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Penn State Football: WWCD? (What Will Christian Do?)

by on December 10, 2015 10:15 PM

The topic was the final course of today’s lunch with five other townies, but by far the most appetizing of the day.

Later, a Penn State grad with connections who was in town for business offered his own take.

So did the guy who texted me last night.

As well as the sports journalism student who originally stopped by to talk about career options.

WWCD?

What will Christian do? Go pro or come back for another, final season at Penn State? (Or, as a few conspiracy theorists have postulated, graduate early and transfer in order to play immediately at another school?)

Christian Hackenberg’s professional future remains near – if not at -- the top of the list of most-frequently-asked Penn State football questions, where it’s essentially been since August, when The Quarterback asked the media to not ask The Question.

Also on this week’s list: Who is James Franklin going to hire as his offensive coordinator? And, how many fans are traveling to the TaxSlayer Bowl? But, to a degree, those queries are parochial and time sensitive.

Hackenberg remains. Or, maybe, he’ll leave. The question of whether Hackenberg will forego his final season of eligibility after the bowl game is of much greater national concern than who Franklin picks as his OC. And it is cropping up everywhere, with the kind of stunning regularity that has caused my Google Alert to go ga-ga.

Opinions vary, but as a community service here are three interesting takes from the national media on the subject from the past few days – beginning with a Thursday podcast from Sports Illustrated:

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’S “ON THE CLOCK”

Host Chris Burke and his guest, Nolan Vasan of nfldraftgeek.com, dissected Hackenberg on Thursday as part of Sports Illustrated’s podcast, “On The Clock NFL Draft Podcast.” They didn’t pull any punches. Listen here. A full transcript follows:

Chris Burke: We’re still waiting to hear officially from Christian Hackenberg, the quarterback from Penn State who has really been all over the map in terms as how people have had him ranked over the past year or two. There was talk about him being a potential No. 1 overall guy a year or two ago. Now, we’re sort of wondering if he’s even a top 4 or 5 quarterback. I don’t know if it helps him a lot to go back, given that system, given the issues Penn State has, that we saw, on their offensive line. But is he is ready? That’s the question. Do you think he should go? Is he ready to make that jump? 

Nolan Vasan: It sounds like I am thinking along the same lines as you. Usually, I would always tell these guys to go. And Christian Hackenberg – no, he is not all ready to play (in the NFL). But like you said, if he goes back to Penn State is it really going to get any better? I don’t think so. The past two years under James Franklin have just been – I don’t know exactly what’s going on there, but they have not clicked. The system, the offense, the offensive line, it’s just not going on there for Christian Hackenberg.

If I’m an NFL team, do I think he’s ready to play? No, not at all. But do I think another year at Penn State would be good for him? No, I don’t think so, especially when you look at what’s going on with their offensive line. A lot of times – and this is why I don’t like young quarterbacks right away – when you get so much pressure and fire under a bad offensive line, it does things to you mentally. It kind of fries guys mentally. They get happy feet, they struggle with their progressions, things like that; they start focusing more on the defensive line than their actual passing game. And I think we’re seeing that with Christian Hackenberg. I don’t think another year at Penn State would be good for him. I guess his best bet, the way I look at, is to be a third-round pick or something like that. Maybe Bill O’Brien from Houston picks him up in the second or third round. Let him sit for a year. That would be better him going back to Penn State and do what he has been doing the past two years.

Chris Burke: That’s the challenge of evaluating Hackenberg as a whole. You see him making some amazing throws that I’m not sure maybe a handful of quarterbacks in college right now who can make and certainly translate to the NFL level. Then you see him throw and you just wonder – his accuracy is off, his mechanics go and it makes you wonder how much of it is that systems and the issues Penn State is having. You try to pick and choose stuff you try to project out to the next level, but it’s not easy. I think he’s one of the harder test cases for quarterbacks because of that system, how much trouble they’ve had sort of meshing the coaching staff and his style.

Nolan Vasan: I really have no idea of what to think about him. So much of this mental. We talk about getting into the mind of a player, of a prospect, to know what’s going on there. You take that kid from two years ago, when he was 18-19 years old, shredded the Big Ten. He was going to be the No. 1 pick in two years. There was no doubt about that. The last two years have been absolutely dismal. His numbers have dropped across the board. To me, it’s like, “You figure him out. If it comes back to burn me, so be it. But I’m not going to lose my job over it.”

Chris Burke: The physical traits are still there. That’s what makes him so interesting.

ESPN’S TRENT DILFER

ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer is a key figure in the prestigious Elite 11 high school quarterback camp. That’s where he first met Hackenberg when the Penn Stater was the nation’s No. 1 prep quarterback, beginning a relationship that continues through today. Dilfer spoke earlier this week with the Dallas Morning News about the Cowboys’ quarterback situation, given the age and injury status of Tony Romo. Hackenberg’s name came up. Plenty. Read the entire Q&A here.

Trent Dilfer: I think that Tony is going to be their quarterback for the next two years and hopefully he stays healthy…. (but) this is the year that you draft one of these guys -- [California’s Jared] Goff, [Michigan State’s Connor] Cook, [Memphis’ Paxton] Lynch or [Penn State’s Christian] Hackenberg. You take him, and you use the Aaron Rodgers model: We hope this guy doesn’t play for a couple of years. You don’t have to pay him incredible money with the new rookie salary situation.

Hopefully Tony wins you a Super Bowl while this guy gets to sit and watch one of the greats of the game operate, prepare and play. And then he will be that much better when he takes over. If Tony doesn’t stay healthy, you have a super-talented kid there that could maybe have a Jameis Winston-type rookie year or second-year campaign. And maybe you get a guy who is going to be the face of your franchise for the next 10 years. I don’t think if youre them you can pass up on this opportunity if you like one of these four guys, which I’m sure they will.

Dallas Morning News: And which of those four quarterback prospects is best-suited to run Jason Garrett's timing-based offense?

Trent Dilfer: It’s a great question. I think my two favorites so far -- and I am going to study them a lot more -- but Goff and Hackenberg both would fit seamlessly into this system. Goff would need a little more X/O training because he comes from a spread system. He’s a little bit more of a passer right now than Christian. Christian is going to be a little more NFL-ready because he plays a little more of a conservative system at Penn State. But he needs to iron out some rough spots as a passer, which he will because he is uber-talented. But those would be the two I personally like the most.

WALTERFOOTBALL.COM

Walterfootball.com is a draft and fantasy football website run owned and operated by Walter Cherepinsky, a Penn State grad. The site has a good history of being dependable and accurate. Hackenberg got oplenty of notice from Walterfootball this past week.

In the site’s most recent three-round mock draft, it has Hackenberg as the fourth quarterback drafted next spring, behind Lynch (Browns, No. 1 overall), Goff (Saints, No. 6) and Cook (No. 10, Rams). Its projection of Hackenberg’s draft position isn’t a big surprise, with Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans taking Hackenberg in the second round and No. 48 overall. Walterfootball.com has the Texans drafting Ohio State running back Ezekial Elliott in the first round.

The site also has the Saints picking Nittany Lions defensive end Carl Nassib early in the second round, at No. 36, followed by defensive tackle Austin Johnson (who has a year of eligibility remaining) by the Rams with pick No. 43 and linemate Anthony Zettel by the Packers with pick No. 57.

In a separate piece, writer Charlie Campbell has a less-than-glowing analysis of Hackenberg, which is both here and also follows below:

There have been many highly touted quarterback prospects who have endured far falls in the NFL Draft. Last year, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Baylor's Bryce Petty were projected by some to be early-round selections, but they ended up dropping to the third day of the draft. At one time, many thought former USC quarterback Matt Barkley would be a top-10 pick, but he also plummeted to the fourth round in 2013. This year, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg could potentially keep that tradition alive. Sources have told WalterFootball.com that their teams have a fourth-round grade on Hackenberg.

Hackenberg was the star recruit for former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien (current head coach of the Houston Texans) and proved the hype legitimate during an impressive freshman season that saw him named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Hackenberg completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2013. He also ran for four touchdowns. Sources felt that Hackenberg could end up being an elite quarterback prospect, but then his sophomore and junior seasons were huge disappointments and those same sources soured on his pro potential.

Penn State's offensive line was terrible, as Hackenberg took a beating. In 2014, Hackenberg completed 56 percent of his passes in 2014 for 2,677 yards with 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. This season, Hackenberg was modestly improved, but not enough to redeem the high draft projections. Hackenberg has completed 53 percent of his passes for 2,386 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions entering Penn State's Bowl game this year. Sources feel that Hackenberg’s inaccuracy, lack of mobility, and decision-making make him a project at the next level rather than a first-round talent.

A general manager whose team is one of the best at evaluating and developing quarterbacks has a third-round grade on Hackenberg. That general manager believes that he could go in the second round. One team that has a fourth-round grade on Hackenberg believes that the team that likes him enough to draft him will probably do it on the second day of the draft. There are a lot of quarterback-needy teams in the NFL, and that demand shouldn't be placated during free agency.

Even though some teams grade Hackenberg on the third day of the draft, that doesn't guarantee he won't be a first-round pick, even. A team that has a fourth-round grade on Hackenberg said they had the same grade on Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel. That low estimation didn't stop the Vikings and Bills from taking those quarterbacks in the top 20 of their draft classes.

There still is a long way to go in the draft process, but if Hackenberg decides to skip his senior season and enter the 2016 NFL Draft, it sounds like he can be optimistic to go on the second-day of the draft, even though some teams grade him as a fourth-rounder.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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