Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg has drawn a wide array of opinions from NFL scouts, primarily because his skill set and physical tools haven't translated especially well to his on-field performance. The junior, who has until a Jan. 18 underclassmen deadline to decide whether or not to apply for early eligibility into the 2016 NFL Draft, is a tricky evaluation at a crucially important position.
However, NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock points out that it won't be equally tricky for every NFL club.
"I think the guy that's got the biggest advantage on his evaluation process is Bill O'Brien, the head coach in Houston, who needs a quarterback," Mayock told The College Draft podcast with Ross Tucker. "Obviously, he's the guy that recruited Hackenberg to Penn State, and Hackenberg had his best year as a freshman under O'Brien."
Indeed, Hackenberg enjoyed his best career completion percentage as a freshman in 2013 (58.9), threw a career-best 20 touchdown passes, and took a career-low 21 sacks. His career arc hasn't climbed in a positive direction since then, however, and Mayock said Hackenberg's accuracy is a primary concern.
"My first concern with Hackenberg is accuracy. All the tape I've seen tells me he's not an accurate thrower. That typically doesn't change from college to the NFL that much," Mayock said. "He's got to speed up the process a little bit. He's very comfortable under center, he can step up in the pocket. He gets hit a lot, and you've got to be fair to a kid. He takes too many sacks, some of which are his own problem. But he's been hit so much, sometimes you worry about the evaluation process."
Mayock said he evaluated Hackenberg's 13-for-29 performance against Maryland and liked the way the junior stretched the field vertically. He threw for 315 yards and Mayock noted he completed nine passes of 20-plus yards, but found his accuracy lacking in that game as well. Still, Mayock said Hackenberg's size and arm strength are going to remain attractive to NFL clubs.
And whether Hackenberg is draft-available next year or in 2017, O'Brien will know more than anyone when it comes to what Hackenberg can offer beyond those physical traits.