New York Jets throw a Christian Hackenberg into QB quandary

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange  |  May 1, 2016 at 5:55 AM
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EAST FLORHAM, N. J. -- How could the New York Jets make their quarterback quandary more interesting and complicated? By selecting one of the most controversial signal-callers in the draft.

While the Jets wait for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to agree to a contract on their terms, they added yet another young quarterback riddled with question marks by selecting Penn State's Christian Hackenberg in the second round.

"We think he's got a lot of potential and upside," Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan said Friday night.

That was the universal opinion of Hackenberg a year ago, when the quarterback with central casting looks - he stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 234 pounds - appeared to be a sure-fire first-round selection in 2016 after throwing for 32 touchdowns in his first two collegiate seasons.

"Obviously he has a lot of physical ability in terms of arm strength, athletic ability and size," Maccagnan said. "He's a prototype from that standpoint."

But his stock fell dramatically as a junior in 2015, when he threw for 16 touchdowns and a career-low 2,525 yards while taking a whopping 38 sacks. He absorbed 104 sacks in three years at Penn State, leading some draftniks to wonder if he can handle the pressure of the pocket.

Hackenberg's reputation took more hits after he declared for the draft. He was wildly inconsistent during his throwing sessions at the combine, which heightened concerns raised by his declining completion percentage at Penn State. He completed 58.9 percent of his passes as a freshman but just 55.8 percent as a sophomore and 53.5 percent as a junior.

In addition, during interviews with team officials, Hackenberg reportedly blamed head coach James Franklin for his struggles the last two seasons. Hackenberg played his freshman year under current Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien.

By the time the draft finally arrived, Hackenberg was such an afterthought he was spending the second night of the three-night affair playing cornhole with his family. His Mom had to race out to the yard with the phone to inform him he'd been selected by the Jets.

"I'm really, really fortunate, man," Hackenberg said. "Really grateful."

The guys currently occupying - or not occupying, as the case may be - the Jets' quarterback room probably feel a little differently.

This is the third time in four years the Jets have tried to find the answer to their decades-long quarterback problem with a post-first round pick. Heckenberg's presence on the roster will likely spell doom for one of his predecessors, 2013 second-round pick Geno Smith and 2015 fourth-round pick Bryce Petty.

His arrival also destroys whatever negotiation advantage Fitzpatrick might have hoped to enjoy over the Jets. With Heckenberg likely to be groomed to start in 2017 and no other teams in need of a starting caliber quarterback, the Jets can now try to get Fitzpatrick - fresh off throwing a season in which he threw a team-record 32 touchdown passes and led the team to the edge of the playoffs - to sign a contract befitting a bridge quarterback or allow him to sit out the season, as he reportedly is willing to do instead of signing for the Jets' $8 million offer.

Maccagnan said his intent is to still sign Fitzpatrick and not to pursue another veteran stopgap. But if Fitzpatrick doesn't return?

"If we get Ryan back, he's our starter going in," head coach Todd Bowles said "But they're more than welcome to take the position from him. Obviously, Ryan earned it from last year and it's going to be hard to take it from him. Everybody else falls in and let the competition work itself out."

-Is it time to call Mike Maccagnan "Trader Mike?"

The Jets' general manager continued his penchant for dealing draft picks Saturday, when he sent a 2017 fourth-round pick to the Washington Redskins in exchange for the Redskins' 2016 fifth-round pick, which Maccagnan used to select offensive tackle Brandon Shell - the nephew of Hall of Fame offensive tackle Art Shell.

Maccagnan has now made five trades involving draft picks in 15 months as general manager. In March 2015, Maccagnan sent the Jets' 2015 fifth-rounder to the Chicago Bears in exchange for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and a seventh-round pick. He also sent a conditional 2016 pick - which turned out to be a sixth-rounder - to the Houston Texans for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. During the 2015 draft, the Jets traded their third-round pick to the Texans for wide receiver DeVier Posey and three picks.

In April, Maccagnan acquired offensive tackle Ryan Clady and a seventh-round pick from the Denver Broncos in exchange for the Jets' fifth-round pick.

through 2007.

A closer look at the Jets' picks:

--Round 1/20 - Darron Lee, LB, 6-1, 232, Ohio State

The Jets needed to add speed to an aging and slow linebacker corps. In the athletic and versatile Lee, they hope to have found a sideline-to-sideline roamer who can eventually take over for veteran David Harris. Lee played outside linebacker at Ohio State, where he racked up 11 sacks in two seasons, but the Jets believe Lee - who played quarterback and safety in high school - will transition easily to an inside role. Lee, who doesn't turn 22 until October, is the second straight redshirt sophomore taken in the first round by Mike Maccagnan, who opened his first draft by selecting then-20-year-old DT Leonard Williams out of USC.

--Round 2/51 - Christian Hackenberg, QB, 6-4, 228, Penn State

Can a draft - indeed, a general manager's tenure - be determined by a second-round pick? Few players are as polarizing as Hackenberg, who was touted by some last year as the potential top pick in the class of 2016. But he absorbed 38 sacks as a junior and didn't impress teams during the pre-draft process. Hackenberg was scattershot at best while throwing during the combine and reportedly raised eyebrows by blaming Penn State head coach James Franklin for his struggles during interviews with teams. But he has the prototypical size for a quarterback and thrived as a freshman under current Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien. If Hackenberg clicks under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, he could finally be the franchise quarterback the Jets have been looking for since Joe Namath. If not, it's a costly whiff.

--Round 3/83 - Jordan Jenkins, OLB, 6-3, 259, Georgia

Last season, the Jets were so bereft of pass-rushers last season that Calvin Pace drew more snaps than any other outside linebacker and DE Sheldon Richardson ended the season by lining up at OLB. The Jets hope Jenkins, who had 19 sacks in four seasons at Georgia, can team with 2015 third-round pick Lorenzo Mauldin to bring the type of pressure that has been lacking since the Rex Ryan Era.

--Round 4/118 - Justin Burris, CB, 6-0, 212, North Carolina State

Cornerback looked like the Jets' strongest position entering last season, but Darrelle Revis' play dropped off, Antonio Cromartie looked washed-up and Dee Milliner once again couldn't stay on the field. At the least, Burris adds someone who can contribute on special teams as a rookie. Down the road, he could be the long-term replacement for Revis or a potential partner for third-year surprise Marcus Williams.

--Round 5/158 - Brandon Shell, OT, 6-5, 324, South Carolina

The Jets sent a 2017 fourth-round pick to the Washington Redskins to finally address their aging offensive line. In Shell, they found someone with Hall of Fame bloodlines - he is the nephew of Oakland Raiders legend Art Shell - and plenty of experience at both tackle positions. He could push the underwhelming Breno Giacomini at right tackle this summer.

--Round 7/235 - Lachlan Edwards, P, 6-4, 209, Sam Houston State

The Australian native, who averaged 41.5 yards per punt last season at FCS Sam Houston State, is the first punter drafted by the Jets in 23 years, But the Jets wasted no time adding competition in the form of fellow Australian Tom Hackett, who was signed as a free agent out of Utah shortly after the draft.

--Round 7/241 - Charone Peake, WR, 6-2, 209, Clemson

Peake has been clocked at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash but has a history of knee injuries, including a torn ACL he suffered in 2013. Could be a sleeper for a team whose top two receivers, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, turned 32 years old and 29 years old, respectively, in March.

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