The symmetry was perfect.
Chad Pennington, one of the finest signal callers in franchise history, was in Chicago, IL to announce the Jets' second-round selection of the 2016 NFL Draft. Pennington, the third of the Green & White's four Round 1 picks in 2000, thought defense after the Jets had tabbed Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee with the 20thoverall selection. But the card read Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
"When I saw the card backstage, I thought about the fans' reaction," he said. "I thought it would be a surprising reaction and some would think it was great, some would think it wasn't. But if definitely made for an interesting one minute presentation there on stage in Chicago."
Like so many times in his playing career, Pennington delivered with a clean presentation. Pennington had firsthand knowledge of Hackenberg after mentoring a group of future draft picks at the NFL Combine back in February.
"Christian was actually in my group. I had a group of quarterbacks and receivers. Mark Brunell had the other group. And in my group was actually Jared Goff, Christian Hackenberg, Brandon Doughty, Connor Cook, Brandon Allen, so I had some really good guys," Pennington said. "And my first impression of Christian was really, really good. He has a great demeanor, I think he's confident in what he does. He's really eager to get to the pro game and show what he can do."
With the 51st Overall Pick, the Jets Selected Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Hackenberg, who participated in the Jets' rookie minicamp over the weekend, is a 6'4", 228-pounder that the club thoroughly vetted throughout the pre-draft process. They worked him out privately at Penn State and hosted him for a pre-draft visit.
"He certainly has the physical build, he has the tools necessary to be successful. I think he was able to show that early in his career when he was with Bill O' Brien," Pennington said. "The system at Penn State was a difficult system for him to adjust to once the new coaching staff arrived, but I think he's excited about the opportunity. I know talking with some evaluators across the league, they were really high on him. They knew that not a lot of people were based upon his production his (sophomore) and (junior) year(s), but physically, fundamentally and with his potential, I know some evaluators were really, really high on Christian Hackenberg."
In 11 pro seasons including eight with the Jets, Pennington completed 66% of his passers with 102 touchdowns and 64 interceptions. Hackenberg, who made 38 starts at Penn State and set a number of school passing records, completed 56.1% of his attempts for the Nittany Lions and was sacked 82 times the past two seasons.
"I don't know if it's about retraining. It's just about redeveloping some of those pro-style tools that I think he actually has," Pennington said of the Penn State product. "He was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, people were really high on him as far as his potential as a college quarterback as well as a pro-style quarterback. So I think it's about redeveloping his skill set and the tools he has been blessed with, and he certainly has that skill set."
The Jets have been clear about their intentions to re-sign veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is coming off a career year with 31 touchdowns and 3,905 yards passing. While Fitzpatrick remains a free agent, Geno Smith could enter OTAs atop the depth chart and the Jets also like the skill set of Bryce Petty, a fourth-rounder from Baylor last year. Enter Hackenberg, another prospect with talent and a high upside.
"In talking with one evaluator, they were really impressed with his accuracy down the field, 20+ yards or so and past that," Pennington said of Hackenberg. "They were really impressed with his accuracy. This one evaluator also thought that one improvement would be his short passing game, which you would think would be simple to correct and just making sure he is making good decisions and those types of things. I certainly think that the pro skill set is there, it's just a matter of being able to redevelop that."
That redevelopment started last weekend as Hackenberg got his feet wet against a group composed mainly of tryout players and undrafted free agents. His NFL career is in its infancy and Pennington, a first-rounder who didn't take over starting duties until his third year, says first impressions are important.
"He just needs to go in and be a sponge, soak in as much as he can and realize this is a great opportunity for him," he said. "I would imagine most people around him as well as outside of his group felt like he would probably be more toward the third to fifth round, so this is a great opportunity as a second-round draft pick to be able to come in and at least give a glimpse of what your potential could be, knowing you're not going to be perfect starting from Day 1 and rookie minicamp. But you can certainly show the tools that you have, you can show the type of leadership skills you possess and how you work with your teammates and the people around you. I think that's really, really important."