would venture to guess that by that point they knew Fitz was going to the bench in 2017 barring a spectacular season in 2016 since they knew Hackenberg would be their guy. I think it went downhill in the summer when they realized that there was no way they could even consider him emergency playing this year and my guess is even further as the year went on. Gailey being brushed aside means the team could not have been happy with the development of the rookie at all or he would be the guy.

    Still its hard to explain the 2nd round pick on him. I have to think this was an inexperienced front office getting duped by agent speak or gamesmanship by other executives(either the Pats or Browns being the likely teams considered since Cleveland had an early 3 and NE had 2 lates 2s). Im sure there is some fear in making a QB mistake which is why they carried 4 guys and in part raised their salary offer to Fitz which made them justify taking the risk a round early.