ESPN analyst Jon Gruden is wrapping up his annual QB Camp series, and one of the last quarterbacks to air is Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. He is a controversial quarterback, having put up some impressive numbers at times, but struggling later. Add in blame placed on his coach, and opinions vary wildly.
Jon Gruden decided to throw a little gasoline on the fire in his QB Camp segment with Hackenberg. The Hackenberg segment will air Tuesday evening at 5:30 p.m. PT, along with his sit-down with Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones. ESPN's Mike Sando has been observing the segments, and has put together Gruden's takeaways from each quarterback. It's all Insider protected, but I wanted to discuss what Gruden took away with regard to Hackenberg.
The most notable comment was the one that has people's tongues wagging online. The first takeaway was this: "I'll be shocked if Hackenberg is not a first-round pick."
I don't recall the specifics, but I think someone said earlier in the process that they could see Hackenberg as a potential first round pick. I don't recall who or when, and it might have just been a mock draft. But as surprising as this might appear, it's not completely out of the blue in the broader draft media context.
As crazy as it might sound, it only takes one team really liking a player to get him selected much earlier than expected. Could Hackenberg find that one person?
In promoting Hackenberg's potential, Gruden had a few points:
1. People forget his freshman year
Hackenberg threw for 3,000 yards as an 18-year-old kid in an NFL offense that is hard to execute. I do not think people are giving him enough credit for that. The alert signals they had when Bill O'Brien was coaching him were straight out of the New England Patriots playbook.
2. Hackenberg needs a chance to get comfortable again
Gruden talked about the changes the new coaching staff implemented after Bill O'Brien departed. "Hackenberg must get comfortable again in his fundamentals. He changed his footwork when the new coaching staff came in. It's not that the new way was good or bad. It was just different and it was hard for him. His lack of rhythm in the new offense and the lack of protection hurt him."
3. Hackenberg did good work diagramming plays on the board
This was going to be especially challenging for Hackenberg because I was asking him to decipher two systems, one of them from multiple years ago, all while our cameras were rolling and I was pushing him ... He was able to talk pass protection, route distribution, progressions, pick-a-sides, you name it. He had great recall of every play he took at Penn State.
Gruden thinks Hackenberg's fundamentals need to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with his footwork. He seems to view Hackenberg as a high ceiling project. Gruden can be overly enthusiastic about players, so we have to take it with a certain grain of salt. But will somebody actually pull the trigger on Hackenberg in the first round?