Christian Hackenberg is 'going to be the first player picked'

Massachusetts coach Mark Whipple is a former NFL assistant -- a former NFL quarterback coach, to be exact -- and he has a high opinion of Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Whipple and UMass play at Penn State on Saturday, and he was asked his impression of Hackenberg during Monday's MAC coaches' teleconference.

"He's going to be the first player picked. If he could come out this year, he'd be the first player picked," Whipple said, later adding that Hackenberg "just can make every throw. ... He's just got it all."

Whipple was the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback coach from 2004-06, meaning his first three seasons in the NFL coincided with Ben Roethlisberger's first three seasons in the league. Whipple also has been an offensive assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles (2008) and Cleveland Browns (2011-12).

And, yes, Whipple dropped a "Big Ben" reference when talking about Hackenberg: "He's a little more athletic than you think. He reminds me of a guy I had at Pittsburgh with the Steelers."

Whipple's son, Austin, was a walk-on at Penn State, so he attended every Nittany Lions game last season, when Hackenberg threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns as a true freshman. Whipple also is a long-time friend of Bill O'Brien, who coached Penn State in 2012 and '13 and now is coach of the Houston Texans. In addition, Austin Whipple was Hackenberg's roommate for part of last season. In short, Whipple has seen a lot of Hackenberg.

"Hackenberg is a winner and I couldn't say enough about him," Whipple said during the teleconference. "I've seen him play every single game, I've seen his practice habits, seen him in the meeting rooms, I've seen the way he's worked with Bill O'Brien, and he's the real deal."

Whipple also said he was impressed with Hackenberg's leadership qualities.

"I watched him every game and watched him practice last year, and he roomed with my son for a little bit; he's an awesome kid," Whipple said. "To see the way he's taken the team on his shoulders, the way he played all last year and the way he handles not only success but also the way he handles failures. ... He's doing what everyone knows he can do. He's a true sense of a quarterback."

Hackenberg (6-foot-3, 234 pounds) has thrown for 1,082 yards this season, with four TD passes. But he also has tossed five interceptions, and that obviously is worrisome. At the same time, Penn State's offensive line has been rebuilt and Penn State has no running game to speak of. Hackenberg also has been sacked eight times.

NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks has touted Hackenberg's "impressive" arm strength, anticipation and awareness, writing in May that "NFL scouts are already salivating about his potential at the next level."

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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