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Christian Hackenberg: Why He Is The 2016 NFL Draft’s Enigmatic Wildcard

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Is he good? Is he great? Is he a game-manager? Is he a bust waiting to happen?

These are the questions that surround the ultimate wildcard and enigma of the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft in former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Hackenberg, once projected to be the top overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has had a very up-and-down collegiate career during his time in Happy Valley.

Once touted as the one of the top pro-style ready quarterbacks by both ESPN and Rivals.com, after a stellar high school career at the all-male football factory, Fork Union Military Academy (Va.) that has produced notable alums such as Vinny Testaverde, Eddie George and Plaxico Burress, the 6’4, 234 pound native of Lehighton, Pennsylvania shocked many in choosing—and staying—at Penn State after the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.

In leaving offers from the likes of Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee, the former five-star Hackenberg was the crown jewel in Penn State’s recruiting crown in the hopes of competing against conference heavyweights such as Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

During his three years and 37 games as a starter for Penn State, Hackenberg passed for 8,318 yards, 48 touchdowns and 30 interceptions while completing 56.1 percent of his passes.

For all of his physical attributes and prototypical NFL drop-back pocket passer build, somehow Hackenberg’s development never reached it’s full zenith.

Call it a combination of seeing former head coach Bill O’Brien bolt to the NFL and coach the Houston Texans or adjusting to James Franklin’s SEC-style spread offense that he brought up north from Vanderbilt, Hackenberg visually seemed stuck in neutral.

Never going forward, but never going completely backwards.

There in lies the rub, how is it that such a blue-chip prospect such as Hackenberg went from the projected top overall pick—in some NFL circles—to being a second or third-rounder? This writer will never know, but thanks to this uncertainty and certain teams in need of quarterbacks, Hackenberg could go anywhere from the last first round to the middle of the third.

Based on that teams such as the Cleveland Browns (always in need of a sacrificial lamb—err, I mean QB), Denver Broncos (they did lose a couple of guys named Peyton and Brock), Arizona Cardinals (Carson ain’t getting any younger), Dallas Cowboys (Tony Romo’s back ain’t looking too hot) and the San Diego Chargers (Philip could use an understudy).

Heck, even two-time Super Bowl champion and MVP Eli Manning could use a young buck to train up and mentor as his playing window is entering it’s twilight years.

Make no mistake, there is a market for Hackenberg, and despite all of his flaws on and off the field, all it takes is for one GM to give the former Nittany Lion a shot.

Depending on what happens, if Hackenberg winds up in the perfect spot, it wouldn’t surprise this writer or proud Penn State fans and supporters if he turned out to be the head of his proverbial QB draft class.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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