Philadelphia Eagles: Could Doug Pederson fix Christian Hackenberg?

(Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images)
(Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images) /

With his NFL future far from guaranteed, could Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson finally fix ex-Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg?

Let’s get this out of the way right from the top: Christian Hackenberg is not a very good quarterback.

Though he did show enough potential in college to be selected 51st overall in the 2016 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, he struggled mightily over his abbreviated tenure in the Big Apple. From his propensity to hitting cameramen with an arrogant pass, to fielding one of the worst preseason performances of any quarterback in NFL history against the Philadelphia Eagles later that year, averaging an almost inconceivable 1.7 yards per attempt, Hack effectively dashed the Jets’ dreams of a quick rebuild.

No wonder the team selected Sam Darnold third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.

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Even though he’d reportedly spend much of the offseason working with quarterback guru Jeff Christensen to completely rebuild his throwing motion from the ground up, the consistent play of incumbents starter Josh McCown, when coupled with the surprisingly impressive return to form of free agent acquisition Teddy Bridgewater effectively turn the Jets quarterbacks competition into a three-man race, leaving Hackenberg and Bryce Petty the odd men out.

Though they both eventually found homes, with Petty joining the Miami Dolphins, Hackenberg’s trade to the Oakland Raiders was ultimately short-lived, as Jon Gruden‘s squad released him less than a month after trading a conditional seventh-round pick for his services.

And after clearing waivers, Hackenberg officially became an unrestricted free agent.

With seemingly very few opportunities left to rehab his NFL career, could Hackenberg find redemption in the very state that made him a star in the first place?

After staring at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, Hackenberg, a four-star recruit, signed on to play quarterback for then-head coach Bill O’Brien at Penn State and quickly established himself as a player to watch.

Throwing for a freshman school record 2,955 yards in 2013, Hackenberg quickly drew comparisons to Andrew Luck, with some prematurely deeming him the next can’t miss franchise quarterback prospect, but over his next two seasons on campus, the cracks began to show.

Playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the nation and without his favorite target, Allen Robinson, Hack struggled mightily to remain productive in new head coach James Franklin‘s spread offense, and his stats suffered as a result. Though he still put up solid numbers, throwing for 5,363 yards on 829 attempts, Hackenberg only completed 54.7 percent of his passes with a 4/3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and at times looked lost in the pocket.

These struggles forever changed the 23-year-old quarterback.

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While he still possesses all of the physical tools to be an NFL starting quarterback, standing a prototypical 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, with an absolute cannon for an arm, Hackenberg has seemingly lost his confidence.

Between his still elongated throwing motion, and his inability to make quick decisions in the pocket, which is a big reason why he was sacked over 101 times in 38 college games, Hack needs some serious help if he’s ever going to resurrect his career.

He needs a quarterback guru like Doug Pederson.

When the Eagles began their search for a new head coach after the disastrous Chip Kelly years, one of the main reason Jeffrey Lurie and the front office decided to hire Pederson was his innate knowledge of the quarterback position. After playing the position for over a decade in the NFL, and helping to breath new life into Alex Smith‘s career in Kansas City, the Eagles went all in on their new coach and filled out his coaching staff with an impressive array of ex-quarterbacks to design a program tailor-made to help develop Philly’s next great franchise quarterback.

It worked.

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Pederson and company quickly transformed Carson Wentz from an immensely talented, but incredibly unproven FCS star into the best under-25 quarterback in the league by designing a scheme around his skillset. And when he went down with an unfortunate knee injury, the coaching staff took a step back, reloaded, and put together a new RPO-centric offense that played to strengths of new quarterback Nick Foles.

Spoiler alert, it also worked.

Though much of said quarterback incubator has since moved on, with Frank Reich now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and John DeFilippo installed as the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to imagine Pederson working similar wonders on Hackenberg as well.

While it may be incredibly humbling for a player who once assumed he’d be a perennial Pro Bowler to bide his time as a third-stringer, if Hackenberg is serious about his development, he should have his agent reach out to Howie Roseman.

Even though the Eagles are pretty set at the quarterback position, with Wentz, Foles and Nate Sudfeld all returning from last season, and New Jersey native Joe Callahan joining the fray, iron sharpens iron and adding a project with starter traits could prove incredibly beneficial moving forward. With Foles essentially a lock to leave the team after the 2018 season, the Eagles need to develop a solid, dependable quarterback to back up Wentz moving forward, so why not give Hackenberg a chance to compete for the position against Sudfeld for the team’s final quarterback position?

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He may not be a good quarterback now, but with some help from Doug Pederson, Christian Hackenberg may finally live up with his potential, and develop into a starting caliber quarterback as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.