Too many people would tell you that the New York Jets‘ selection of Penn State‘s Christian Hackenberg at No. 51 overall is a huge risk. They might tell you that based on the last two years, he’s nothing better than a fourth or fifth-round pick. That statement would be accurate. But fortunately for Hackenberg, NFL coaches and scouts look at a much bigger picture.
The 21-year-old quarterback was an early entry in this year’s draft, and there were numerous reasons for his departure from Happy Valley after just three seasons. He didn’t fit into Penn State’s offense under James Franklin and reportedly didn’t have a great relationship with the coach. The offensive line woes also played a key role as he hit the deck 103 times in his three-year collegiate career.
Given the hype surrounding him since his recruitment and the success he found as a freshman in Bill O’Brien‘s pro-style attack, few expected him to stay beyond his junior season from the start. In many cases, failure and hardship may sway a prospect to stick around for their final season, but in Hackenberg’s case, it seemed to make his decision to leave a little easier.
There’s no question that his performance during his sophomore and junior campaigns dropped him from the possible No. 1 overall selection to a mid-second rounder. The tapes just don’t look good. But if you rewind to 2013, he certainly fits the bill of an NFL-built quarterback. With time to grow and develop in the right system, he might just turn out to be a pretty special player.
Now that the Jets think they’ve found their future, it’s time to start working on the present. Ryan Fitzpatrick is still unsigned, and if they want to win this year as well as develop their new, young quarterback they need to make a move to keep the veteran in town.
The Jets barely missed the postseason in 2015, losing in Week 17 with an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth. Fitzpatrick is capable of leading them to instant success while also grooming their future.
The best-case scenario for New York is signing Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal so Hackenberg can sit and learn. I believe that in 2017, they’ll be ready to hand the franchise over to the former Nittany Lion, who is the first Penn State quarterback to be drafted since 1997.
Hackenberg is a very cerebral player, so who better to learn from than a Harvard grad who’s widely considered to be one of the smartest guys in the league? Fitzpatrick is also a very fundamentally sound passer, and that’s an area where Hackenberg must improve. If he can work on his footwork, his accuracy will improve with it, and he’ll be a dangerous quarterback in the very near future.