The mystery that is Christian Hackenberg's NFL draft stock is only beginning to unravel with his announcement Saturday that he will apply for early entry into the 2016 NFL Draft. But with plenty of both positive and negative elements in place for his scouting evaluation, an NFC scout told College Football 24/7 Saturday night that the Nittany Lions junior should be chosen by the end of the third round "at the absolute latest."
Such is the market for quarterbacks in a league that thrives on them, and can never have enough good ones.
Hackenberg threw just six interceptions in 13 games on the season, but completed just 53 percent of his passes, threw for only 16 touchdowns, and struggled to stretch the field vertically. There are significant concerns about Hackenberg's accuracy and lack of production at the college level among NFL scouts. Penn State's pass protection of Hackenberg has been a career-long struggle as well, resulting in 103 sacks over three seasons, which has had a negative effect on Hackenberg's footwork. Still, his size and physical tools for the position make him a promising prospect, but perhaps one that will need some developmental time at the pro level.
Hackenberg's next chance to improve his draft standing will come at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February. And if his game film is all scouts have to go on until then, the combine can't arrive soon enough for Hackenberg.
Here are six other things we learned in college football Saturday:
2. Cardiac kids. What was shaping up to be the eighth bowl rout by 20 points or more in the last three days turned into the thriller of the bowl season Saturday night. How thrilling? How about the biggest comeback in bowl history? TCU, down 31-0 at the half to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, walked off the field winners in triple overtime, 47-41.
3. Bowl injury blues. It's been a rough bowl season for several 2016 NFL Draft prospects, not only seniors but some talented underclassmen as well. Just a few of of the top players who suffered injuries in bowl games, some more serious than others: Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith, Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, Louisville LB Trevon Young, TCU WR Kolby Listenbee, Auburn LB Cassanova McKinzy, Oklahoma LB Jordan Evans and Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine, who won't be draft-eligible until 2017 or 2018.
4. Johnson finishes strong. Hackenberg wasn't the only Nittany Lions underclassman to announce intentions of entering the 2016 draft Saturday. Defensive tackle Austin Johnson did as well, and capped his college career in impressive fashion with eight tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss in a 24-17 loss to Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
6. Buckner notches big sack. While Oregon's loss to TCU couldn't have been more gut-wrenching, there was an individual silver lining for Ducks DL DeForest Buckner. Oregon's top draft prospect for 2016 reached double-digit sacks for the season against the Horned Frogs, dropping Bram Kohlhausen for a 7-yard loss to give him 10.5 sacks on the year.
7. Hog call. Two of Arkansas' outstanding underclassmen, RB Alex Collins and TE Hunter Henry, turned in impressive performances in what could have been the final game of their college careers in the Liberty Bowl. It was especially a validation for Collins, who entered the season with questions about his maturity but turned in the most productive season of his career while stepping into a larger role in the absence of injured star RB Jonathan Williams.