When NFL teams give up on second-round picks after just two years, it often comes as something of a surprise. In the case of Christian Hackenberg, the surprise may be that the Jets found another team willing to give them anything at all for the draft bust.
That team was the Raiders, who agreed Tuesday to send a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2019 to New York for the former Penn State quarterback. Jets Coach Todd Bowles announced the move, explaining that the Jets had “one too many” quarterbacks, having selected Sam Darnold with the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft after signing veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater in free agency.
The trade ends a Jets career for Hackenberg that never really got off the ground; he started zero games in two seasons and never took a regular season snap. That gave him the dubious distinction of being the first quarterback taken in the first two rounds with no NFL playing time in his first two seasons since Gene Bradley, a second-round pick by the Bills in 1980. Jim Kelly, taken by Buffalo in the first round of the 1983 draft, technically also qualifies, but he spent his first two professional seasons in the USFL.
Hackenberg enjoyed an impressive freshman season for the Nittany Lions that had many tabbing him as a likely candidate to eventually go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, but by the time the Jets took him with the 51st overall pick in 2016, that was considered a reach. He struggled in preseason action, and the Jets’ lack of belief in his ability to play at the NFL level was never more apparent than in Week 17 last season, when New York, at 5-10 and heavy underdogs to the Patriots, still kept him on the bench in favor of Bryce Petty, an underwhelming backup in his own right who was released by the Jets earlier this month.
However, it is apparent that Jon Gruden, the Raiders’ new head coach, still sees something in Hackenberg and is willing to take an extremely low-cost shot at unlocking the potential of the 23-year-old, who does possess good size (6-foot-4, 228 pounds), a strong arm and solid athleticism. While still an ESPN analyst in 2016, Gruden wrote that he viewed Hackenberg as being worthy of a first-round pick, praising the then-prospect’s toughness, work ethic and experience in a pro-style offense and saying, “He just has to get in the right system with the right people and refocus on the small details.”
The timing of the trade raised some eyebrows Tuesday, having come just hours after Hackenberg, who hired a personal quarterback coach in the offseason, appeared to complain about a lack of communication from the Jets’ staff.
“There were some times when I threw it really good during my first two years here,” he told reporters (via ESPN). “That was the frustrating part for me, the ups and downs and not knowing why — does that make sense? — and not really getting any information from anybody on how to fix that and how to address it.”
“All I know is, I’m 23 and I’ve got a lot of ball in front of me,” Hackenberg added. “Hell, my career hasn’t even started yet. I’m excited about what the future holds.”
Asked why it didn’t work out for Hackenberg in New York, Bowles said he couldn’t answer the question “fully,” but he added, “Some players, it takes a while for them to get going. … We did everything we could to try to help him as best we could, but sometimes it just works out somewhere else.”
In Oakland, Hackenberg is set to compete for a backup spot behind Derek Carr. Other quarterbacks on the Raiders’ depth chart include EJ Manuel and Connor Cook.
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