Despite the fact that over the course of the season the New York Jets benched their interception-prone starting quarterback, lost their backup to a season-ending injury, and saw their third-string option succumb to injury, Jets rookie quarterback Christian Hackenberg did not see a single second of action on the field.
Now, after finishing 5-11, the Jets are beginning to confront the reality that their second-round pick may never make it in the NFL.
Last week, an anonymous coach told ESPN that Hackenberg couldn’t even throw a football into an ocean. Head coach Todd Bowles brushed off the rather damning quote to defend his rookie quarterback, and Hackenberg himself said he wasn’t bothered by the story.
But on Thursday, when asked about that anonymous coach’s observation, team owner Woody Johnson said this: “I guess it depends which ocean. Maybe it was a small ocean. The EPA describes that as an ocean. … Anyway, no, that’s not funny.”
Even if Johnson had simply been trying to make light of the situation, it’s not exactly a promising sign that the franchise’s owner is joking publicly to the media about the strength and accuracy of a quarterback his front office selected in the second round months earlier.
Then, on Friday, New York Daily News’ Jets beat writer Manish Mehta reported that a portion of the team and front office has already accepted that Hackenberg may simply never make it in the NFL.
“There are two factions on One Jets Drive. One believes that it will take a long time for the second-round pick to develop into a possible contributor. The second more damning faction believes that Hackenberg won’t ever be the solution.
“One Jets starter simply rolled his eyes and shook his head recently when I asked whether Hackenberg was worth a second-round pick. ‘No,’ the player said.
‘He will never make it,’ another Jets source told the Daily News. ‘Never.’
As Mehta wrote, it is unfair to write off Hackenberg after what effectively became a red-shirt rookie season. He may well turn into a competent backup, or better. But if Hackenberg doesn’t pan out (as seems increasingly likely, judging by the increasingly pessimistic observations about him), the Jets will have to reckon with their decision to spend a second-round pick on him.
The Jets had nothing to lose by giving Hackenberg a shot late in the season, opting to start the interception-prone Ryan Fitzpatrick over him in their final game. That Hackenberg still didn’t see the field, despite the lost season, might say a lot about how the Jets view the quarterback.
Looking further back, it wasn’t as though Hackenberg was a glistening prospect leading up to the draft. The Jets wanted a franchise quarterback, and they chose Hackenberg despite his numerous red flags. Now, they seem frustrated that he isn’t their Dak Prescott (a quarterback the Jets could have picked instead).
“He has improved, but this will be a big offseason for him,” team general manager Mike Maccagnan said of Hackenberg. “We’ll probably have a better feel for him when we go into training camp next year.”
At that training camp next year, the Jets may have another rookie quarterback competing for a starting job.
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