The New York Jets have gone through a roller coaster of emotions with their starting quarterbacks, filled with hope and unfulfilled potential. Players like Chad Pennington and Mark Sanchez looked destined for greatness, but for one reason or another were unable to achieve it.
At least the Jets aren’t getting their hopes up for rookie quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
The Jets selected Hackenberg 51st overall in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Penn State. Hackenberg was a former top high school recruit that was coached under now-Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. While we now understand that O’Brien can play any schmoe off the street at quarterback and still win the AFC South, Hackenberg looked like the Next Big Thing as a freshman under O’Brien’s leadership. Then O’Brien left for Houston, and Hackenberg regressed each year.
New York must have thought they could fix him, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter has a pretty damning quote from a Jets coach about the perception of Hackenberg within the organization.
“For New York Jets fans clamoring for Christian Hackenberg and wondering why the rookie quarterback never got his chance this season, the answer was evident to others within the organization,” Schefter reports. “One Jets coach said Hackenberg ‘couldn't hit the ocean.’ Another team official said Hackenberg has regressed throughout this season; he's struggled with his play and his confidence.”
If you weren’t following the Jets season closely, allow me to summarize their year: The Jets finished 5-11, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was terrible and benched, back-up QB Bryce Petty was worse and always injured, and the Jets still put Fitzpatrick back in the line-up instead of letting Hackenberg have a chance.
The New York Daily News has a brutal piece about the perception of Hackenberg in the building.
One Jets starter simply rolled his eyes and shook his head recently when I asked whether Hackenberg was worth a second-round pick. “No,” the player said.
“He will never make it,” another Jets source told the Daily News. “Never.”
The Jets shouldn’t be surprised by Hackenberg’s struggles, either. Almost every scout was shouting the same issues with his game. Pro Football Focus’ college draft guide presents the issues succinctly.
Per PFF, Hackenberg was the least accurate 2016 draft prospect, on target just 64.0% of the time. Raiders rookie QB Connor Cook was accurate 66.5% of the time, but every other prospect exceeded 70.0%.
While under pressure, Hackenberg was accurate only 47.2%, easily the lowest rate of the draft prospects; Cook ranked one place ahead, again, at 53.4%. Cook is going to start for the Raiders on Wild Card Weekend. Yay.
On deep passes, Hackenberg didn’t rank in last; he was 6th worst, accurate on 39.7% of his passes from 21-30 yards down the field.
So all the signs pointed towards Hackenberg’s inability to deliver the football to his receivers. Still, the Jets are holding out hop.
“The Jets think Hackenberg will benefit from some time away and an offseason honing his talents,” Schefter adds. “They still believe he can be salvaged and will benefit from being redshirted during his rookie season. But there are concerns with what the Jets saw this season. It's up to Hackenberg to improve.”
With Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith not likely to return in 2017, and Petty not looking like an NFL caliber passer, the Jets need Hackenberg to step up next year, or find a free agent that is capable of succeeding. My money is on Bills QB Tyrod Taylor.
But if the Jets want to work with Hackenberg, there’s a chance he could turn everything around- just look at Patriots 3rd round QB Jacoby Brissett. Brissett ranked 5th worst in accuracy percentage (71.3%), 3rd worst in pressure passes (54.7%), and dead last in deep passing (31.0%) under Pro Football Focus’ statistics. He played pretty well for the Patriots in limited time and should continue to develop.
If the Jets can find a smart offensive coordinator that can tailor a game to Hackenberg’s strengths (to be determined), just like the Patriots did with Brissett, then Hackenberg could actually develop into more than a healthy scratch on a weekly basis.