Will They Stay Or Will They Go?

Penn State has a pair of potential NFL early entries in Christian Hackenberg and Austin Johnson. But don't expect to hear about any decisions until after the TaxSlayer Bowl.

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive tackle Austin Johnson have both filed paperwork with the NFL Draft Advisory Board, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said at Friday’s TaxSlayer Bowl Media Day, and are awaiting word as to what their stock might be for the selection process, April 28-30.

That information figures to be a factor in whether the two juniors decide to leave school early. Underclassmen have until Jan. 18 to declare for this year’s draft.

Johnson was not available Friday. Hackenberg said his decision to seek feedback from the NFL is “usually typical protocol for juniors in that situation” and that it will be “a tool in that decision, when that time comes.”

He added that he has not yet reached any conclusions about his future, and emphasized that he is focused only on the Jan. 2 game against Georgia.

The advisory board, comprised of NFL personnel evaluators, used to give a player one of five evaluations, according to a report on AL.com in January of this year — as high as the first round; as high as the second round; as high as the third round; no potential to go in the first three rounds; and no potential to be drafted.

But with an increasing number of underclassmen going undrafted in recent years, that was cut to three categories this year: first round, second round and neither. The third designation is tantamount to the board advising the player to stay in school.

PSU wide receivers coach Josh Gattis, a safety at Wake Forest from 2003-06, remembers seeking out the opinion of the advisory board after his junior season, even though he had no intention of leaving.

“It’s just like getting a test score back from an ACT or an SAT,” he said.

He did not reveal how he was evaluated, but he was a fifth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars after his senior season and later spent some time with the Chicago Bears.

He said Hackenberg and Johnson have “stayed focused to the season, and we haven’t had any distractions.”

“They’ve been great teammates throughout this whole process,” he said.

Franklin sat down with both players about two weeks ago, in large part to map out how the information might be released about their decisions.

“It’s not going to be just someone coming out and throwing something out mid-week on a tweet,” he said. “It’s going to be something we’re going to try to do together, and do it the way they want it to be done, and also it’s going to represent Penn State the right way. We’re still working through those details, and really still working through some of the answers.”


Fight On State Top Stories