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Scout: Christian Hackenberg 'easily' a top-five NFL draft pick

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NFL personnel executives and scouts are often quick to point out that statistics are relatively meaningless when it comes to scouting a player. Physical traits trump numbers, as Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday learned in going undrafted after delivering more than 11,000 yards and 90 touchdown passes in his Cougars career.

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Well, say this much about the scouting fraternity: It's consistent at both extremes.

On paper, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg doesn't have the numbers that one would expect of a top NFL draft choice. He threw just four touchdown passes in Big Ten play last season, and tossed 15 interceptions, tying a league-high with Michigan's Devin Gardner. Yet, here is one pro assessment of the Nittany Lions' junior:

"I think he is easily a top-five pick," an NFL scout told ESPN.

Sound familiar? It should. That's exactly how former Detroit Lions president Matt Millen described Hackenberg at Big Ten Media Days last week, adding that he expects Hackenberg to leave PSU a year early and enter the 2016 NFL Draft.

The scout who spoke to ESPN didn't indicate whether Hackenberg might enter the draft in 2016 or 2017, but based on his 2014 season, a full four years of college might be best. Penn State coach James Franklin, for one, bristles about criticism of his quarterback. Behind miserably poor pass protection, Hackenberg was sacked 44 times last year and had an inexperienced group of wide receivers, as well.

"It's important to keep in mind the unique situation he was in," Franklin told ESPN. "He was a true sophomore, 19 years old, but he's looking around and he's the most experienced guy in the huddle. Now you add in a lack of a running game and a lack of protection -- that's a lot to carry on your shoulders."

So is the projection of being a top-five NFL draft pick.

At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Hackenberg has the frame NFL teams desire at the position and he has the arm strength to match any quarterback in the country. With the right physical traits already in place, he just has to concern himself with performance.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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