In projecting Penn State junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg as a potential top-five NFL draft pick, Trent Dilfer is late to the party.
But in backing the Nittany Lions' supremely talented but production-challenged passer, the ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback drew a viable NFL comparison that goes back more than 25 years: Troy Aikman. And in so doing, Dilfer didn't spare any criticism of the Penn State offense that he believes has held Hackenberg back.
"Christian Hackenberg, once he gets out of that situation, which is not a good situation at Penn State, scouts and GMs and coaches will drool over Christian Hackenberg," Dilfer said on Wednesday. "He's very, very similar to Troy Aikman. They're the same type of body, thrower, personality, competitors. You go back and look at Troy Aikman coming out and look at Christian Hackenberg, they're very similar. I think it's going to be (Hackenberg) and (Cal junior Jared) Goff. (They) will both go in the top five. There's a bunch of guys that will get talked about, but they're really the two that have franchise-quarterback potential."
Dilfer's reference to Penn State being a bad situation for Hackenberg undoubtedly refers to pass-protection issues that have plagued the Nittany Lions' passing attack for more than a season. Hackenberg was sacked an NCAA-high 44 times last year, and has been dropped for 12 sacks this year, though only twice in Penn State's last three games. However, blame for some of those sacks falls on Hackenberg, as he's been known to hold onto the ball for far too long.
Aikman knows something about poor college fits. He began his career at Oklahoma and, upon realizing Barry Switzer's run-oriented offense wasn't for him, found an ideal fit at UCLA.