In 2016 27 of 32 NFL teams had completion percentages greater than 59%. The five that did not were the Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers. It is perhaps no coincidence that four of those five teams were last place teams in 2016 and the fifth, the Rams, finished with a 4-12 record. The average NFL team in 2016 had a 63% completion percentage, and only one playoff team, the Houston Texans, who squeaked in with a 9-7 record, had a completion percentage below the league average. Completion percentage is clearly not the end all and be all in quarterback play, but as a proxy for accuracy it does a really good job of separating the NFL haves from the have nots.
Christian Hackenberg has to date completed 50% of his passes in training camp. 50% is not a winning number. Consider that Josh McCown, who has a long career record of inaccuracy resulting in a career completion percentage of 59%, has connected at a 66% rate thus far in Jets camp, and Bryce Petty, a terribly inaccurate quarterback in 2016 at below 55%, has thus far completed 61% of his passes in camp. McCown, Petty and Hackenberg are all running the same offense. Two are above 60%, and Hackenberg trails badly at 50%.
By themselves those statistics don't mean much. Small sample, not game conditions, not throwing to the same receivers, etc. But consider that Hackenberg was also below 50% in 2016 training camp. In his only extended playing time under game conditions in 2016 Hackenberg was a dreadful 11 for 31 (35%) in one of the worst quarterback performances I have witnessed. The sample gets a little larger.
Then there is college. In three years at Penn State Hackenberg completed only 56% of his passes and had only 12 out of 38 games in which he completed more than 60% of his passes. Well, sure, you say, but there were extenuating circumstances. Hackenberg lost his coach and his best teammates after his freshman year, and the new coach and untalented supporting cast screwed up his mechanics. Fair enough. Makes some sense. But then how do we explain the fact that in Hackenberg's best year in 2013, he had quarterback whisperer Bill O'Brien coaching him. He had a Penn State team yet to be ravaged by the Paterno fallout. He was throwing to one of the best wide receivers in college football in Allen Robinson, who would go on to become a Pro Bowl receiver in the NFL. Robinson caught more than 40% of Hackenberg's passes in 2013. Throw in passes to the running backs and tight ends and more than 60% of Hackenberg's targets in 2013 went to either safe, easy targets in the running backs or tight ends, or to a receiver in Robinson who nearly always had a mismatch in talent. And still Hackenberg was unable to break the rather pedestrian 60% barrier, completing less than 59% of his passes in 2013.
Unfortunately it doesn't end there. Hackenberg was a starting quarterback his final three years in high school. At that level you would expect a future NFL quarterback to be dominant. Not quite. Christian Hackenberg never completed better than 54% of his passes in his three high school years, and finished his high school career with a completion percentage below 52%.
Maybe we should let that sink in for a moment. We have statistics going back to Hackenberg as a 15 year old, and at no level of competition - not high school, not college, not in limited NFL reps, has he ever completed passes at a rate of 59% or higher.
At some point the explanations of how two years at Penn State screwed up Hackenberg's mechanics and his accuracy simply do not hold water. Hackenberg was an inaccurate quarterback in high school. He was an inaccurate quarterback in college BEFORE the coaching change and the talent exodus. He continued to be an inaccurate quarterback the rest of his college career, and that has continued throughout his limited pro reps. That doesn't mean he can never be accurate. Improvement is always a possibility. But as the years go by and he never at any time exhibits a minimal level of accuracy necessary for success at the NFL level the chances of that get progressively worse. At this point in his football career, having stacked up seven plus consecutive years of unacceptable inaccuracy, those chances are looking extremely remote. The unfortunate fact is Hackenberg is an extreme long shot to ever become accurate enough as a passer to succeed at the NFL level. Sure, he has a rocket arm, and he will surely impress with the occasional gorgeous throw that few others can make. He will likely have a few scattered games where he performs at an excellent level of accuracy. But those glimpses of greatness are likely to in the end be nothing more than a tease, as Christian Hackenberg will likely never be able to string enough such throws and such games together to be successful in the NFL.