As a Penn State freshman, Christian Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes, averaged 7.5 yards per attempt and finished with 20 touchdowns. That’s a heck of a freshman year. In fact, Hackenberg, at the time, was considered a future first-round lock – and, potentially, a No. 1 overall pick.
Things changed in a hurry. Bill O’Brien left for the NFL, in came James Franklin, and while we didn’t know it at the time, all of the aforementioned numbers wound up being career-highs for Hackenberg, who was sacked 103 times in three seasons.
First-round pick? Forget it. Hackenberg was taken 51st overall by the New York Jets in last week’s draft.
So, what would have happened had O’Brien stayed in Happy Valley? Would things have been radically different for Hackenberg, or was his subpar play all on him?
“I think that it could have been radically different,” CBS Sports draft expert Rob Rang said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I’m a big believer in Bill O’Brien. I thought the Houston Texans actually had one of the great drafts this year, and so I do give a lot of credit to Bill O’Brien. But I also give a lot of credit to some of the other talent that Christian Hackenberg had around him. The offensive tackle (Donovan Smith) wound up being a second-round selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago. Of course, he’s throwing to Allen Robinson, who’s now a star for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and so he certainly had some talent around him. But when you have your left tackle and your wide receiver both wind up going early in the NFL Draft, that certainly aided his transition as a college freshman. Then he lost both of those players.”
Hackenberg went from 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a freshman to 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as a sophomore. He had 16 and 6, respectively, as a junior, but he also completed just 53.5 percent of his passes for 2,525 yards – both career-lows.
“He was the same player as a junior that he was as a freshman,” Rang said. “You still see the big arm. You still see the 6-4, 230-pound frame. You still see the willingness to take a hit, the toughness – all of those things. You just didn’t see the progression as a passer. He still has a tendency to throw off of his back foot, to (show) where he’s going to throw the ball because he stares down his wide receiver. We just thought we would see a natural progression of skills by the end of his third season being a starter, and instead, we saw essentially a stagnation of those skills.”
Hackenberg, of course, wasn’t the only surprise of the second round last Friday. There was also Tampa Bay selecting Florida State kicker Robert Aguayo eight picks later.
Even more interesting, the Bucs traded up to get him.
“I just have a hard time loving anytime you’re going to trade up – give up a third- and a fourth-round pick – for a kicker,” Rang said. “Now, Robert Aguayo is one of the great kickers I’ve ever seen. I’ve been scouting this and going to the Senior Bowl and all those things since 2001. Just to put that into perspective, that was the year LaDainian Tomlinson was in Mobile, Alabama, before he obviously had his Hall of Fame career with the Chargers.”
Aguayo, to his credit, never missed a field goal inside of 40 yards at Florida State. He was 44-of-44 on kicks 39 yards or shorter.
“In today’s NFL, that’s even more important because of course they dropped back the point after touchdown,” Rang said. “So there’s no question he’s a talent. There’s no question that he has the ability to impact the game for (a) Buccaneers team that was arguably the worst in all of the NFL last year in kicking field goals. So I certainly understand the need. It’s just quite the price to pay for a club that has struggled to get to the playoffs. I hate to say that I don’t love or hate the deal, but I just think it’s a heck of a price to pay. I’m happy someone else is writing that check rather than me.”