By Jason Keidel
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While we’ve admired the poise and passion with which the New York Jets have played this year, at least doubling any win totals we projected for them this season, they still have an epic void at the most important position in sports — quarterback.
Even if you feel Josh McCown has earned a return trip to the Meadowlands as the team’s QB in 2018 — as yours truly does — you still need a signal-caller for 2019 and beyond.
If only they had a high-round draft pick on the sideline to audition for the role. Like Christian Hackenberg, whom the Jets drafted in the second round two years ago — easily high enough to suggest Gang Green thought he had the bona fides to start under center in the NFL. Yet we haven’t seen him, don’t see him and perhaps won’t see him. And we haven’t been told why. It’s not like you need to be the top pick in the draft to flourish in pro football.
Oakland stole Derek Carr in the second round. Russell Wilson was nabbed in the third round. Dallas bagged Dak Prescott in the fourth round. And so on. Nick Foles, a former third-rounder, might lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl as the top seed in the NFC, and he’s not even their starting quarterback. Likewise with Vikings QB Case Keenum, an undrafted NFL gypsy who was most famous for getting knocked out with the St. Louis Rams then being shamefully shoved back into the game.
Hackenberg may be the only QB in NFL history to be booted from a practice for improperly breaking a huddle, a laughable headline that sprouted up from training camp last summer. Is that just a brain cramp from a neophyte? Or is it symbolic of a clueless QB?
Manish Mehta of the Daily News pondered the Hackenberg question two weeks ago, asserting that there are clashing views on the embattled backup quarterback, who had been inactive at that point for 27 of 28 career games. Some folks within the franchise have not waved the white flag despite his eternal attachment to the clipboard. The only source matter we have is his preseason stats, which are troubling. This summer, Hackenberg completed 56 percent of his passes, throwing two touchdowns, two pick-sixes and leading the offense to just 23 points on 36 drives.
As Mehta noted, Hackenberg could become only the third QB since the AFL-NFL merger to be drafted in the first two rounds yet not take a single snap in either of his first two seasons. If the season ended today, the Jets would own the 10th pick in April’s draft, more than high enough to get a premium player but not high enough to bag the presumed prized QBs in college: Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen.
But what if Gang Green is frothing for other college arms? What if they covet this year’s Heisman winner, Baker Mayfield? Or last year’s Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson? Or Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph? If the years since the merger have taught us anything, there is indeed QB gold well past the top 10 draft selections. Sadly, the Jets have never mined anything more valuable than bronze, still looking for their first franchise QB since Joe Namath.
Folks within the franchise reportedly think that Hackenberg could get a shot in 2018, as they’re still tethered to his size, smarts and leadership — and then there’s the fact that the Jets, who lost McCown to a broken hand and are out of the playoff mix, don’t have a poor enough record to draft the top QBs on Mel Kiper’s board, not unless they mortgage the future to trade up.
Are the Jets’ brass prescient or clueless? Either way, what is the harm in handing Hackenberg the ball? The worse he can do is play himself off the roster, which is pretty much where he is now. The worst he can do is throw the ball to the wrong team too many times, embarrass himself and look for another job. In other words, he could be Geno Smith.
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