Don't blame Christian Hackenberg; he's doing the best he can. Quite obviously, he's a project -- a major project. His growing pains have been so glaring that some people (mainly, fans) are calling him a bust. If they want to spew venom, they should save it for the New York Jets, who overdrafted him in April.
They picked him in the second round, 51st overall, too high for a quarterback who peaked as a freshman and was regarded by most talent evaluators as a work in progress. General manager Mike Maccagnan went against the crowd, attaching his reputation to the erratic passer from Penn State. This isn't a second guess; it was a widespread feeling on draft night.
The outcome of the Hackenberg pick will have a significant impact on the franchise over the next few years. If he's not starting by 2018 (only hardcore optimists would project him as the 2017 starter), it'll be a major setback and a stain on Maccagnan's record. It's too early to draw a conclusion, but you get the feeling this could be one of those genius-or-dunce scenarios.
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock, the color analyst for the Philadelphia Eagles' preseason telecasts, gave a brutally candid scouting report on Hackenberg on Thursday night.
"You draw it up like that kid right there -- his size ... huge arm, smart kid," Mayock said on the air when Hackenberg replaced the injured Bryce Petty. "But his (college) tape was frustrating because some of it was really good and a lot of it was really bad. So what you're doing in the second round, you're betting on this kid and his upside."
What the Jets are doing is red-shirting him for a year, so to speak, hoping he's fixed by 2017. Problem is, they will get no production out of their second-round pick, a player who could be starting or contributing in a reserve role. Hackenberg will be the 53rd player on a 53-man roster.
The percentages are working against the Jets. Of the 19 quarterbacks drafted in the second round since 2000, only three emerged as longtime starters: Drew Brees (2001, a future Hall of Famer), Colin Kaepernick (2011, now a backup) and Andy Dalton (2011, the Jets' Week 1 opponent). It certainly appears Derek Carr (2014) is on his way to a promising career, and the Houston Texans expect the same from Brock Osweiler (2012) after investing big money.
Publicly, the Jets have remained positive with Hackenberg, knowing they're in it for the long haul. They came into the preseason with realistic expectations, figuring he'd struggle. And he has.
Check out his preseason numbers: 17 completions, 47 attempts (36.2 percent), 159 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions. His passer rating is 35.7. On Thursday night, his yards-per-attempt (1.7) was less than the team's rushing average (2.8). That's not something you see every day. Under duress in the red zone, he made an ill-advised throw that was intercepted and returned 90 yards for a touchdown by safety Ed Reynolds.
"I was like, 'There's no way he's throwing this ball,'" Reynolds said. "And he threw it."
Teams don't make personnel evaluations based on preseason stats (good thing for Hackenberg). They go by their eyes, not the numbers. Anybody can see he's rushing his decisions and displaying the accuracy issues that plagued him in college.
"When you play an NFL game with a bunch of young guys who have never really played before, there's going to be some miscues and mistakes," coach Todd Bowles said Friday. "It's nothing to get down on. It's something to learn from. Christian is a bright guy, he's got a great football IQ. I'm sure he'll learn from it."
If Hackenberg develops into a winning quarterback, it'll go to the top of Maccagnan's bio in the team's media guide. For now, Hackenberg goes into the "risk" category -- a bigger risk than it should have been.