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Preseason Stats: 17-for-47, 159 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, 1-15 rushing, one fumble
Regular Season Stats: Did Not Play
Projected Role: Back-up quarterback
When the Jets drafted Christian Hackenberg they may unwittingly have ensured that he would be the defining pick for this front office regime. He's not a highly regarded prospect in the analytical scouting community, to say the least, but the team saw past those concerns to select him with the 51st pick in last year's draft
At the time, the Jets perhaps expected that Ryan Fitzpatrick would continue to be an effective starter for the next few seasons, enabling Hackenberg to develop behind the scenes. However, Fitzpatrick's disappointing 2016 season and his inevitable departure have intensified the scrutiny on Hackenberg's progress. The pressure is on, and if fans don't see evidence that he's progress towards being able to contribute soon, general manager Mike Maccagnan is going to struggle to avoid the same kind of vitriol that his predecessor, John Idzik, faced.
Reports from the offseason program have been mixed. There's been criticism concerning his consistency but a virtually unanimous consensus that he's made progress over the last 12 months. However, based on his performance last season, he was a long way off being the finished product, so progressing from that point gives no guarantees that he's going to be anywhere close to ready on an acceptable timescale.
Looking back on preseason last year, Hackenberg made appearances in the last two games against the Giants and Eagles, but registered poor statistics while making some embarrassing mistakes.
Hackenberg's first drive against the Giants started off in shambolic fashion as he misfired on his first two passes and then allowed the play clock to expire, immediately placing the offense in a 3rd-and-15 predicament. However, he established a nice rhythm by completing his next four passes on a touchdown drive that culminated in a well-timed touchdown pass to Robby Anderson. Unexpectedly, Hackenberg had flashed some of the traits that made him attractive to the Jets.
That touchdown drive was basically the only high point of his preseason campaign though. Other than that string of four throws, he completed just 30% of his passes. He also made the most elementary of mistakes on his two interceptions, completely failing to see a defensive player dropping into the passing lane on one and reacting to an unblocked rusher by putting the ball up for grabs for an easy pick six on the other.
The Jets' approach with Hackenberg has come under criticism. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey suggested there was no point in spending time drilling his fundamentals and fixing his technical flaws because he wasn't going to play, so his limited development time would be better served learning things like how to read defenses, scheme terminology and the intricacies of pre-game preparation. It's was therefore perhaps inevitable that he would still be looking bad in practice, considering their priority was focused on him knowing what he was doing rather than looking good at what he was doing.
With Gailey gone and a new offense in place, Hackenberg may have to go back to square one in terms of learning and becoming comfortable within the offense. However, he should at least start to look better, assuming the offseason work he's put in on his own time with Jordan Palmer starts to yield results.
Palmer reportedly identified a technical flaw that was affecting Hackenberg's accuracy on short throws and that manifested itself in preseason, as he completed just 36% on such throws, including just one of seven in his first appearance. Already Hackenberg looks better technically in mini-camp footage than he did 12 months ago with reports of errant throws hitting reporters hopefully more likely to be sensationalist click-bait than a major cause for concern at this early stage.
There's concern that a lack of proven receivers can make it impossible for a young quarterback like Hackenberg to show what they're capable of, but one thing working in his favor is that the players who have left are players he probably didn't work with much and therefore wouldn't have had any chemistry with. As he showed fleetingly in preseason, he appeared to have some chemistry with players like Anderson and Charone Peake and can perhaps build on that this year.
Outlook: It looks inevitable that Hackenberg will get his chance to play this season and if he defies expectation and outperforms expectations, the front office will deserve credit for the precautions they've taken to try and ensure his readiness. However, if - as expected - he has a less than smooth transition, then that will test patience of the coaching staff and fans alike.