Yes, I know. It’s a terrible pun, an overused one, but incredibly accurate to describe the career to date for Christian Hackenberg. After falling into NFL obscurity the former second round draft pick was given a platform to prove himself in the recently formed AAF. A lot of eyes were on him, after all he was one of the bigger names to sign for the league. Once again his name was thrust into the spotlight, unfortunately for him a shakey debut was followed by mediocre performances leading him to be dropped by Memphis Express. Social media reacted as expected with memes and jokes at his expense, and frankly it looks unlikely that he will ever make it back into the NFL.
Hackenberg made a name for himself early. After his impressive high-school career ESPN ranked him as the best pro-style QB in the nation and a 5 star recruit. At 6ft4 and weighing in at 212lb he possessed all the physical attributes to be a star QB. Penn State won the battle for his commitment, with Christian turning down a number of big universities.
By the time Hackenberg had declared for the 2016 NFL draft, his stock had cooled off a bit, but he still possessed the physical attributes. He still generated a buzz from scouts, with the NFL.com report describing his strengths as follows:
“Prototypical size for pocket quarterback. Durable and tough. Willing to hang in and take the hit if he thinks a completion is pending. Took a pounding and never missed a start. Experienced in pro-style attack and played well in Bill O’Brien’s scheme as a freshman. Able and willing to work through progressions when protected. Balls comes out of his hand with pro velocity. Can drive hips through his release for extra mustard. Can make all the throws, and has the arm talent to take shots to areas of the field that most quarterbacks can’t. Underrated in touch throw department. Can float the ball over top of defenders and deliver it on a pillow. Decent athlete able to climb pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. Recognizes and points out late blitz movement pre-snap. Recognizes danger and able to avoid most baiting attempts. Dropped interception total from 15 in 2014 to just six in 2015. Twice voted team captain and has displayed leadership qualities from time he stepped on campus.”http://www.nfl.com/draft/2016/profiles/christian-hackenberg?id=2555416
There were some flags however. At times he got a bit of luck during his college career, and there were a lot of doubts about his accuracy. Despite the worries from the tape on Hackenberg his size and leadership abilities seemed to be enough to convince teams to give him a shot. Many labelled him a boom or bust prospect, right on the money.
In the second round of the 2016 NFL the New York Jets rolled the dice and selected Christian Hackenberg. His career didn’t get off to the best start, struggling in training camp and during the pre-season he found himself starting the season as the 4th string QB. The Jets decided they would red-shirt him for the first season. Many fans loved this idea, thought he had promise and a year observing on the sidelines and learning the game would help him become their eventual starter.
For the 2017 season Hackenberg came in with the chance to win the starters role. After another poor camp and pre-season he would only manage to earn the 3rd string spot.
His career at New York was a failure. After two seasons he failed to make a regular season snap. It’s even worse when you consider he went into a franchise looking for a QB and lost out to Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Josh McCown. No disrespect to Fitzmagic but hardly a stellar cast.
The rest of his NFL career continued as expected. Traded in May 2018 to the Raiders, he was waived the following month. Picked up in August of 2018 by the Eagles he would be waived the following month. In September he was picked up by the Bengals, to the practice squad, released in November. So in the space of 7 months he had gone from Jets to Raiders to Eagles to Bengals and still couldn’t show enough to warrant a spot on any of their rosters, or even the practice squad in Bengals case.
At this point no other NFL team were really considering giving him a shot, and why would they? This led to his attempted redemption story with the AAF, and as outlined in the beginning that has failed miserable.
Hackenberg’s downward spiral is impressive really. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but the decision the Jets made taking him the 2nd round is looking awful now. Looking back at the NFL 2016 draft the following QBs were selected:
1. Jared Goff
2. Carson Wentz
3. Paxton Lynch
4. Christian Hackenberg
5. Jacoby Brissett
6. Cody Kessler
7. Connor Cook
8. Dak Prescott
9. Cardale Jones
10. Kevin Hogan
11. Nate Sudfield
12. Jake Rudock
13. Brandon Allen
14. Jeff Driskel
15. Brandon Doughty
Paxton Lynch is another candidate for a Draft Bust of that year but despite the overall list not being world class there are very few players who have had a worse career than Hackenberg. From the list only Hackenberg, Allen and Doughty have yet to take a competitive snap. Also only Hackenberg and Doughty are without a team in the NFL. The struggles are to be expected or normal for Doughty, a 7th round pick, but for Hackenberg it has to be seen as a complete failure.
I think it’s safe to say that we can label Hackenberg as a draft bust now, and arguably one of the biggest draft busts since 2000. I fail to see him ever making it back into the NFL. We have little tape on him at the professional level but the fact that he has struggled so much to even make the field is a glaring concern regarding his understanding of the game and ability to execute plays.
Still. He is only 24 years old. Maybe he will prove me wrong. He has the time to do so, but it’s the ability that’s the problem.