Rookie Profile – Christian Hackenberg, QB Penn State

Jacob Feldman

When you stop and think about it, the NFL quarterback just might be the rarest of all commodities. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of kids who dream of one day becoming one, but in the end, how many of them do we actually have? I would argue that there are maybe, maybe 20 true NFL quarterbacks in the league right now. To be fair, there are a handful of others who might develop into one given the time with the correct recipe of support and situation. However, the number of players who actually belong in starting roles right now is definitely smaller than the number of teams in the NFL. It is part of why the good ones have the opportunity to play until they are 40, and the bad ones still command one of the highest salaries on their teams. It is all a matter of supply and demand.

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In the world of fantasy football, outside of superflex and 2QB leagues, we have the exact opposite issue. With 12 team leagues being the most common, though probably not the majority anymore, only having 20 true starting quarterbacks in the NFL isn’t a huge concern. This makes for a very interesting paradox between the NFL and fantasy leagues. This is why the NFL almost always has multiple quarterbacks go in the first ten picks of the NFL draft while fantasy leagues will often completely ignore the position for at least ten picks, if not the first twenty. If the top ones aren’t going until the second round in a lot of fantasy leagues it means players who aren’t the top tier of the position might not even be drafted in regular leagues. However, in those superflex and 2QB leagues the value of anyone who could become a starting quarterback is very, very different. That’s exactly the case for a player like Christian Hackenberg.

Hackenberg definitely isn’t in the top tier of this year’s quarterbacks, but at one point everyone thought he was going to be there. In fact, I remember him being the first overall pick in the way too early mock draft ESPN put out last May. I’m sure Todd McShay wasn’t the only one! Hackenberg was supposed to be the guy at the quarterback position in this draft class. After all, he seemed to have it all. He was a star as a freshman, seemed to be learning the position, was coming from an NFL style system, had the prototypical size, seemed to have the arm talent and was making good decisions. It is amazing what a difference a few months can make. Now he’s little more than an afterthought for a lot of people. In fact, he’s often at the end of the top five quarterbacks in this class if he is even in the top five. What exactly happened and is it deserved?

As you can see from his web, thanks to, outside of his hand size he is at or above the norm when it comes to athletic ability and size. He seems to fit the part from a physical profile. The fact that he has a pair of current starters in the NFL as two of his top five physical comparisons is definitely a good thing. It was part of the reason everyone fell in love with him and expected him to be so good. He has the mix of size and mobility NFL teams crave. He should be able to extend plays and even get the occasional first down and touch down with his legs. The issues for him come from the drop in production as his college career went. You can see some of that in the graphic below, courtesy of

hackenberg profiler

Both Hackenberg’s college QBR and his yards per attempt are pretty bad, especially for someone hoping to become an NFL quarterback. This is largely due to his accuracy issues. He has a strong arm, the ability to make throws on the move as well as in the pocket, the touch required to in different situations and the decision making to know when and where to throw it. What he is lacking is the pinpoint accuracy to hit his receivers in stride or fit it into the tiny windows NFL quarterbacks need to hit. We’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks with superior arms who struggle in the NFL. Players like Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker come to mind. They had the physical tools and checked all of the boxes, but they also struggled with accuracy. What might be most concerning is the regression as his college career went on. His completion rate decreased every year, finally hitting a rather anemic 53.5% during his last year. That isn’t what NFL teams hope for from their quarterback.

When you look at his games, he is very much a Jekyll and Hyde kind of player. A lot of the good comes from his Freshman year, and it is easy to see why people were so excited about him. Take a look.

Freshman year highlights:

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Even after watching just a few minutes of his play, a lot of things stand out. He shows a lot of poise in the pocket and very good awareness of what is going on around him. He displays the ability to throw on the move as well as using multiple arm angles for his release. When there wasn’t anything open down the field, he slides the pocket to buy more time or used his legs to earn the first down. He seems to go through his progressions well and seemed comfortable in the pro-style offense Bill O’Brien set up. He had all the makings of a future NFL quarterback. Though we also see hints at his major flaw. Even on the highlights we see times where the ball is behind his receiver, on the wrong shoulder or lower than it should have been. He seems to know what to do but sometimes he just misses.

Fast forward a few years, and we see even more of an extreme when it comes to the good and bad. His game against Michigan State is a great example.

2015 versus Michigan State:

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At times he looks really good. He uses his mobility, makes good decisions, and seems to command the offense. At other times, it is clear he has his issues. On a lot of his throws he was bailing out of the pocket or off balance as he released the ball, which only makes his accuracy issues worse. He didn’t stand as tall in the pocket as the Freshman version. This might be due to him taking a huge number of sacks during 2014 and 2015. In fact, he was one of the top in the nation. Not a distinction you want to have. Some worry he might be a little “shellshocked” after these two years. He seems to feel pressure which isn’t there at times, causing him to panic a bit at times. Mix it in with the accuracy issues which already seemed to be there, and you have the big reasons why he is tumbling down draft boards.


He is going to be a very polarizing prospect. He has some of the biggest flags a quarterback can have such as the large number of sacks and the declining accuracy rate as his college career progressed. Some of this might be the coaching change which occurred after his Freshman year, but it is tough to believe that is all of it. There are some things which definitely need to be fixed. On the other hand, there are a lot of really good things about him.

In a standard 12 team fantasy league which starts one quarterback, Hackenberg just might go undrafted in a lot of leagues, unless he ends up in the ideal situation. In leagues with superflex or 2QB leagues, I think he could be a potential steal. He’ll likely be a middle round pick and could be an every week starter in a few years. He has the possible upside to be a long term starter in the NFL. He seems to have what you can’t teach. He has the size, the arm talent, and the decision making an NFL quarterback needs. If someone can help him refine his mechanics, I think his accuracy can and will improve.  He won’t make an instant impact, but he’s someone to watch, especially if he ends up behind an aging starter.


jacob feldman