It doesn’t take a genius to see that Christian Hackenberg has not been playing to the same level under James Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan as he did under Bill O’Brien as a freshman. Is Penn State a good situation for Hackenberg? In this world of boiling hot sports takes and instant reactions, the sentiment seems to be slanted more in favor of Hackenberg no longer being in a good situation in Happy Valley. A junior, Hackenberg could potentially leave Penn State at the end of this season, whether for the NFL or via transfer (so long as he graduates, he will be eligible to play right away next fall). NFL draft scouts and NFL analysts and commentators from all over have weighed in on Hackenberg’s future, and now ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer is getting in his two cents.
“Christian Hackenberg, once he gets out of that situation, which is not a good situation at Penn State, scouts and GMs and coaches will drool over Christian Hackenberg,” Dilfer said on Wednesday. “He’s very, very similar to Troy Aikman. They’re the same type of body, thrower, personality, competitors. You go back and look at Troy Aikman coming out and look at Christian Hackenberg, they’re very similar. I think it’s going to be (Hackenberg) and (Cal junior Jared) Goff. (They) will both go in the top five. There’s a bunch of guys that will get talked about, but they’re really the two that have franchise-quarterback potential.”
“That situation” Dilfer is referring to is Penn State’s offense, with a rebuilding offensive line and an offensive playstyle that does not seem to tap the potential Hackenberg has shown in the past. I happen to believe there is a good chance Hackenberg will move on to the NFL in the spring, unless this season goes into a complete dumpster in conference play. Despite some struggles, I think Hackenberg still has the opportunity to impress NFL personnel in workouts and the combine should he choose to do so, and he will still be a potential first-round draft pick. But is the situation at Penn State so bad that Hackenberg could potentially transfer to another program to potentially boost his draft stock?
I can't see any way Hack back at PSU next year. Even if draft stock falls, I see transfer to play in better offense. https://t.co/DO1FRhrPRf
— Cory Giger (@CoryGiger) September 30, 2015
Aikman, in case you forgot, transferred from Oklahoma to UCLA during his college years, more so because he was locked in as a back-up with the Sooners than because he was not a good fit. Aikman did benefit by transferring to UCLA though as the Bruins were more pass-oriented than Barry Switzer’s Sooners. He shined in the Pac-10, earned conference honors and went on to win the Davey O’Brien Award in 1988 before entering the NFL Draft. Could Hackenberg benefit from a similar decision to transfer to another program that may be better suited for his talent and skill?
In a hypothetical sense, there is merit to the idea Hackenberg would benefit by being in an offense more tailored for a pro-style quarterback as opposed to the mobile quarterback-friendly offense Penn State tends to lean on. Given the results of pro-style quarterbacks vs. mobile style quarterbacks in the NFL, even in spite of recent changes in offensive trends, it would make sense for Hackenberg to prefer a more traditional pro-style approach on the field should he be back playing college football in 2016.
Transferring also does not necessarily guarantee much will change in a player’s draft profile. What if Hackenberg does stick around for another season behind a Penn State offensive line that will continue to grow, evolve, mature and improve? What if Hackenberg does pick up a few new tendencies he can show off and add to his repertoire and shows he can succeed in a pro-style or a mobile-friendly offense? Maybe there would be some benefits to sticking at Penn State for his senior year.
But yes, purely from an NFL stock position, Hackenberg would be better off behind a team that allows the quarterback to drop back and pass behind a solid offensive line. But maybe, just maybe, we should let Hackenberg decide what is best for him. At this point there has been absolutely no discussion or suggestion Hackenberg would consider transferring to another school. The talks about Hackenberg heading to the NFL have been created and driven by media to this point as well.