FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Another draft, another quarterback. Join the club, Christian Hackenberg. The New York Jets, continuing their endless search for a franchise quarterback, selected the former Penn State passer in the second round (51st overall) Friday night, turning their quarterback situation upside down -- again. They've picked a league-high 11 quarterbacks since 2000, including one in each of the past four drafts.
My take: The Jets have three backup quarterbacks and no starter: Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Hackenberg, with Ryan Fitzpatrick still floating in free-agent limbo. This was an unnecessary pick by the Jets, who could've filled another need at 51. Hackenberg probably will ride the bench as a rookie, so this means no production from their second-round selection. It's a curious choice because Hackenberg is hardly a sure thing. Truth be told, he's one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft. Clearly, general manager Mike Maccagnan fell in love with Hackenberg, who looks the part (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) and possesses a big arm. Problem is, he's not accurate and he didn't play well enough in college to justify a high selection. Just add him to the Jets' list of quarterback projects.
Will the real Hackenberg please stand up? He was a mediocre quarterback over his final two seasons (28 touchdowns, 21 interceptions), but there wasn't much talent around him and he didn't fit the Nittany Lions' new spread system. Opposing coaches felt they could beat him mentally and that he lacked courage under fire. As a freshman, in Bill O'Brien's pro-style system, he showed promise (20 touchdowns, 10 interceptions). Some talent evaluators projected him as a future top-10 pick. The Jets are hoping to get that Hackenberg, not the Hackenberg who appeared rattled at times over his sophomore and junior seasons. He took a beating (103 career sacks), raising questions about his pocket presence and whether he's skittish. Said one AFC personnel executive: "He has some special qualities, but you have to ask yourself, 'Can I get this guy back on track?'" He was a mess at the scouting combine, causing some scouts to shake their heads as he threw wildly in drills. He fell short of the 60-percent mark each of his three seasons; completion percentage usually is an accurate barometer of future performance. The Jets are placing a lot of faith in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, their quarterback whisperer.
Lots of homework: The Jets studied three years of tape, went to Penn State for a private workout and brought him to One Jets Drive for a pre-draft visit. Conclusion: "There's a lot of upside and potential," Maccagnan said. "We vetted him thoroughly." In fact, Maccagnan, Gailey, Todd Bowles, quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo and a couple of scouts attended the private workout. Aside from his physical talent, they were impressed by his smarts, work ethic and leadership. One opposing scout said Hackenberg "didn't see eye to eye" with Penn State coach James Franklin, which may have contributed to a tense environment. The Jets hope they can rehabilitate him, making it 2013 all over again.
What’s next: Right now, their depth chart is a mess. The Jets say they still hope to sign Fitzpatrick, making him the starter -- the ultimate "bridge" quarterback. It's a squeeze play that won't make him happy. Obviously, they don't have much confidence in Smith and Petty. Smith, entering the final year of his contract, probably will be the odd man out. They won't make any rash decisions; there's no point in dumping a quarterback until they get Fitzpatrick back -- or a veteran of his ilk. Every regime wants its own quarterback. Yeah, Maccagnan drafted Petty last year, but it was a minor investment (fourth round). A second-round pick raises the ante. Some day, probably in 2017, the Jets will be Hackenberg's team.
What's next? The Jets have the 20th pick in the third round (83rd overall). They still have needs at outside linebacker, offensive line and tight end.