Christian Hackenberg Might Not Be The Jets’ Knight in Shining Armor

It’s no secret that the New York Jets have one of the worst Quarterback situations in the NFL. After just missing the playoffs in 2015 due to a Week 17 Kenbrell Thompkins dopped ball (and 3 consecutive INTs from Ryan Fitzpatrick), the Jets decided to ignore that 16/37, 181 yard, 2 TD, 3 INT performance that Fitzpatrick put together in the biggest game of his career and awarded him a 1 year, $12 million deal.

To put it into Harvard terms, the return on investment with Ryan Fitzpatrick has been less than stellar. Through 11 games (10 of which he played), Fitzpatrick has thrown for 2,252 yards, 10 TDs, and 13 INTs. For those of you not counting at home, Fitz has earned an unbelievable $1,200,000 per touchdown thrown so far this season.

However, it was no secret that Ryan Fitzpatrick was nothing more than a short-term answer to a long-term question. Unfortunately, Week 17 of 2015 was the real Ryan Fitzpatrick and “we’re gonna have a problem here.”

Enter: The Future.

The 2015 NFL Draft brought in QB Bryce Petty out of Baylor University in the 4th round. Petty, a big southern guy with a cannon for an arm was the beneficiary of a gun n’ go spread offense down in Waco, Texas. A major role player in Petty’s inflated stats was 2016 1st round pick WR Corey Coleman. Coleman caught 64 passes for 1119 yards and 11 TDs during Petty’s senior campaign. Baylor University has had absurd offensive statistics since the Robert Griffin III years. RGIII also had unbelievably great weapons in NFL WRs Josh Gordon, Kendall Wright, and Terrence Williams. Bryce Petty had the arm to flourish in Baylor’s offense, but one thing that he lacked was the dual threat. Despite rushing for 6 TDs his senior year, he only ran for 101 yards on 84 attempts. So, coming into the league, the Jets knew that they weren’t going to get the next RGIII right away as the Washington Redskins did in 2012, and they knew that Bryce Petty had a lot of skills to polish in regards to being able to run a pro offense (Baylor ran a spread offense that involved the entire team lining up and then looking towards the sideline to see what play to run).

Since being drafted, Petty has played about 5 quarters of football in the regular season. In those 5 quarters, he has been given extremely simple plays to run and has only been able to sling it twice like he did in college. One of those passes was a beautiful 51-yard dime to WR Robby Anderson, and the other was just overthrown. However, he truly showed no signs of being the future and Todd Bowles isn’t even considering starting him over Ryan Fitzpatrick despite being 3-8 and all but disqualified from playoff contention. Bowles’ unwillingness to give Petty another shot could simply mean that his college prowess is not transpiring into the NFL. There weren’t very high expectations for Bryce Petty, and the Jets selecting another QB in the NFL Draft a year later confirmed that.

 

The New York Jets selected QB Christian Hackenberg out of Pennsylvania State University with the 51st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Hackenberg was the #1 QB in his high school recruiting class and proceeded to throw for 2,955 yards with 20 TDs his freshman season. Slight disclaimer to those freshman statistics: His head coach was current Houston Texan HC Bill O’Brien. His tight end was current Pittsburgh Steeler TE Jesse James. Oh, and his #1 receiver was current Jacksonville Jaguar WR Allen Robinson. Allen Robinson made plays like this during Hackenberg’s freshman year:

catch3

After Christian Hackenberg’s spectacular freshman season, there was a massive change of scenery in Happy Valley. Head Coach Bill O’Brien bolted to the NFL, as did star wideout Allen Robinson. Penn State hired Vanderbilt’s James Franklin to be the 17th head coach in school history. Franklin immediately made changes to the entire offensive scheme of the Nittany Lions. Bill O’Brien established a pro style offense, which he had learned under none other New England Patriots’ HC Bill Belichick. James Franklin changed that into more of a spread offense, and Christian Hackenberg’s production suffered. His sophomore campaign saw him throw for more INTs (15) than TDs (12). His completion percentage also fell from 58.9% in 2013 to 55.8% in 2014. It was the beginning of a tumultuous relationship between the two. Hack’s junior year saw an increase in TD:INT ratio (16 to 6) but his completion percentage again fell to 53.5% and passing yards dropped to 2,525. You can point fingers at the unexpected coaching change, or the offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 83 times over two years, but the end result for Hack wasn’t pretty. This kind of regression is what you’d see in a 35 year old veteran, not a 20 year old college prodigy.

The reason why I’m thoroughly concerned that Christian Hackenberg is not the Jets’ knight in shining armor is the success of Penn State after Hack’s departure. Had James Franklin been the problem and not Christian Hackenberg, then Penn State wouldn’t be 10-2 and playing for the Big Ten Championship this weekend. They are currently #7 in the nation and with a win over Wisconsin, there is a legitimate chance that they sneak it into the College Football Playoff with a little help. Not only has Penn State as a team gotten better since Hack’s departure, his successor, sophomore QB Trace McSorley is putting up better stats. With at least 2 games left in the season (Big Ten Championship and a Bowl Game/CFP), McSorley has thrown for 2,976 yards with 21 TDs and only 5 INTs to go with a completion percentage of 56.3%. He is 1 yard shy of Hackenberg’s career high, and already has 1 more TD than Hack ever had in a season.

It may sound crazy to already be putting down a 21 year old rookie QB who has yet to even be active in an NFL regular season game, but given his regression in college, Penn State’s success with him gone, and the Jets not even considering giving him extra reps in practice, I’m not confident that Hack will bring good QB play back to New York.

Future Options:

Obviously, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg need their reps in both practice and in games to give the Jets a realistic look at their skills and IQ on the field. That being said, if they are actually atrocious in practice and have no business being QB1, don’t be surprised if a new veteran QB walks through the doors next year. It likely won’t be a run of the mill journeyman quarterback like Ryan Fitzpatrick is; it could be Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, or even Mike Glennon (please no). There’s a very good chance that  the Jets continue their ‘competitive rebuild’ process, which consists of them bringing out a team that will compete every week and win some games, while drafting the best players on the board and developing them year to year until they are a championship caliber squad. A veteran QB with something left in the tank such as a Tony Romo or Jay Cutler could keep fans in the seats and they could also play an integral role in developing the younger offensive players that the Jets have. Signing one of those guys to a short-term deal could also allow the Jets to readdress the quarterback position in the draft. One QB comes to mind regarding the 2018 NFL Draft; Louisville QB Lamar Jackson. He will not be eligible for the draft until 2018 yet he is already the frontrunner to be the #1 pick 2 years in advance. This may sound crazy, but 2 years from now the New York Jets could be looking at a backfield of Lamar Jackson and Leonard Fournette. Just close your eyes and imagine.

 

As is customary, here’s some Lamar Jackson highlights to keep you entertained for 2 years. Adios.

 

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