Quantifying Quarterbacks: Christian Hackenberg, and a Fall from Glory


Football gives, and football takes away. In 2013, the football world was blessed with an angel who has slowly but surely turned out to be Lucifer.

By: Derrik Klassen

Christian Hackenberg’s freshman campaign was the most special freshman season in years and he displayed high level NFL ability at just 18 years old. Though, that was when Bill O’Brien was the head coach at Penn State, and he has since abandoned Hackenberg. Former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin was ushered in and brought out all of the undesirable traits Hackenberg had been suppressing. Hackenberg’s resentment of his new role caused an endless spiral into football hell, leaving him to truly be the devil of all draft prospects.

Hackenberg draws viewers in with his ideal tools. A 6’4”, 228 pound frame, a Jay Cutler-esque arm and enough mobility to keep plays alive inside and outside of the pocket. He seems like everything you’d want when building your ideal pocket passer for the NFL. At a young age, Hackenberg was the ideal passer we have yearned for. O’Brien’s offensive system was a traditional pro-style offense that asked Hackenberg to take 3-step, 5-step and 7-step drops with a fair amount of boot-action sprinkled in when under center. Hackenberg executed these drops with precision, then flowing from one read to the next as if he had been playing in the NFL for years. These were things that most top level quarterback prospects don’t show by their senior year, let alone in their freshman season, if they were even good enough to start that young.

Hackenberg was making incredible throws after finding the right reads, too. He had a handful of third-and-long throws that only the best of the best in the NFL have shown they can complete consistently, and no other player in college football was consistently making those throws at the time other than Jameis Winston, the future No.1 overall pick. That, too, was supposed to be Hackenberg’s future, but his spiral into hell has flipped the narrative on him.

Once upon a time, Hackenberg was the chosen one, but he is a shell of himself now. He has gotten lazy, disinterested and outright bad at quarterbacking. The system he has been forced to run is for brain dead quarterbacks, which has seemingly lead him to hate playing because he knows he is capable of handling much more. Maybe that is digging into his psyche a bit much, but he did not fall off for no reason. No matter the reason, his fall from glory is real and he does not deserve to go near as high as he once deserved.

More than anything, Hackenberg has gotten terribly inaccurate. He had some misfire issues before, but he is worn down to the point that he does not seem to put forth much effort in placing the ball well. Screen throws and simple slants have become routes that he routinely misses because he lackadaisically sets his feet to throw and tries to just throw the ball in the general direction of the receiver. This has lead to screen throws skipping the ground to get to the receiver, slants flying over heads and curl throws ending up a few yards wide of the intended target. Simply, he has not been near accurate enough to be taken seriously as a top pick.

Hackenberg’s mental process has taken a step back, too. He is not too often asked to make reads anymore, but when he does now, he is making the right decision far less regularly than he once had. He is forcing bad throws more than usual, which seems to be a mix of his disinterest while also understanding he has to be the one to try to make big plays for that offense. This creates for a lot of ill-advised throws, and they are seldom made up for because Penn State’s receiving corps is nothing of note. That is not an excuse. If anything, it plays into the fact that Hack is not taking into account every detail in a situation and is instead playing a reckless style of football.

The root of Hackenberg’s accuracy dilemma partly lies in his footwork, too. Without a proper base, it is difficult for most passers to still throw an accurate ball and Hackenberg is not an exception to that rule. Franklin deserves some flack for taking away the precision drops that Hackenberg thrived in, but regardless, a good quarterback should be able to figure out how to adjust his footwork well enough to get the offense running at a functional level, especially in the collegiate circuit. Hackenberg has not made any effort to do well with his feet and set himself up properly to complete throws, and that is a big reason as to why he is constantly misfiring.

After having one of the most captivating freshman seasons in recent memory, Hackenberg has lost almost every bit of his spark. There are flashes of brilliance and incredible ball placement on occasion, but those plays are so few and far between that it is near impossible to rationalize him going high in the draft because of the small handful of those plays over the last two years. Hackenberg actually ended the year with a string of games better than usual, though it is tough to know what to make of that. That said, those flashes and the memory of what he once was are enough to get him drafted Day 3, at least. This will allow him to sit for a few years and hopefully light the fire in himself again to be a quality quarterback. Until then, Hackenberg is a poor man’s Jay Cutler with far more potential than production on his resume.


Interesting Data (based on 261 attempt sample):

  • Hackenberg is 10/30 (33.33% of completion) on throws beyond 20 yards.
  • Of Hackenberg’s 6 charted interceptions, only one was thrown past 15 yards.
  • Only 19/261 (7.28%) of Hackenberg’s attempts were after snaps taken under center.
  • Hackenberg is 7/15 (46.67% of completion) on rollout passes.
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