Before the 2016 NFL draft, Gruden wrote five takeaways about each major quarterback prospect entering the draft including Hackenberg. In this ESPN article, Gruden mentions that he would be “shocked if Hackenberg is not a first-round pick.”
Here is what Gruden had to say on Hackenberg’s draft status.
“The biggest surprise to me on Hackenberg is that no one is really talking about him in the first round. This was the No. 1 prospect in the nation a few years ago and someone who showed during his freshman year he could produce at a high level in a true NFL-style offense. What he showed during that first year at Penn State -- before the coaching change, before the system change, before all the things that derailed him -- would be enough for me to take this guy early. This man can run a 4.7-second 40, he is tough as hell and he works relentlessly. He just has to get in the right system with the right people and refocus on the small details.”
In addition to claiming Hackenberg should be picked in the first round, Gruden was in awe of Hackenberg’s ability at the line of scrimmage.
“For a freshman to be given that type of autonomy at the line of scrimmage is unusual. When you see the same plays from the same formations that the Patriots are running, with the same audible mannerisms, you are like, ‘Wow, this is cool.’”
And at the whiteboard.
“This was going to be especially challenging for Hackenberg because I was asking him to decipher two systems, one of them from multiple years ago, all while our cameras were rolling and I was pushing him. It’s not easy. Hackenberg was on the board talking about H2 X Deep Over with Coach O’Brien, and then he was discussing a jet sweep play-action pass he ran for Coach James Franklin. He was able to talk pass protection, route distribution, progressions, pick-a-sides, you name it. He had great recall of every play he took at Penn State. That says a lot.”
Despite the enthusiasm for Hackenberg, Gruden did admit to some holes in the young quarterback’s game.
Gruden said Hackenberg would have to rediscover his fundamentals starting with his footwork. Gruden thought Hackenberg’s uncomfortableness in the pocket was due to a lack of protection up front and the change of coaching staffs from Bill O’Brien to James Franklin at Penn State.
Ideally, those issues can be fixed with proper and consistent coaching.
With the excitement Gruden seems to have toward Hackenberg, it seems like there is a chance he makes the roster and a quarterback from the roster last year fails to make the team.