RODRIGUE: Penn State's Hackenberg, Zettel among Sports Illustrated's top 10 Big Ten pro prospects
Sports Illustrated continued its tradition of ranking the top NFL Draft prospects in every college football conference on Monday, with its top 10 Big Ten prospects.
Penn State had two players on the list in junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg (No. 6) and senior defensive tackle Anthony Zettel (No. 8).
Unsurprisingly, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliot topped the list at No.1 and No. 2, respectively.
The only other quarterback on the list was Michigan State's Connor Cook, who ranked just above Hackenberg at No. 5 — although Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones was listed at "TBD," obviously pending the results of the Buckeye quarterback battle between Jones and J.T. Barrett.
When discussing Hackenberg, the article opens with the question: "How much of last season was Hackenberg's fault? NFL Scouts are wondering that very thing...following a 2014 season in which Hackenberg appeared to regress badly. Remember, he was not that long ago being hyped as a potential No. 1 pick."
The article cites the quarterback's "swiss-cheese offensive line" as partially to blame for his 12-touchdowns-to-15-interceptions ratio last year.
Sports Illustrated said Anthony Zettel "flipped the switch last season from solid contributor to borderline dominant defender," the catalyst of which was his move into the defensive tackle position. Draft analysts said a player like Zettel presents position options, which "only helps his stock."
Personal Take: Hackenberg's offseason work as a counselor at the Elite 11 and the Manning Passing Academy gave him good opportunities to network — important when his 2014 play didn't show much of what he could be capable of. Where Sports Illustrated said his mechanics suffered, due to constantly having to hurry his throws, work with coaches and a long offseason should have fixed those issues.
Scouts need to take their time in their evaluation of Hackenberg this year. His offensive line will still need a game or two to develop even further as a unit, and optimistically, with their development will come Hackenberg's ability to showcase his talent. A player with his build and natural feel for quarterback should be just fine with a little more protection (I know, preaching to the choir at this point) — and if he doesn't have that protection, he does look a little lighter and is said to be quicker on his feet nowadays, should he need to move his 6-foot-4 frame in a hurry.
As for Zettel, he's poised to have another fantastic season as the enforcer of Penn State's defense. His 17.0 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season may be hard to top, but it's very clear Zettel is up to the challenge. Former teammate Mike Hull said "he's a crazy and weird kind of athlete," (in a good way) and that if he were in charge of FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman's "Freaks" list, Zettel would be at the top (again, in a good way). Hull thinks Zettel will unquestionably have a fantastic year leading the Nittany Lions' defense.
If the 2016 NFL Draft were tomorrow (thank God it's not) and I were to only take last year's play into consideration with no outside variables or predictions of future play, I'd actually think Zettel would be snapped up faster than his quarterback.