Just three seasons ago, Christian Hackenberg came to Penn State from Fork Union Military School as a five-star recruit. Many thought Hackenberg had the tools to be the next big thing in the NFL and things were looking like that would be the case after watching the kid as a freshman.
All of this seemed to coincide with James Franklin and when he took over the head coaching gig at Penn State. Hackenberg obviously has a ton of traits NFL coaches will like, but his tape over the past two years is much different than his tape from his freshman season. Let's dive into some tape and see how Hackenberg will project to the NFL.
What stuns me with Hackenberg is how he can sometimes get too cute with his throws. Hackenberg looks the part in the pocket. He has good size, he has a great arm, and his mechanics are solid as well. However, this throw is just really alarming and it's really just the epitome of his 2015 season.
The next problem I have with Hackenberg is his inability to complete touch passes consistently. In this throw, Hackenberg misses his man for what would've been a touchdown. In the NFL, it's hard for receivers to get wide-open downfield, but when they do, Hackenberg will need to make a better throw than this one.
Another flaw that has gotten worse with Hackenberg is his decision-making and how he has relied upon his arm strength and arm talent to get throws out to his receiver. When you pair that with reliability to the scheme he's in, it can lead to defenses keying in on bad decisions and that is exactly what you have here in this throw.
Going back to Hackenberg's decision-making, the inconsistencies come out this throw. Driving with ease against a top-notch Michigan State defense, Hackenberg sails a football that is then intercepted in the end-zone.
It seems to be a common occurrence with Hackenberg, but he continuously makes questionable throws. The next throw is an example of how Hackenberg misses a wide-open target. Hackenberg throws the ball above his receiver's head and Penn State misses out on an opportunity to move the sticks.
At halftime of the game against Michigan State, Hackenberg was 17 for 27 for 166 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The amazing thing is that all of his yardage came on throws that went 10 yards or less.
The next GIF in this article is a combination of two throws showing Hackenberg's inconsistencies. In the first throw, we see Hackenberg and his pin-point accuracy. In the second throw, we see how Hackenberg trusts his arm too much and throws an ill-advised pass.
But of course, Hackenberg is still a guy that shows a ton of NFL potential. His pocket poise is incredible, he displays a fluid throwing motion, and he does show the ability to put the ball in the perfect position at times, much similar to the throw here.
In this throw, Hackenberg puts the ball right on the money to his receiver. The pass isn't completed because of a drop, but the throw shows Hackenberg's ability to throw the ball with accuracy on the run.
In this film, I'm also looking for professional-level throws and one that stands out to me is this one right here. Despite being a tougher pass, Hackenberg throws an excellent football here, putting the ball in a zone where three defenders are near.
Another problem I see with Hackenberg is how he locks onto a receiver, allowing linebackers who are zones to follow his eyes and create takeaways. The next GIF is a prime example of that.
The next throw is from Hackenberg's first year, his best year. Watching his 2013 film, it's easy to see how much more comfortable he looks in Bill O'Brien's scheme than in James Franklin's scheme. This is the prime example of Hackenberg's mechanics and fluid throwing motion.
The word polarizing will come up often with Hackenberg. He will need to take advantage of opportunities in front of scouts, but the wonder with Hackenberg will make him go higher than he actually deserves to go. I'm giving Hackenberg a third-round grade for his NFL potential. I touched a lot on his inconsistencies, but I think most of Hackenberg's weaknesses are fixable. And because of that, I think an NFL team will still be getting a player with a high ceiling.
How does Hackenberg fit in Dallas? The Cowboys are in need of a developmental quarterback and I don't think there is a more project-like quarterback in this draft than Hackenberg. His tape in 2014 and 2015 were very up in the air, but the 2013 tape tells me he has a future in the league. However, that'll all depend on where he ends up.
In Dallas, Hackenberg wouldn't be rushed into playing. He would have time to sit behind Tony Romo and learn from not only Romo, but also with Wade Wilson and Jason Garrett. Hackenberg needs an offensive line that will keep him upright. He also needs playmakers to get the football out to. In Dallas, the former five-star recruit will have just that.
Games watched: Temple, Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern, and Syracuse.
Next up on the docket: Kevin Hogan