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Christian Hackenberg blamed James Franklin for Penn State struggles, per report

A plausible rumor emerges about the one-time favorite for the No. 1 pick.

Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg told multiple NFL teams that James Franklin was to blame for his struggles as a sophomore and junior, according to a report from Sports Illustrated's Robert Klemko.

Per two personnel sources on two separate teams who have shown interest in drafting Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, the quarterback has said all the wrong things in interviews when asked to explain his declining sophomore and junior numbers (a combined 28 touchdowns and 21 interceptions). Hackenberg has shifted blame to coach James Franklin, who took over in 2014 when coach Bill O’Brien departed for the Texans. Said one evaluator: "Despite the fact that it’s probably true, you don’t want to hear a kid say that."

Hackenberg was considered a premier pro prospect after a strong true freshman season under O'Brien in 2013 and even after a disappointing 2014. But over his final two years in Happy Valley, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns as a sophomore and seeing his completion percentage decline.

"It's time to stop thinking of Hackenberg as a No. 1 pick," wrote Mocking the Draft's Dan Kadar last season. Virtually no one expects him to be a first-round pick at this point.

Some of that was probably due in part to the difficulty of transition. Franklin's hiring to replace O'Brien -- and his installation of a more spread-like offense than the traditional pro-style schemes used by O'Brien, a former Patriots offensive coordinator -- made things hard on more than a few Lions.

Some of Hackenberg's trouble was no doubt thanks to Penn State's brutal offensive line, which allowed an alarming 83 sacks over the last two years. And some of it is surely Hackenberg's own fault. Some of the fault for all three things, however, lies at Franklin's doorstep. That is probably part of why Franklin replaced offensive coordinator John Donovan with Fordham coach Joe Moorhead in an effort to truly transition to a spread attack for 2016.

Hackenberg's reported antipathy for Franklin has seemed thinly veiled at best since at least his omission of his head coach from his statement on entering the NFL Draft.

Given that Penn State was already in a precarious position this offseason, coming off NCAA sanctions and losing two well-respected coaches, Hackenberg's comments might be used against Franklin on the recruiting trail at a time when the Nittany Lions need the smoothest sailing they can get.