Christian Hackenberg was our lowest-graded QB in 2014
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is going to be one of the most discussed players in the lead-up to the 2015 college football season, as the former top recruit has already made it onto the early 2016 draft prospect watch lists of the likes of Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.
This is based off of his considerable physical talent, but our numbers give us reason to temper the enthusiasm surrounding his prospect status. Based off of our 2014 numbers (a result of our grading every player on every play of every college football game involving an FBS team last season), Hackenberg finished with the worst overall grade among QBs.
That isn’t a typo. In fact, among Power 5 conference QBs, he finished with the worst pass, run, and overall grades, tied for the most sacks taken, and threw the second-most interceptions. He started all 13 games for the Nittany Lions, finishing with a negative grade in every single one.
Three more concerning facts: 1.) Hackenberg posted a 0.0 yards per attempt differential between play-action and non-play-action passes, a rarity at the college or pro level. Quarterbacks almost always post better numbers off of play-action than on standard pass plays. 2.) In all four of the passing scenarios we track that account for defensive pressure, Hackenberg struggled. 3.) All three of his accuracy rates ranked among the bottom third of Power 5 QBs.
Hackenberg did have to deal with the head-coaching change of Bill O’Brien to James Franklin last season, and keep in mind, we’re talking about a true junior here. There is no reason to rule out his putting together a vastly improved season in 2015, and he could very well play two more seasons for the Nittany Lions. The fact that he had more success when forced to make quick, decisive reads is a positive — his completion rate on passes that were released less than 2.5 seconds after the snap was 67.0 percent, much higher than when he held the ball for more than 2.6 seconds (39.7 percent).
But what our numbers do tell us is that he’s got a long way to go before his production matches the potential currently driving his considerable draft hype.