Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
The end-of-season press conferences earlier this week predictably contained a lot of platitudes about Christian Hackenberg. A common refrain was that the book on Hackenberg is not closed and that the team still considers him to have shown improvement toward realizing his potential.
There is understandable skepticism as to whether the Jets still believe Hackenberg has a future, with some believing the team is reluctant to admit they made a mistake when they drafted the 22-year old with the 50th overall pick two years ago. Jets fans are even more skeptical, with Hackenberg seen as an object of ridicule in some circles.
The fanbase angst is understandable in this regard. Selecting Hackenberg with a high pick was a defining moment in the Mike Maccagnan era. The first-time general manager, running his second draft, stuck to his guns and selected Hackenberg despite the fact that some draft experts were not impressed with his performance at Penn State. Pro Football Focus famously didn't have a draftable grade on him, and the online scouting community in general seemed to lean toward him being more likely to be a bust than a success.
If Hackenberg never becomes a franchise quarterback, which looks increasingly likely, Maccagnan and his scouting department can't say the warning signs weren't there. If he departs without having earned a shot at some meaningless playing time, then the mistake will be viewed as even more damning.
Manish Mehta of the NY Daily News recently reported that there's a chance the team could part ways with both Hackenberg and Bryce Petty -- the Jets' other young signal-caller -- in 2018. However, earlier on in December, he reported that there are still those within the organization that think Hackenberg will eventually get his shot.
So, what's next for Hackenberg? Is he going to be here next year? And, if he is, will he compete for a starting role or will he fall even further down the depth chart behind whoever the Jets bring in during the offseason?
From an analytical perspective, all we really have to go on is Hackenberg's performance in the preseason, although there were some encouraging testimonials from a few teammates about his recent progress on the practice field as he moved up from a scout team role to receive some first-team reps in the final week of practice.
As poor as he was in the preseason, Hackenberg's performance displayed a legitimate advancement from his rookie preseason, which had seen him complete just 36 percent of his passes. He completed 57 percent of his passes this year, although that was largely a product of a short passing game that ultimately produced just five yards per attempt. However, that still was more than in his rookie campaign, where he averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt.
Breaking down the performances even further, Hackenberg initially showed some encouraging strides in the first game of the preseason, as he completed 18 of 25 passes. However, nearly all of these were dump-offs and they netted just 127 yards and no scores. Once they opened up the playbook a bit more over the next few games, his percentages regressed and he looked increasingly out of his depth.
Hackenberg started the second preseason game and completed just two passes in the first half as he looked completely overwhelmed by the pressure from the Lions starters. Given another chance to start against the Giants, he threw two pick-sixes, including one particularly embarrassing one. Finally, with a good chance to pad his stats against the Eagles' reserves, he still completed fewer than half of his pass attempts.
Hackenberg's arm strength and size are what caught the eyes of scouts who obviously thought any issues with his temperament, accuracy, and decision making could be overcome with good coaching. He was also extremely durable in college despite often playing behind an overmatched offensive line. This would be a particularly desirable trait if he could just play well enough to warrant playing time in the first place.
As Maccagnan said this week, quarterbacks develop at different speeds. It sounds as if he is prepared to be patient with Hackenberg and that as long as he is showing progress they won't rush him into action or pull the plug. However, if you combine slow development with being further-than-most away from being NFL-ready at the point of entry into the league, that's not a recipe for early success.
Moreover, in the modern game, practice reps are at a premium and Hackenberg's development is never going to be accelerated in a scout team role, so you have to wonder how they'll be able to prioritize his development in among their ongoing plans.