Despite a poor 2014 season behind a offensive line, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is still a potential top 5 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft
(C+P) — Not since Kerry Collins has a Penn State quarterback been selected in the first round of an NFL Draft. Collins was the fifth pick overall in 1995, selected by the Carolina Panthers. Christian Hackenberg, the Nittany Lions starter the past two years, returns once again looking to improve on what could be considered a disastrous 2014 season. Even though last year was rough on the 6-4, 228-pound junior, Hackenberg could be the first quarterback taken in next year’s NFL Draft.
Hackenberg flourished in NFL offensive guru Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense during his freshman year, but last year the Penn State QB seemed to take a step backward as he attempted to get comfortable in new head coach James Franklin’s offense. Hackenberg’s completion percentage, 55.8, led many to question his accuracy while his 12 touchdowns to 15 interceptions conjured images of the young quarterback throwing into coverage too often. His output in 2014 led many draft analysts to question whether or not Hackenberg was even draftable.
The truth is that the best high school QB in the nation in the 2013 class had to fight his way through adversity and a number of offensive disasters. The Penn State offensive line, traditionally known for its ability to lead a power running game and protect passers, suffered a number of injuries leading to a new starting lineup almost every week of the season. In 13 games, Hackenberg was sacked 44 times and threw another 77 passes while being hurried or knocked down. It was a big difference from the 2013 season when the Penn State QB threw for 20 touchdowns.
Hackenberg also lacked quality, experienced receivers. Three of Penn State’s top four receivers were freshman, including DaeSean Hamilton, who turned out to be the best. The Nittany Lions top tight end, Adam Brenneman, missed the entire season with a knee injury. Of the 12 touchdowns Hackenberg threw, only eight were caught by wide receivers.
Moving into the 2015 season, the Penn State receiving corps should be much stronger with a benefit of a year of experience. The offensive line should be better and can hopefully avoid injury. Hackenberg is still the prototypical drop-back passer. He has a strong arm, great vision and spends time in the film room analyzing his opponent. These attributes are what make Hackenberg a likely top five pick should he decide to go pro after this year’s season.