While the analysis is based on multiple games, all gifs are from the Michigan State game which - perhaps more than any other - had a healthy mix of good and bad moments despite being a 55-16 blowout loss (and Hackenberg's worst-graded game of the year) in the end.
The game was initially tight with Penn State about to make it a one-possession game late in the second quarter, but then the Spartans returned a fumble by one of the receivers for a long touchdown. Hackenberg led a touchdown drive to cut the lead to 10 just before halftime, but the third quarter saw two time-consuming touchdown drives on either side of a three-and-out to make it 34-10 and effectively put the game out of reach.
Here are my observations, divided into categories...
Hackenberg has pretty good athletic numbers and good size, but one concern would be his small hand size. He has the same size hands as Jared Goff, who -- even though he would ultimately get selected first -- reportedly had some teams losing interest in him due to that fact.
As everyone now knows due to the ongoing deflategate discussions, an ability to grip the ball more easily helps you in two main areas. One is ball security in terms of fumbles and the other is in terms of how tightly you can throw a spiral, especially when pressured.
To address those specific issues, it's interesting to note that despite getting sacked over 100 times in three years Hackenberg's fumble stats are not that bad. He fumbled 17 times, losing 10 of those. Even more encouraging, that got better last season as he had a career-low three fumbles.
Less encouraging, though, would be this play:
With regard to the other issue, it's worth noting that Hackenberg can throw a tight spiral, especially on deep balls and when his feet are set. However, in the Kollman video discussed in Part 1, there's one play where he praises Hackenberg for making an accurate back shoulder throw under pressure. But it's a fluttering duck that could hang up enough on a cold December game in New Jersey for most NFL defensive backs to be able to make a play on it.
Displaying arm strength on deep balls is another area where Hackenberg has done well at times but hasn't seen much success overall. A high proportion of his completions last season were close to the line of scrimmage when compared with other prospects. In addition, a lot of the downfield completions he made were of the jump-ball variety rather than throwing deep to a receiver who gets behind the defense.
There are some nice examples on film of him setting his feet and throwing a pinpoint deep ball, but he also had a lot of underthrows due to pressure. Penn State's documented issues on the offensive line were perhaps a factor in his lack of downfield passing success, though.
Naturally, arm strength isn't just about the deep ball. In fact, even guys like Chad Pennington could loft a 50-yard bomb over the top. Can he fit a pass into a tight window or complete a long out, though? As you'd expect, this again tends to come down to footwork from Hackenberg. When he gets it right, he's capable of throwing a rope, but when pressured, his technique can get sloppy and his passes can flutter.
Here's the best example of that you could hope to see. Just to emphasize how off-balance he was when he threw that wobbler, Hackenberg stumbled over and fell on his backside after releasing the throw, although you can't see it from this angle.
Here's a successful throw zipped into a tight window, but it does beg the question whether Hackenberg saw the defensive back lurking and about to jump the route. One man's "accurately zipped tight window throw" is another man's "interceptable pass." So was this a reckless throw or an example of how Hackenberg has the arm talent to exploit even the smallest amount of separation? Did that throw have enough zip on in to prevent an elite NFL-level defensive back from making a play on the ball, I wonder?
As noted above, Hackenberg's accuracy numbers are poor and cannot be explained away by attributing them to drops and the like.
Once again, there are plenty of examples on film of Hackenberg throwing a perfectly timed pass right on the money, but there's more where his throw is off-line and once again this usually worsens when he's under pressure.
In the MSU game, Hackenberg's red zone accuracy was very disappointing as the team really struggled to finish off drives. Penn State ran 15 plays inside Michigan State's 10 yard line but they only got in the end zone twice as Hackenberg was 3-for-9 and one of the touchdowns came when a defensive back slipped over and left a receiver open in the end zone. However, the other touchdown did display accuracy as his throw was in the perfect position where only the receiver could get it.
Seeing his completion percentage drop in each season (from 59 percent as a freshman to 53 percent last year) is a concern, as is the fact that he completed less than half of his passes in about 30 percent of his games at Penn State. Not being able to reach the 60 percent completion threshold in any of his three seasons is disappointing, but even worse is the fact that he only completed more than 60 percent of his passes in one game last season.
Here's the most difficult variable to assess in terms of Hackenberg's pro potential: A Hackenberg apologist would say that he didn't stand a chance because of Penn State's notoriously terrible offensive line, which meant he was constantly under pressure. However, his doubters might point to the fact that he was part of the problem because he was responsible -- perhaps moreso than other collegiate quarterbacks -- for setting the protection. Also, he habitually made poor decisions, rushed his throw or exhibited sloppy footwork when the pressure came.
How bad was the offensive line, anyway? They've had a couple of NFL-level prospects in front of him. John Urschel, a fifth-round pick, left after Hackenberg's freshman year and Donovan Smith, a second-round pick, was there throughout his first two seasons.
They also had Garry Gilliam, who has since started 17 games in the NFL, on the team in Hackenberg's freshman year, but he only played one game on the offensive line as he was converting from tight end.
The 2015 group was assuredly bad, though, with several less experienced players forced to step up. Angelo Mangiro was their only 2015 draft prospect and he was rated outside the top 600 by CBS and still hasn't been picked up. Also, as Jets fans know all too well, even if you have a couple of great linemen, the old adage that you're only as strong as your weakest link is often true. And it's obvious that Penn State's line had some individuals who were overmatched throughout Hackenberg's career.
With the offensive line regressing over the course of his career, it's worth noting that Hackenberg was only sacked 21 times in his freshman season and he admitted on Gruden's QB camp that 10 or 11 of these were because he held the ball for too long. He will smartly throw the ball away at times, though.
Here's a play where Hackenberg displays the kind of indecisiveness that made Mark Sanchez so frustrating to watch. Obviously the blocking on this play is really poor but Hackenberg has to eat the ball because he waits a beat too long. If you watch the play, you can see he had a good chance to throw the quick slant for a first down to the receiver looking for the ball in the right slot. He also could've thrown to the receiver running a drag route from the left side who also might have had a chance to get to the marker.
Here's a play where Hackenberg makes a mistake more reminiscent of Geno Smith than Sanchez. Again, the blocking up front is awful, but if he takes the sack immediately that would set up a third-and-10. If he anticipated slightly better he might have been able to step up and get closer to the line of scrimmage before going down or maybe even throw the ball away. However, through trying to extend the play by going backwards, he leaves the team in a drive-killing third-and-18 situation.
As a bonus, No. 8 on Michigan State who drives back the right tackle and completes the sack is one of Saturday's undrafted free agent pickups, Lawrence Thomas.
If the Jets can protect Hackenberg well, perhaps with an added expectation that pro level players will do a more reliable job of responding to him setting the protection, this could mean he's in a better position to succeed than he ever was in college. However, until he gets that chance, you can never be too sure if the damage done at Penn State will prove permanent, meaning he'll always be a player who lacks poise because he's so used to being rattled by pressure and not able to trust his protection.
As noted above, Hackenberg is unique in terms of modern quarterback draftees in that his footwork when under center is well developed. However, he sometimes displays lazy and sloppy footwork out of the shotgun and there are good examples of this in the video discussed earlier. He also displays poor footwork when under pressure at times, as most quarterbacks do.
However, here's a good example of him going through his progressions to throw a strike for a fourth down conversion, as he slides across laterally to avoid pressure and open up a passing lane, then plants and delivers with good technique.
In addition to footwork issues, Hackenberg has a bit of a wind-up in his delivery, which I'm sure the Jets would like to see him sharpen up.
Are these issues fixable, though? That's the $64 million dollar question, but the Jets wouldn't have picked him where they did if they didn't think the answer was yes.
This is a major area of concern for Hackenberg. Again, you can potentially make excuses for him by questioning the system or the play-calling, but it's difficult to excuse him forcing a throw, failing to see an open receiver or not anticipating a defender jumping a route. And he did all three of these things too often at Penn State.
Still, there's some scope for encouragement that he made progress in that area. Hackenberg only threw five interceptions in his final season - a career low - including just two in the first 11 games. That included an impressive streak of 203 passes without an interception.
The Michigan State game was actually the only game all season where he had more than one interception. The first, as you can see, was simply a case of "taking a shot" after getting in range on an early drive. The announcers even said that head coach James Franklin had told them this was something he intended to do in that game.
So, what's on the face of it a poor decision and a poorly-placed throw is perhaps also an example of the maddening coaching some people have used to excuse some of Hackenberg's issues -- especially in light of the fact that so much of the downfield success they did have was on successful jump-ball plays similar to this one.
This should have been a second one, as he bails out of a throw under pressure and lofts an ill-advised pass into double-coverage. That's an awful decision, especially since he had a receiver wide open in the flat. Could this be a further reaction to the fact his coach was encouraging him to "take a shot?"
His second interception of the game was a pick-six. There was a touch of misfortune about how the ball deflected off a lineman's helmet for his linemate to run it in but it was a poor job of lofting the ball to the back over the top. This was clearly the right play call, though, and Hackenberg obviously tried to force this to the back because he saw the potential for a big play.
Hackenberg's career rushing stats (208 carries for minus-242 yards) of course don't tell the full story because college rushing numbers include sacks, so just under half of those "carries" were actually sacks. And accounting for the yardage on those would obviously mean he did make some positive yardage over the course of his career.
He has good athleticism and can make some first downs with his legs, but isn't someone you'd look to run the read-option or many other designed quarterback runs with.
Hackenberg had six rushing touchdowns and one touchdown reception on a gadget play in his college career, though, and here's a nice example of what he can do.
Mobility isn't just about scrambling for yardage, and Hackenberg does display some ability to move around in the pocket. Still, he was sacked over 100 times and took far too many hits, so he needs to do a better job of protecting himself in spite of his willingness to stand in there and make a throw under duress.
Another interesting variable is that Hackenberg was viewed as so promising in O'Brien's complicated pro-style offense, but then his progress stalled once O'Brien left and the system changed. It's evident the Jets specifically targeted Hackenberg to play in their system. So there's reason to believe it will be closer to the kind of system in which he can thrive than the one he's been stuck in for the last two years.
Hackenberg had the most success with short, quick passing and operated in a system which relied on him to make pre-snap reads. These attributes could serve him well in Chan Gailey's system. Those short passes are also a factor in his poor grades because PFF tends not to give quarterbacks much credit for completing easy passes or big plays where the receiver does most of the work.
Hackenberg played in every game in his three years at Penn State. The only time he was knocked out of a game was in his very last appearance, where he suffered a shoulder injury in the bowl game loss to Georgia. It speaks to his durability and toughness that he was able to stay out there despite the punishment he was exposed to, but he needs to learn to protect himself better because that's not something you can expect to last forever.
It's evident Hackenberg is intelligent, although as I've alluded to above, there's still some seasoning required before his ability to read a defense and make adjustments at the line will be at an NFL level.
He was initially praised for his calm demeanor in college, especially considering how that contrasted with O'Brien's fiery personality. However, over the past few years, his mounting frustration was evident in his body language. He was also criticized over his handling of pre-draft interviews, where the suggestion was that he made too many excuses and threw other people under the bus rather than taking responsibility for his own struggles.
While I've heard mixed testimonies on his character, it's definitely going to be a challenge for him to deal with any criticism from the media and the fanbase, as well as trying to gain confidence and respect from his teammates as he seeks to develop into a leader.
Hackenberg's disappointing college career cannot be understated, but there are some areas where he shows valid promise.
It's very interesting to contrast him with Bryce Petty, whose college performance was much more efficient and successful than Hackenberg, but showed less evidence of certain pro attributes that Hackenberg already shows signs of. Despite all the areas where he needs to improve, could Hackenberg be closer to his ceiling and to being NFL-ready than Petty, even though Petty has had a 12-month head-start?
The sloppy footwork, mis-reads and inaccurate passing can be maddening to watch at times, but again call into question the coaching of Franklin and his staff following O'Brien's departure from Penn State. Were corrections not being made that should have been? How well Hackenberg respond to pro-level coaches who place more of an insistence on him cleaning up these issues remains to be seen.
On the whole, while Hackenberg needs to improve in a lot of areas, there are some reasons to hold out hope that he could be refined into a good player at the NFL level. I was encouraged to hear that the team intends for him to sit for at least a year, so he can focus on mitigating his weaknesses behind the scenes without enduring on-field struggles that would damage his confidence and that of the fanbase and his teammates in him.
In the short term, Jets fans should hope that the team can get some good play from the quarterback position over the next year or so, in order for Hackenberg to closely study a level of play that it will be worthwhile to aspire to.
This could be a crucial pick that determines the legacy and long-term future of the current regime, for better or for worse. Hopefully, their faith in Hackenberg in the face of widespread criticism is well-placed.
Up next: A look at the Jets' third round pick, edge defender Jarvis Jenkins from Georgia. What kind of potential does he have and how does he fit into the Jets' defense?