As a Pro Bowl cornerback who made film study and preparation a hallmark during a 13-year NFL career – and as a football-crazed kid whose father played on some great Dallas Cowboys teams – Shawn Springs has been around the game his entire life. Picking apart a passer – his tendencies and tells and weaknesses – came naturally to Springs, and he always took a certain joy in jumping a route and anticipating where the ball was going.
Problem was, Springs, who had 33 career interceptions, was having a hard time figuring out how this particular high school quarterback was making all these downfield throws (at least Springs figured he had to be a high school kid) at a passing camp. Forget flaws. The unflappable defensive back was in awe. Turns out, the "high-school" kid who was at the same youth passing camp as Springs' sons, was, in fact, a sixth-grader, who would become a household name to football fans everywhere by his sophomore season at Ohio State (where Springs starred as well).
And by the end of this month, that young man just might hear his name called among the first 10 selections in the NFL Draft. Springs has literally watched Dwayne Haskins grow up since first connecting with him and his family, playing a pivotal role in Haskins leaving New Jersey for a more competitive high school situation near Springs' home in the greater Washington, D.C. area and helping aid his development in every way since then. Haskins long ago won Springs over; the cornerback predicted Haskins' breakout season before last year's draft, and had been telling his friends around the league for years that he would be a first-round pick and future franchise quarterback, even while having to wait his turn with the Buckeyes.
"From the first time I met him, he was smart and hungry and could make every throw you want to see," Springs said. "He just needed a little guidance in what it took. Like everybody, you think you know what it takes until you meet a professional and they tell you what it's really like. What you think might work for high school might not really work if you want to go to Alabama or Clemson or Ohio State. You have to find out what that looks like.
"I always knew he could throw the heck of out the ball, and he and I had a grading system to go over everything that goes into being a great quarterback. We had this system where every year I grade him. In eighth grade he was at like 80 percent, but his junior year it's like 93 percent. By his senior year it was basically 100 percent.
"It was everything from huddle presence to what it means to be a leader, how your personality affects the team, holding yourself accountable, how to work on your body, making sure you keep your grades are on point. We'd talk before every year about different things and situations to work on for that year. We talked a lot about leadership and all of the lessons I got from Coach (Mike) Holmgren and Coach (Joe) Gibbs and Coach (Bill) Belichick."
Not a bad trio of legendary coaches to have lessons passed down from. Haskins has basically been getting a PhD in football since encountering Springs all those years ago. Springs holds Haskins to a high standard, yet has been continually impressed by the young man from the first time they met. Haskins approached him at that first passing camp and introduced himself – Springs was still playing at the time – and asked him about Ohio State and what it was like to play with Tom Brady.
"He was out there throwing dimes, like, 50 yards down the field," Springs said. "I figured that camp must go up to 10th grade or something."
Springs was in Jersey frequently, visiting his children who lived there with their mother, and would watch Haskins play as well when he could. He'd watch tape of games with Haskins and ask him about progressions and why he made a certain mistake, only to find a few plays later the quarterback had already corrected himself.
"We just built up a relationship with the family and we'd hang out when I was in town," Springs said. "It got to the point where I was watching Dwayne his freshman year of high school and I was like, 'He needs to get to the DMV area' (local slang for The District, Maryland and Virginia). He was free one weekend and I was like, 'Why don't you come down and watch Good Council (of D.C.) against Gilman (of Baltimore) at the Naval Academy? They have a few corners who aren't bad.'"
Gilman was led by corner Cyrus Jones, who went to Alabama and is now on the Ravens. Good Council's roster included future NFL corner Kendall Fuller. Might as well start playing against elite defensive backs. "Dwayne was like, 'I can see why I need to be a part of something like this.'"
Soon enough Haskins was visiting schools in the area. Some were already set at quarterback and some were only open to boys. "He chose Bullis because his sister would be able to go, too," Springs said. "That just shows you the kind of kid he is. He wasn't just looking out for himself. He was looking out for everybody."
Haskins starred at the prestigious college prep school ($45,000 per year for high school) and was set to go to Maryland until coach Randy Edsall was fired. It was at that point that Haskins began focusing on Ohio State, despite the Buckeyes already having quarterbacks like Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett on campus.
"Everybody thinks it was always Ohio State, because of me, but they weren't in the lead," Springs said. "With the system they run, and Dwayne not being a running quarterback, it wasn't the first choice. He is mobile enough to escape but is not out there running around like Russell Wilson. He's more like Ben Roethlisberger than Russell. He's got the big arm, 6-3, 6-4, makes throws from the pocket.
"And people forget that Dwayne had to be humble, because he wasn't even awarded the job until the spring. He had to compete with Joe Burrow, who transferred to LSU, but for most of the spring Dwayne had to earn that. He did a great job in the summer, got into even better condition and then the program had some turmoil and Urban (Meyer) gets suspended for the first three games of the season. Dwayne had to go through that and still put up 51 touchdowns."
Haskins absolutely thrived in his first chance starting, but Springs' buddies around the NFL began noticing when the freshman was thrust into duty against arch-rival Michigan in 2017. "We were down and he came off the bench and we put up 17 unanswered," Springs said. "People were like, 'He came off the bench throwing lasers against Cover-2.' I was telling everybody that he is the real deal, and you could tell in that game. He wasn't rattled at all. He's the real deal."
Springs, whose company – Windpact – is at the vanguard of the latest helmet technology and has already won innovation awards in various capacities, went on-record with The Columbus Dispatch last spring proclaiming Haskins would have a record season and finish as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. "I've only played with two QBs who are better than Dwayne Haskins, and, no disrespect to anyone else, but that's Warren Moon and Tom Brady. Those are the only two that I can honestly say, with my own eyes, that threw the ball like this kid. That's two Hall of Famers who can throw the ball like this kid."
Springs said Haskins was a little disappointed in his combine, but showed better at his Pro Day and continued to make strides with his speed and running. He is clearly a work in progress, but a quarterback already able to shatter Big 10 records despite his relative inexperience. It remains to be seen where he lands in the draft, though his wait won't be long
I continue to hear strongly that Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray will be selected first overall, and the Giants, the next QB-needy team, don't seem inclined to take one with the sixth pick. If he gets past the Broncos with the 10th pick – and perhaps John Elway would lean toward Missouri's Drew Lock if he takes a QB there – then a myriad of trade opportunities emerge.
My hunch is Miami tables its quarterback draft need for another year, but seeing a team like Washington or New England – two of Springs' three NFL teams – jump ahead of the Dolphins' 13th pick wouldn't surprise me in the least. Worst case for Haskins would seem to be 15th overall to the Skins – right down the road from where his journey with Springs began.
Haskins has continued to wow teams with his character and demeanor and approach to the game. He clearly has star potential, and the right people around him and mentoring him. Perhaps sitting behind a veteran starter for a year wouldn't hurt, but regardless he is primed for big things in the pro game.
"He's a franchise quarterback," Springs said. "He's the real deal. He'll play for 15 years and be everything you want him to be."
To this point, everything Springs has said about Haskins, going all the way back to middle school, has proved true. I wouldn't start doubting him now.