Imagine getting selected in the second round of the draft and never playing a single down in the National Football League.
That’s Christian Hackenberg’s professional football career in a nutshell.
Hackenberg, who garnered mixed reviews from draft experts, repeatedly made the same mistakes during preseason play: throwing incomplete passes and pick-sixes.
He was also the pass rush’s favorite target.
Unbelievably, Hackenberg also repeatedly missed his receivers during pre-game warmups without any cornerbacks covering them.
It was a sad sight considering he showed some potential during his college days with the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Christian Hackenberg will go down in professional football history as one of those players who never made the most of their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Christian Blaize Hackenberg was born to parents Erick and Nicole on February 14, 1995 in Lehighton, PA.
Hackenberg, who has three brothers, comes from a family of teachers.
His paternal grandparents were both educators.
His dad, Erick, coached high school football at Schuylkill County.
On the other hand, his mom Nicole was also a teacher.
The younger Hackenberg spent his freshman year in high school at Fluvanna County High School in Palmyra, VA.
Hackenberg, a straight-A student, transferred to Fork Union Military Academy (FUMA) which is just eleven miles south of Palmyra.
Erick Hackenberg told the Centre Daily Times’ Travis Johnson in September 2013 his son got straight As at Fluvanna County High School without studying.
He and his wife believed transferring Christian to the military academy would develop his work ethic and prepare him better for college life.
Hackenberg had second thoughts about transferring.
Erick Hackenberg told Johnson his son thought it was a form of punishment because it was a military school.
Jared Goff & Christian Hackenberg during senior year of high school in 2012 pic.twitter.com/sTzcRCSGiF
— America’s Team ✭ (@RoadToSix) May 11, 2016
FUMA Blue Devils head football coach and athletic director Micky Sullivan somehow convinced Christian Hackenberg it was “a golden opportunity” that bode well for his future, per Johnson.
Hackenberg, a three-sport athlete who also excelled in baseball and basketball, enjoyed a state title run as the FUMA Blue Devils quarterback during his sophomore season.
However, he learned the downside of playing under center the following year.
The turning point came when star running back T.J. Dudley hurt his ankle and missed the majority of the season.
Other running backs were nowhere near as good in terms of pass protection.
Hackenberg, who threw to his receivers fifty to sixty times per game, was on the receiving end of punishing pass rushes.
With Dudley out of commission and Hackenberg battered and bruised, the Blue Devils won just four of ten games.
Sullivan turned the ordeal into a valuable teaching point for his cadet athletes.
“You will be judged not on how you do on great days but how you do when things go badly,” he said (via the Centre Daily Times). “And he (Hackenberg) accepted that mantle.”
Not only did Christian Hackenberg take Sullivan’s advice to heart, but it was also a life lesson that served him well when his pro football career took a turn for the worse several years later.
A rejuvenated Hackenberg passed for 2,144 yards, twenty-four touchdowns, and nine interceptions during his senior season.
The Blue Devils also won ten of their thirteen games.
Christian Hackenberg was the epitome of a model student-athlete at FUMA.
He left the academy as an honor graduate who earned at least a 3.5 GPA and fewer than forty demerits, per Johnson.
Hackenberg also received the Sonny Randle Achievement Medal in 2012 and 2013 as well as the Jackie Jensen Baseball Award.
The latter award is given to a player who exemplifies passion for the game, team spirit, and sportsmanship.
Christian Hackenberg was now ripe for the picking for a college football career at Happy Valley.
College Days With The Penn State Nittany Lions
Christian Hackenberg was about to enter the college football ranks with glowing credentials.
247Sports proclaimed the 6’4″, 210-lb. Hackenberg the top quarterback recruit of 2013.
Other big-name signal callers who made the list were Mitch Trubisky, J.T. Barrett, and Jared Goff.
Hackenberg was also the 13th-ranked top football recruit of 2013, per 247Sports.com.
Current NFL stars who were in the same list include Vernon Hargreaves III, Laremy Tunsil, Derrick Henry, Jalen Ramsey, Joey Bosa, Alvin Kamara, and Tre’Davious White.
Interestingly enough, Hackenberg ranked higher than Ramsey (16th), Bosa (37th), Kamara (42nd), and White (46th).
All four players went on to have far more successful NFL careers than Hackenberg.
Christian Hackenberg, the five-star quarterback recruit, returned to the Keystone State for his college football career.
He suited up for the Penn State Nittany Lions, whose campus is roughly 138 miles west of his birthplace Lehighton, PA.
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) August 19, 2014
Hackenberg committed to Penn State during a tumultuous time in the school’s football history.
Back then, former Nittany Lions assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky made headlines for a sex scandal.
Plus, legendary Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno passed away just a month before Hackenberg committed to the program.
The turn of events didn’t deter Hackenberg, whom Bleacher Report proclaimed Penn State’s “savior.”
It was then-head football coach Bill O’Brien who convinced Hackenberg to become a Nittany Lion, per The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman.
O’Brien, who was the New England Patriots quarterbacks coach from 2009 to 2011, worked with Tom Brady before coaching Penn State.
That was enough to convince Hackenberg that O’Brien could help prepare him to become an elite signal caller.
Hackenberg made history when he took the field for the first time in Nittany Lions Navy and White against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium on August 31, 2013.
According to Sherman, he became just the third starting freshman quarterback in the program’s history.
Hackenberg completed 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in the 23-17 win over the Orange.
His best game as a freshman came three months later in an improbable 31-24 win over the 14th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
He converted 21 of 30 pass attempts for 339 yards, four touchdowns, and zero picks.
With Hackenberg under center, the Nittany Lions won seven of twelve games during the 2013 NCAA season.
Hackenberg finished the year with 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
He also added four rushing touchdowns for good measure.
Hackenberg consequently won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2013.
Prior to Hackenberg’s sophomore season in 2014, O’Brien left Happy Valley to become the Houston Texans head coach.
After starting the 2014 NCAA season on fire – a 454-yard effort in a 26-24 win over the UCF Knights on August 30 – the second-year signal caller’s performance dipped considerably.
— Cover 3 Podcast (@Cover3Podcast) March 26, 2016
Television cameras zoomed in on Hackenberg letting loose a profanity-laced tirade into a sideline phone during the Nittany Lions’ 21-3 win over the Akron Zips a week later.
The sophomore quarterback threw just four touchdown passes and eleven interceptions the rest of the way.
Hackenberg finished his second season at Penn State with 2,977 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions.
It was a sophomore slump in the truest sense.
His consolation was Penn State’s 31-30 win over the Boston College Eagles in the Pinstripe Bowl on December 27, 2014.
Hackenberg went wild in that one: he threw for 371 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Unfortunately, his performance on the gridiron would go up and down during his junior campaign.
Hackenberg got off to a disastrous start during the 2015 NCAA season.
He converted just 11 of 25 passes and managed only 103 passing yards in the 27-10 season-opening loss to the Temple Owls on September 5, 2015.
Hackenberg had a double whammy during that game.
Not only did the Owls’ relentless pass rush sack him ten times, but Penn State also suffered its first loss to Temple in seventy-four years, per Sherman.
Hackenberg’s best game of the year came almost two months later in a narrow 31-30 win over the Maryland Terrapins on October 24, 2015.
Hackenberg passed for 315 yards, three touchdowns, and zero picks in the win.
He finished his junior year with 2,525 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.
— NCAA Football (@NCAAFootball) January 3, 2016
Two days into the new year, Christian Hackenberg decided to skip his senior season at Penn State and declare for the 2016 NFL Draft.
He thanked former coaches and staff members after his tenure at Happy Valley officially ended.
A notable omission was his head football coach, James Franklin.
Hackenberg’s cumulative stat line at PSU: 8,457 passing yards, 48 touchdowns, and 31 interceptions.
Hackenberg, who was barely twenty-one years old when he declared for the NFL Draft, saw his completion percentage (from 58.9 to 53.5) and passing yardage (from 2,955 yards to 2,525) decline every year.
It was an ominous sign for his future professional football career.
Pro Football Career
NFL Draft experts were torn on Christian Hackenberg as the big day drew near.
Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer told the now-defunct ESPN Radio show “Mike and Mike” in October 2015 (via The Baltimore Sun’s Mark Wogenrich) Hackenberg was like the second coming of Troy Aikman:
“Scouts and GMs and coaches will drool over Christian Hackenberg,” Dilfer said. “He’s very, very, very similar to Troy Aikman. They’re the same body type, thrower, personality, competitors.”
In contrast, Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson berated Hackenberg for his inaccuracy and constantly missing wide receiver screens.
Which version of Christian Hackenberg will show up in the National Football League?
It was an intriguing question, to say the least.
Prior to the start of the 2015 NFL season, the New York Jets were in the middle of a contract dispute with starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini.
His backups were Geno Smith and Bryce Petty.
The Jets’ coaching staff held a private workout with Hackenberg at Penn State during his junior year.
When Hackenberg and Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey – both avid golfers – struck up a conversation while watching The Masters on television at a local brewery, the fire had been stoked.
The Jets were dead set on drafting Hackenberg when the Houston Texans traded up to get the 50th spot in the 2016 NFL Draft.
They thought Bill O’Brien and Co. were going to select the Penn State quarterback who remained close to the Texans’ mentor.
They drafted Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman Nick Martin instead.
“That’s your coach who was with you at Penn State, and he’s not jumping at the opportunity to draft you?” That’s a red flag,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. told Cimini.
— SNY (@SNYtv) April 30, 2016
The snub opened the door for Gang Green.
The New York Jets officially made Christian Hackenberg the 51st pick of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Regrettably, the franchise hasn’t had a reliable signal caller since that fateful day.
The Jets also missed out on Dak Prescott, whom the Dallas Cowboys snagged with the 135th overall selection.
For his part, Hackenberg was thankful for the opportunity in the Big Apple.
“I’m confident enough that I can be able to adjust and I’m really excited, again, about the fresh start, the new opportunity. I’m super grateful,” he told USA TODAY Sports‘ Lindsay H. Jones in the aftermath of the draft.
When the Jets drafted Hackenberg, one of his targets, wide receiver Brandon Marshall liked his new quarterback’s upside.
Marshall shared notes on Hackenberg with Cimini that said the rookie had the best ball he had ever caught in his decade-long experience in the NFL.
Marshall also liked Hackenberg picking his brain during the former’s film session. The Jets wide receiver even wrote on his notes “WRs will run through a brick wall for him” and Hackenberg is “100 steps ahead of Jay Cutler when we started in 2006,” per ESPN.
Unfortunately, both Trent Dilfer and Brandon Marshall were wrong about Christian Hackenberg.
Hackenberg showed a glimpse of his potential during his first preseason game against the New York Giants in 2016.
He led a 75-yard drive and threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
He finished the game with 105 passing yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Despite quarterback issues with Fitzpatrick and injuries to Smith and Petty during the 2016 NFL season, the Jets entrenched Hackenberg as their fourth-string signal caller.
The Jets limped to a 5-11 win-loss record and missed the postseason for a sixth straight year.
Hackenberg competed with Petty and Josh McCown for the starting quarterback job a season later.
During a preseason game against the Detroit Lions, Hackenberg didn’t anticipate a front-size blitz.
The pass rush smothered him completely.
Hackenberg wound up with a welt on his chin.
Ironically, he practiced for that blitz before the game.
According to Cimini, “At that moment, Hackenberg was finished with the Jets.”
Several weeks later, Hackenberg repeatedly missed his receivers while they were warming up on the field before their season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Jets head coach Todd Bowles promptly demoted Hackenberg to clipboard duty.
The turn of events shattered the young quarterback’s confidence.
At just twenty-two years old, Christian Hackenberg never played a single down in the National Football League.
In two preseasons with the Jets, Hackenberg converted 59 of 121 passes, incurred a passing accuracy of 48.4 percent, and passed for 531 yards and three touchdowns, and threw four interceptions, per The Ringer.
Of those four interceptions, opponents returned three of them into the end zone.
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) August 26, 2017
Hackenberg was also sacked ten times and fumbled the ball six times, per The Ringer.
The Jets, fed up with Hackenberg’s ineptitude, traded him to the Oakland Raiders for a conditional seventh-round pick on May 22, 2018.
Jon Gruden and Co. released him less than a month later.
Hackenberg somehow still had a pulse: the Philadelphia Eagles signed him on August 12, 2018.
The possibility of playing with Carson Wentz and Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles disappeared when Philly released him a few days before their season opener.
The Cincinnati Bengals then signed Hackenberg to their practice squad on September 3, 2018.
The Bengals released him from their practice squad two months later.
That roster move was Christian Hackenberg’s final lifeline in the National Football League.
Cimini attributed Hackenberg’s downfall in the NFL to two factors: sloppy delivery and small hands.
Hackenberg’s nine-inch hands were in the ninth percentile among quarterbacks, per NFLCombineResults.com (via ESPN).
Hackenberg promptly took his act to the short-lived Alliance of American Football (AAF).
The Memphis Express selected him in the second round of the 2019 AAF QB Draft.
Former #Jets second-round pick Christian Hackenberg’s AAF debut for the Memphis Express today:
10 for 23, 67 yards, INT.
His team was shut out. pic.twitter.com/h8Mi0oecac
— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaSports) February 11, 2019
During a two-game span with the Express, Hackenberg completed 32 of 62 passes and threw three interceptions with no touchdowns.
Hackenberg was benched for the remainder of the AAF season.
The league eventually folded in April 2019.
That, in a nutshell, was Christian Hackenberg’s professional football career.
It turned out Christian Hackenberg wasn’t cut for the gridiron after all.
Hackenberg, a three-sport star at Fork Union Military Academy (FUMA), made a career move similar to Tim Tebow’s in June 2020.
He attempted a comeback in baseball.
Unlike Tebow, who played in the outfield, Hackenberg took the mound as a pitcher.
Hackenberg, a righty, was a member of the FUMA Blue Devils’ bullpen. He reportedly had a 90-mph fastball but had an erratic 7.36 ERA.
He told NBC Philadelphia (via ESPN’s Rich Cimini) he still has a lot left in him:
“Simple as I can put it: I just want to compete, man. I’ve kind of had my trials and tribultations with the NFL, and had success and had that roller coaster ride.”
“At the end of the day, I’m sitting here at twenty-five. I feel like I’ve got a lot left in the tank.”
Nowadays, Christian Hackenberg lives a quiet life with his wife Tatum in Southern New Jersey.
During his fallout from football and the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hackenberg finished his degree in communications and public relations. He also earned his real estate license.
Let’s take time give a warm welcome to Christian Hackenberg a former All-American, NFL QB and Penn State Alum. Hackenberg will be joining us as the QB coach here at Winslow Twp. @chackenberg1 pic.twitter.com/JnbTAwuBlk
— Winslow Twp HS Football (@winslowtwpfb) March 3, 2021
Hackenberg is currently an account executive at a cybersecurity services firm.
He also does real estate and coaches the Winslow Township Eagles quarterbacks, per NJ Advance Media’s Darryl Slater.
He earned $2.7 million as an NFL quarterback. He invested his money wisely, per Slater.
Despite Christian Hackenberg’s massive struggles on the gridiron, he told NJ Advance Media he remains optimistic:
“I’m thankful for football and my journey, but ultimately more excited about the next forty years, as opposed to the first twenty-five. You’re not going to make it if you just sob and mope.”
It’s one valuable lesson any disgruntled gridiron warrior can learn from someone who’s been to the other side.