Yes, the Steelers have glaring needs on defense that they need to address, especially in the secondary. There is no doubt that the first pick in the draft should be someone who can help erase the painful memories of the need to use second and third string cornerbacks as starters. They could also use a defensive tackle who can occupy multiple blockers, apply pressure, and clog up the middle. What if though, in the third round, there is a player available who has all the tools needed to be a franchise quarterback? Should the Steelers snatch him up? On draft day, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg will be just 21 years old and while his last couple of seasons could be considered disappointing, after making quite a bit of noise as a freshman, he has the kind of talent that has made Ben Roethlisberger a future Hall of Famer. He has the kind of talent that could help keep that trademark smile on Antonio Brown’s face for years to come.
With a comparable skill set to Ben Roethlisberger, Christian Hackenberg could be the ideal candidate to be groomed for the next few years and to take over when Ben retires. Hackenberg committed to Penn State prior to the Jerry Sandusky scandal and despite the sanctions levied against the Nittany Lions, he chose to honor that commitment. Hackenberg went on to have a freshman season that saw him set multiple records for a freshman, including most yards in a game (311), most 300 yard passing games (4), and most games with at least 200 yards passing (9). It was also a season in which he led Penn State to an upset of #18 Michigan. Many compared his freshman year to that of the one Andrew Luck had at Stanford. He accomplished it all while still learning head coach Bill O’Brien’s complex schemes. One of the things O’Brien really respected about Hackenberg was his calm demeanor, not just in handling the pressure from earning the starting job at Penn State as a freshman, but the overall situation in the aftermath of the NCAA sanctions. In other words, Christian Hackenberg has already handled the pressure, during the most dire of situations, leading Penn State out of the darkest period in their history.
While his college numbers seem rather pedestrian and uninspiring on the surface (685 completions in 1,221 attempts for 8,318 yards, along with 48 touchdowns and 30 interceptions), he is coming from a system that never was tailored to his strengths. An accurate pocket passer with the arm strength to make all the throws, plus the athletic ability to get out and make plays, Hackenberg is a match for Todd Haley’s offense. Coming out of high school (Fork Union Military Academy), Christian turned down scholarships to Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia. Chances are, had he gone to any one of those schools, he would have developed much more as a quarterback and ended up as a top five pick in this draft. Sure, that’s just speculation, but that is the kind of talent that Christian Hackenberg possesses. As it stands, the choice he made in going to Penn State just may have made it possible for the Steelers to land the heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger in the third round of the upcoming NFL Draft. Although Art Rooney III said that the Steelers aren’t looking to draft Ben’s replacement in this year’s draft, if Christian Hackenberg is sitting there at the end of the third round, the Steelers need to seriously consider selecting him.
If the Steelers were to draft Christian Hackenberg and groom him behind Ben, if Ben played for another four years Hackenberg would still only be 25 when Ben retired. That is the age that Aaron Rodgers was when he took over for Brett Favre. During that time, Rodgers said that Favre never took any interest in helping him. Unlike that situation, Ben would definitely take Hackenberg under his wing to make sure he was ready by the time he retired. Most of the deficiencies in Christian Hackenberg’s game can be coached away, while some may just be a result of not playing in a compatible system while in college. Either way, Hackenberg is a natural fit for the Steelers offense, and would be a smart pick if he is available. His football I.Q. would allow him to pick up the offense quickly. Maybe the Steelers aren’t going into this draft looking to find a quarterback of the future, but if a potential quarterback of the future finds them, the Steelers would be wise to bring him into the fold now. If Hackenberg’s past is any indication, he could pass up Landry Jones on the depth chart by the second week of camp.