Christian Hackenberg's relationship with Bill O'Brien will impact 2016 draft

HOUSTON -- That he chose not to thank his head coach was one striking part of Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg's impromptu draft declaration after the TaxSlayer Bowl in January.

That he did choose to thank his former head coach, Bill O'Brien, mattered, too.

The NFL draft is one giant game of poker. Each team's decisions impact the other 31 teams' decisions. If you can figure out what another team wants to do, you're ahead of the game. And so, the Hackenberg/O'Brien connection will impact the 2016 draft in several ways.

"Everybody seems to feel that Bill O’Brien’s going to find a way to bring Christian Hackenberg into the fold," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "I just think the first round’s too high, but hey, if he believes in him, he could. But he could maybe wait until the second round and get him."

The "O'Brien wants Hackenberg" assumption will impact how other teams function. There might be a team that likes Hackenberg, has a pick higher than the Texans' No. 22 pick, and doesn't want to risk losing him to the Texans. Their perceptions will matter for Hackenberg's draft stock.

What's really important to remember, though, is O'Brien having recruited Hackenberg as a teenager doesn't automatically mean he'll want to draft him.

Hackenberg went to Penn State in O'Brien's second season as the school's first head coach since Joe Paterno. Hackenberg's recruitment, though, started while O'Brien was still in the pros with the Patriots. Hackenberg was a consensus five-star recruit and he chose Penn State over several other schools including Alabama.

In their first season together Hackenberg was strong. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In 12 games he had a passer rating of 134.0 and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Then O'Brien left and Hackenberg's numbers got worse.

Why? That's the question the Texans need to answer to know if Hackenberg is the right fit for them.

Hackenberg had a talented team around him in 2013. Penn State had a running back in Zach Zwinak who rushed for 989 yards and 12 touchdowns. Wide receiver Allen Robinson, who made the Pro Bowl with the Jaguars this season, was a second-round draft pick after that year. Guard John Urschel was a fifth-round pick.

In the years that followed, Hackenberg was hit a lot. Last season Penn State allowed 39 sacks in 13 games, one of the worst totals in college football. Rumors have also swirled about him not meshing with new coach James Franklin, and Franklin's offense not catering to Hackenberg's strengths.

O'Brien already knows enough about Hackenberg's character, leadership and intangibles. Their relationship will impact both the Texans' decision and those of other teams, but it's not a simple equation.