Before the start of the 2015 college football season, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was thought to be one of the top pro prospects in the NFL Draft pool in 2016 with the assumption he would be leaving Penn State with one final year of eligibility left unused. His draft stock may have dipped as a result of his performance on the field this season, his second sub par showing under James Franklin since his brilliant freshman career under Bill O’Brien, but the time to make a decision looms. Hackenberg, along with standout defensive lineman Austin Johnson are among the many underclassmen waiting to see what the NFL Draft advisory board has to say about their potential NFL Draft expectations in 2016.
“We want to have a plan and be organized with whatever we decide,” Franklin said. “It’s not going to be someone coming out and throwing something out midweek on a tweet. It’s going to be something we do together and do it the way they want it to be done.”
Hackenberg had a relatively rough season behind a weak offensive line for a second straight fall, which played a role in his less-than-spectacular stats this season. He was to blame for some of his lower moments though, but scouts at the NFL level will take many things into consideration when evaluating Hackenberg. When he’s on, he’s darn good. He just hasn’t been on, or had the opportunity to be on, as often as most would have liked to see. Scouts may also take into consideration how he performed behind a more stable offensive line under an NFL coach like O’Brien.
“I think it’s obviously going to be a tool in that decision when that time comes. But again, right now I think it’s really just going down and making sure we execute against Georgia,” Hackenberg said.
While the perception of Hackenberg may have taken a fall, the rise of Johnson has not gone unnoticed, although it may have been overshadowed. Playing on the same defensive line as award-winning Carl Nassib, Johnson’s improvement this season has allowed him to enter the NFL Draft conversation to some degree. Johnson had 119 tackles and 6.5 sacks the past two years.