FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — While prospects were being plucked off the draft board, Christian Hackenberg was secluded far from the green room and frenetic energy of Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.
The former Penn State quarterback was in the backyard of his Virginia home playing, of all things, “Cornhole.” And it was a phone call from the Jets on Day 2 of the NFL Draft that interrupted his bean bag-tossing game.
With the 51st overall pick, general manager Mike Maccagnan perhaps found his quarterback of the future.
“He’s got a lot of physical ability,” Maccagnan said Friday night, adding that Hackenberg has “prototypical” size. “ . . . We think he has a lot of potential . . . from a mental and aptitude standpoint, there’s a lot to work with there.”
Last week, Maccagnan insisted that the contract logjam with Ryan Fitzpatrick’s camp wouldn’t stop them from selecting a quarterback during the three-day draft. And in Round 2, he walked away with one.
Since 2000, the Jets have drafted 11 quarterbacks — the most of any NFL team.
Hackenberg joins backups Geno Smith (a second-round pick in 2013) and Bryce Petty (a fourth-rounder last year) in the Jets’ quarterback room. And that doesn’t even include Ryan Fitzpatrick, the free agent whom the Jets are still eager to re-sign as their 2016 starter.
The team’s goal is “to get Ryan back in the fold,” Maccagnan said. But coach Todd Bowles added that Smith is slated to get first-team reps to begin organized team activities in May.
Hours after introducing their first-round pick, former Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee, in a news conference, the Jets turned their focus to Rounds 2 and 3, where they selected Hackenberg and Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins, respectively.
And just like that, the quarterback carousel at 1 Jets Drive got even more crowded. And they still don’t have a starter.
“I’m just extremely grateful for the opportunity,” Hackenberg said during a conference call. “A lot of hours have gone into this and it’s just the beginning.”
Before the pick was announced on TV, Maccagnan told Hackenberg over the phone that the organization was determined to “help you achieve your potential.”
“We’re really excited about adding you to this organization,” Maccagnan said, courtesy of a video posted on the Jets’ official Instagram page. “And we think you have a bright future and we’re going to invest some time in you.”
But Maccagnan was far more subdued and evasive when speaking to the media. “It’s a competitive position and we’ll see how it develops,” he said of their quarterback quagmire.
Hackenberg (6-4, 223) comes into the NFL with several question marks — particularly, his accuracy. During his freshman season, he completed 59 percent of his passes and threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns with 10 interceptions for then-coach Bill O’Brien. But when O’Brien left Penn State to become the coach of the Houston Texans, James Franklin took over the Nittany Lions’ program. And Hackenberg’s production dipped dramatically.
He was a freshman All-American, but the following year he threw for 2,977 yards and 12 TDs with 15 interceptions. He threw for 2,525 yards with 16 TDs and six interceptions in his junior season.
But Maccagnan shrugged off his accuracy issues. “There’s a lot of good throws on tape too,” he said, adding that the Jets held a private workout with Hackenberg at Penn State. Bowles, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo and several scouts were also in attendance.
Hackenberg was so engrossed in his game of “Cornhole” that he was completely unaware that O’Brien and the Texans had traded with the Atlanta Falcons to move up to No. 50 — just one spot ahead of the Jets. (Houston, however, opted for Notre Dame center Nick Martin.)
Hackenberg said his mother was the one who handed him the phone when the Jets called.
“I had a great visit,” he said. “ . . . I’m really excited to learn, really excited to get in there with the guys and get a feel for the team and start earning their respect.”