The 2017 New York Jets Starting Quarterback Roadmaps

David Aitken on the starting quarterback roadmaps for Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty or a quarterback selected by the New York Jets in this year’s NFL Draft…

Never has a fan base ever looked at the signing of Josh McCown as such a signal of intent. It has answered the question of which veteran the Jets would end up bringing in, but truthfully not much else. Let’s take a look at the options the Jets have in finding their starting quarterback going forward.

An “open competition” ends up never really being anything other than Josh McCown as the de factor starter, with Christian Hackenberg still looking far away.

With it hard to pinpoint exactly how much interest the Jets have in a quarterback in round one right now, this looks like the most likely scenario, and arguably the most perilous to Maccagnan’s future with the Jets.

Let’s be real about Christian Hackenberg. Regardless of where you stood on him as a prospect, there was a mutual understanding that he was a quarterback that had his development stunted over the last two seasons at Penn State and he entered the 2016 draft as a broken player. There was never a real shot of him looking competent as a rookie, and even people that supported him as a future starting NFL player cannot really be shocked by how his first season went. The appeal of Hackenberg is that he was on the young side for a prospect (he only just turned 22 last month), has ample physical tools and impressed a respected NFL offensive mind in his ability to pick up an NFL level offense and lead a major college program at just 18-years-old.

If you liked Hackenberg as a prospect, you weren’t buying that he was actually good throughout college and that he was merely in a bad position to impress statistically. What you’re arguing is that although he hit a major stunt in his development, he has the physical tools and field general traits to put it together down the road and that he has time on his side as a young rookie for things to click. But it can’t be said enough that if it is ever going to happen for him, it’s going to take time.

One year isn’t good enough. Take stock in where he was in his first taste of action as a rookie. 17/47 (36.2%) for 159 yards (3.4 Y/A), 1 TD and 2 INTs. Those are Hackenberg’s rookie preseason numbers, but they could just as well be Darrelle Revis’ coverage stats in 2009.

The truth is that Hackenberg can make enormous strides from last year and still not be anywhere close to being ready to start. We’ve seen from Bryce Petty for example a quarterback who can make some splash plays and build excitement during the preseason and then proceed to be a train wreck when he had his opportunity. Given what Hackenberg showed last year, beating up on third string and practice squad players would be a huge improvement. That sounds ridiculous to say about a quarterback the team expects to start one day, but that’s the reality of where he’s at right now. This is the definition of a long-term project.

So if the Jets go with McCown, Hackenberg, and Petty into training camp, the most likely scenario is that Josh McCown is going to start. That is fine in theory – all signs point to a rebuilding year being sanctioned by ownership and it gives Hackenberg that second year riding the pine. The fatal flaw in using McCown to protect Hackenberg for another year is that McCown has an incredibly hard time protecting himself. The past three years he’s been available for only half of any possible starts.

It just isn’t realistic to expect McCown to play a healthy 16 games. This means more likely than not Maccagan’s handpicked quarterbacks are going to get starts. Bryce Petty not looking starter quality is one thing, Hackenberg having a lot of difficulty as a starter – a likely scenario with just one year to work on him – is a different story.

Camp opens up with Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty on the roster. It is an open competition that an improved Christian Hackenberg shows enough to win. 

I’ve said my piece about Hackenberg above. This is obviously what fans are hoping for, and would be by far Mike Maccagnan’s biggest validation of a talent evaluator yet, but it’s a massive ask to expect Hackenberg to go from a disaster against bubble players in a preseason game to being capable of starting for an NFL franchise in a year’s time.

The Jets draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2017 draft. He starts in 2017, either outright from camp or after McCown starts the first handful of games. 

This is starting to build some traction, from Benjamin Albright’s tweet regarding the Jets being “very high on Trubisky and Watson” to some early buzz regarding setting up visits. There’s also been some big media backlash to this idea, basically calling it nonsensical so long as the team has no idea what they have in Christian Hackenberg. You’d hope that Mike Maccagnan, an Economics major, has a little better understanding of the “sunk cost” concept than Gary Myers does.

The Jets spent a late second round pick on a player that was unquestionably a project quarterback last year. Clearly, Maccagnan didn’t expect the wheels to come off the way it did or that the Jets would be in a position to possibly take the first quarterback off the board in the 2017 draft. Hackenberg was selected on the back of best case scenario Every-Little-Thing-Fitz-Does-Is-Magic euphoria. The win now, build for the future “competitive rebuild” ideal was supposed to allow a project QB to be brought along at a comfortable pace while a veteran holds the reigns.

Fast forward a year and after some veteran gutting Maccagnan has maybe the league’s worst roster at his disposal. Only Josh McCown is preventing Hackenberg from seeing the field. While Maccagnan presumably has permission to use this season to evaluate roster youth, he’s no longer on his honeymoon. If evaluating the youth of the roster turns out to be a talentless debacle led by a second year hand-picked quarterback of the future who still is miles away from being an NFL starter, he is going to lose his job.

This is not to say that taking a quarterback in the top ten is the slam dunk move – it has the potential to set a franchise back several years. But a late second round pick who has proven nothing is not a reason to pass on a quarterback if the Jets are enticed by a vastly superior prospect. Maccagnan, at the least, is doing his homework.

The Jets brass are probably going to have their pick of any of the top four names. Taking one they feel good about is both the best thing for the direction of the franchise and the move most likely to keep Maccagnan employed. We can talk about the Jets having a host of other needs, and that’s true. We can also talk about them not giving Hackenberg a “fair chance”, and that’s partially also true (the coaches are still privy to his progress in a way outsiders are not). But for a position where long-term starters are found far and away at the top of the draft, Hackenberg’s drafting in itself shouldn’t be a reason to discard a quarterback at the top. And while a fan can say “just start Hackenberg now and if it’s a mess we can get our guy next year,” Mike Maccagnan can’t.

If selecting Hackenberg was a mistake, the worst thing Maccagnan can do is double down on it and the best thing he can do is admit the mistake and move on as soon as possible. He also doesn’t even have to admit that Hackenberg was a mistake, just that he is no longer in a position to take his sweet time staking his future with a long-term project.

Bryce Petty wins the job.

He has figured it all out. Another year of chucking YOLO balls to Robby Anderson in Madden has paid off. By pressing other buttons, you can hit other receivers. It makes so much more sense when you just picture little letters and shapes floating over player’s heads. Turning up the difficulty setting also makes for really good practice. Playing QB in the NFL is hard, but so is All-Madden mode.

Needless to say this scenario is unlikely in any real way that’ll make fans feel good about the team. He could stumble into it due to McCown’s injury proneness coupled with Hackenberg not making a significant jump, but Petty too is far away without time on his side. Already 26-years-old for this upcoming training camp, Petty has shown in his starts last year that he is way below the bar for a starting quarterback. Talk of Petty needing a “real chance” reminds me of the futile attempts of fans to convince themselves that Kellen Clemens was going to take a huge jump from 2007 to 2008 before the Favre trade.

We already saw Petty perform a quarter of a season last year, with a supporting cast that’s not even guaranteed to be superior to what he had in 2016. In extended action he also mainly faced mostly average to below average pass defenses in DVOA: Rams (20th), Colts (27th), 49ers (28th), and Dolphins (14th). And in those games, he was bad. He’s dead last in passer rating for 2016 of any quarterback with at least a hundred attempts. He’ll probably get a shot to stake his claim in an open competition, but if the Jets draft a quarterback at any point in the first few rounds, Petty shouldn’t even be brought to camp.

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