MOBILE, Ala. — Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg didn’t play in a regular-season game in his first two seasons. But those who know Hackenberg believe he still has a future in the NFL.
“It’s a big jump,” said Texans coach Bill O’Brien, who coached Hackenberg at Penn State in 2013. “Once you make the jump from the colleges to the pros, it’s a whole different ballgame. It really is. It’s all about what you do from the time you enter that building as a player, and as a coach. I wouldn’t be able to comment on anything that’s happened [with the Jets]. He comes from a great family and he’s a great kid. At Penn State, he did a good job for me.”
Hackenberg broke 12 Penn State freshman records and pulled off a four-overtime upset of undefeated Michigan. He left as the school leader in 300-yard passing games (nine), the only player in school history with three 2,000-yard passing seasons and the only one with 8,000 passing yards.
The Jets were impressed enough to select him in the second round of the 2016 draft.
“I know he’s talented,’’ said UMass tight end Adam Breneman, who played with Hackenberg at Penn State before leaving. “I don’t know the ins and outs of what goes on with the New York Jets, but I know they’ve had some older guys in there that helped out a lot. I think he’s improved, and hopefully he’ll get a shot.”
It appears Hackenberg will get another chance to move up the depth chart in 2018. General manager Mike Maccagnan said as much after the Jets’ 5-11 season ended. Hackenberg will be on the roster when training camp starts, and if he can produce in the preseason, he’ll remain on the roster.
Who the other quarterbacks will be is uncertain. Free agent Josh McCown, who started 13 games in 2017, told the NFL Network he wants to return. Bryce Petty is the No. 2 and started the last three games when McCown was hurt, but Petty could be released.
There are other variables surrounding the Jets’ quarterback position that affect Hackenberg. The Jets have the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, and selecting a passer in a quarterbackrich class is possible. If they do that and keep the 38-year-old McCown, it could make Hackenberg expendable because they might not want to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster. They could keep one on the practice squad.
If the Jets sign a quarterback in free agency such as Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater, Hackenberg will be playing for the No. 2 spot.
“He’s patient,” Breneman said. “He’s happy to have the opportunities he’s had. He’s embracing it, and I think we’ll see things work out for him.”
Hackenberg’s inactivity is stunning from a historical level. Since 1960, 64 quarterbacks were drafted in the second round, and Hackenberg and Gene Bradley are the only ones not to play in a regular-season game in their first two seasons. Bradley was drafted by the Bills out of Arkansas State in 1980.
“He’s a great friend and I still talk to him a lot,” Breneman said of Hackenberg. “He had a heck of a college career. I think things will start working out for him. He’s a heck of a player. He’s everything you want in a football player, strong, smart. We’ll see him having a heck of an NFL career.”