Why Christian Hackenberg should start over Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 17

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Feb 27, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg throws a pass during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Jets head coach, Todd Bowles named Ryan Fitzpatrick the starter for their meaningless Week 17 game against the Buffalo Bills. A surprise move by Bowles? No. A head scratcher move? Yes. Bowles has already benched Fitzpatrick twice this season but hasn’t activated Hackenberg, a second round selection, once this season.

The rookie out of Penn State has plenty to prove to the Jets management who selected him 51st overall, the owner Woody Johnson, and perhaps most importantly the fans who had to endure a catastrophic 2016 Jets season. This upcoming offseason will determine the fate of Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan. It’s likely Bowles will be back for 2017, keeping in mind how unappealing the Jets position would be. As for Maccagnan, his job is in a bit more jeopardy with the shortcoming of talent on this roster.

This week, Bowles made it clear that playing Hackenberg doesn’t do anything for the Jets moving forward. “We’re not going to gain or lose nothing by looking at Christian, or not, in this game,” Bowles said Tuesday via NY Daily News. But do they have something to gain from playing Hackenberg? Let’s break it down further and take a look at some pros and cons of starting him in the 2016 season finale.
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Pros:

1. Hackenberg gets his first start in a meaningless game

Now this can be interpreted as both a pro and a con. But for a player that by many was considered a “project” draft pick, starting him in Week 17 with nothing on the line is a win-win situation. The outcome of the game is absolutely meaningless at this point for the Jets. A loss could actually do more good than a win could do good. But with nothing at stake, Hackenberg would at least be able to let it all out, applying everything that he has learned from his first year in the NFL.

2. The Jets can evaluate his play in his first live action

Hackenberg not starting Sunday leaves the Jets in a big hole. Here’s a second-round pick from a year ago, and 16 games later they won’t even have a game grade on him with the team having been eliminated from the playoffs nearly a month ago. This season has been a sinking disaster for the Jets. It started out tough and it just got rougher each week. Second round picks aren’t necessarily supposed to be superstars however, they are supposed to be contributing players and supply depth and talent. This was a bit of a different situation, however, with the Jets drafting an unproven quarterback so early. It would be a completely different situation if this team was competing for a playoff spot. Nonetheless, the Jets have four wins to date and haven’t seen their second round draft pick once this season. His play in practice can only be evaluated to a certain degree. The Jets need to see glimpses of what Hackenberg has learned this season, and that comes with letting him start Sunday.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick means absolutely nothing to the Jets

The likelihood of Fitzpatrick being on the Jets next year is about the same as the Browns winning a championship next year. It’s not going to happen. Starting Fitzpatrick, simply put, does nothing for the organization now or later. I can’t speak for Jets players, but they too know that Fitzpatrick isn’t going to be the answer for the longterm. With nothing on the line, the only reason the Jets are giving him the nod is because he has experience. Hackenberg can’t gain experience without playing. Even if he’s not ready, it’s time we see Hackenberg’s progress as a quarterback instead of what we know Fitzpatrick can (and can’t) do. A confidence shot Fitzpatrick has nothing to prove to the Jets nor the rest of the league. Meanwhile Hackenberg, in his first year, has everything to prove to not only the Jets organization but his countless doubters from day one. At this point, I think it’s fair to say Hackenberg probably wants to be out there more than Fitzpatrick does, knowing what’s at stake for him.

Cons

  1. The Jets are rushing his development

It could be considered as a fair argument against playing him. While Bowles may not openly say that Hackenberg isn’t ready to see ample playing time, it’s a viable assumption to make that Bowles doesn’t think he’s ready yet for a start in the NFL. Playing a quarterback when they’re not ready doesn’t lead to good things. If it’s true that he’s not yet there in his development, this is a testament to how long of a project he actually is.

2. Starting him behind this offensive line could get him killed

Without four starters along their offensive line, including 7x Pro Bowl center, Nick Mangold and high caliber left guard, James Carpenter. Putting Hackenberg in behind a makeshift (and by makeshift, I mean to the fullest extent), offensive line doesn’t inspire confidence in the young quarterback. With so much still to be learned, the Jets wouldn’t be doing themselves a favor by plugging him in and essentially leaving him to dry out there.

 

The maturation for a quarterback is a never ending period. The process has to begin somewhere. And for Hackenberg, his time is now. It’s not a pretty situation but that’s life in the NFL. For every pretty situation, there’s plenty more that are foggy and uncertain, as the Jets are now. If he exceeds expectations and thrives into in his first game action, not a whole lot can be made of it. Just as if he goes out there, sees ghosts four four quarters, and the Jets lay an egg in their finale, not much can be made of that either. It’s not the outcome nor the stats that are meaningful if he was to start. It’s the immeasurable experience that he would be getting from 60 minutes of live football which he hasn’t been introduced to in the NFL. There’s strong cases to both sides of this argument, though, and it’s likely that Hackenberg won’t see any playing time Sunday.

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