NFL draft analyst Todd McShay always felt that Christian Hackenberg had the physical tools to become an elite quarterback in college football, and even named the Penn State junior a likely No. 1 overall draft pick in his first 2016 mock NFL draft for ESPN last spring.
But McShay doesn't think Hackenberg has progressed much since his promising freshman year, and he has concerns about whether he is accurate enough to be a high NFL draft choice,
So while Hackenberg prepares to make a final decision on whether to return to Penn State for his senior season or head to the draft, McShay feels, "he's just not ready."
Speaking Thursday on a conference call with reporters, McShay said Hackenberg's issues with accuracy make it "really hard to put a first- or even a second-round grade" on him.
"Accuracy to me is the No. 1 trait when evaluating a quarterback," he said. "You can split hairs between mental makeup and accuracy, but if you can't deliver the ball accurately to spots, leading receivers to yards after catch, anticipating where receivers are going to be, you're going to struggle in this league."
McShay said very few quarterbacks - one being Carolina's Cam Newton - have improved their accuracy from college to the NFL.
The television analyst said some of Hackenberg's issues could be explained by the fact that "he clearly did not buy into" the offense that was installed after James Franklin was hired as head coach in January 2014.
"If he was very positive about everything going on there, and that the offensive line was going to be better, and thought that he's kind of figured on what they want to do, then I'd say go back," McShay said. "I would kind of hope that that's the answer, because he's just not ready."
Hackenberg, who will lead the Lions into the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia, has completed 53.3 percent of his passes for 2,386 yards, with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. His percentage and passing yards are down from last year, but he has reduced interceptions significantly from 2014, when he threw 15. However, he has continued to get hit - 44 sacks last season, 38 this season.
Penn State's new offensive coordinator, former Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead, said Wednesday that his style of offense was "aggressive and attacking," two traits that were not in evidence much in two years under former coordinator John Donovan, who was fired on Nov. 29.
McShay also commented favorably on Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib, a consensus first-team all-American and winner of numerous postseason awards including Big Ten defensive player of the year and the Rotary Lombardi Award.
He said the 6-foot-7, 272-pound Nassib, a Malvern Prep graduate from West Chester, had "good physical tools." He gave Nassib a third-round grade in the preseason but noted that the player "absolutely" improved his draft stock.
"I really like his toughness, his motor," he said. "He's got some nastiness and plays hard. His pass rush skills are solid, not exceptional. He's got to improve his pad level and be a little bit more consistent at some of the things he does. I think he's got a chance to be a day-two pick and can be very successful as he continues to develop."