Despite last-minute rumblings that the Redskins were planning to trade up for Dwayne Haskins, Washington stayed patient and landed him at No. 15 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. While his only season as a starter in college was a historic one -- 50 touchdowns and 70% completion rate -- Haskins' greenness was enough grounds for then-Redskins head coach Jay Gruden to begin 2019 with veteran Case Keenum as his starter.
But a concussion to Keenum forced Haskins on the field at the midway point of the season, and he didn't relinquish the gig until an ankle injury in Week 16 forced him out of that game and onto the sidelines for Week 17.
Now, with the fate of the Redskins firmly in Haskins' hands, let's explore everything about his environment with Ron Rivera's club and what Haskins needs to do to take the next step as a quarterback.
How Haskins has improved since he was a prospect
These positive developments in a quarterback's game are noteworthy because they indicate the distinct possibility of future growth.
Here's a snippet ofbefore the draft, and my stylistic comparison for him was Drew Bledsoe:
"Bledsoe either delivered the football from inside the pocket or was hit or sacked inside the pocket. I see a lot of that with Haskins, a slow-footed, pure pocket passer. He's a little more athletic than Bledsoe was, but Bledsoe had a stronger arm ... Haskins can read the entire field, is mostly accurate, and wants to set up shop between the tackles on every snap. If protected well, he can be an awesome quarterback in the NFL. Like with Bledsoe, I'm worried about Haskins when he faces pressure."
Haskins wasn't much different style-wise during his debut in the NFL. He finished with thein my season-long evaluation of all the plays of first- and second-year quarterbacks (out of 17 who played). Haskins had one 'F' game, two 'D's, and an 'A-' in his nine contests. The rest of his outings hovered in the range from 'C' to 'B.'
I didn't notice any clear-cut improvements from his season at Ohio State -- he still struggled against pressure and when placing the football on target down the field -- however, context is vital. Only 21.6% of his drop backs in 2018 in college were pressured. On those plays, according to PFF, his adjusted completion percentage was 62.5%.
Haskins saw his pressure skyrocket to 36% in Washington -- a rate in which he simply wasn't ready to weather -- and managed a 55.6% on-target rate, not a significant dip from his single season as Ohio State's starter.
Beyond Terry McLaurin, Washington's skill-position talent around Haskins was on the very low-end compared to other teams in the NFL in 2019. The Redskins failed to make a notable free-agent addition to the receiver, running back, or offensive line rooms. But the 2020 draft was a different story.
In Round 3, raw but extraordinarily explosive and ultra versatile running back/receiver Antonio Gibson was selected. A round later, Liberty wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden was added along with LSU left tackle Saahdiq Charles. In the fifth round, Washington drafted center Keith Ismael from San Diego State.
Gibson is an enigma because he (strangely) only touched the football 46 times in 2019 and mostly played receiver at 6-foot and 228 pounds. Why was his low volume strange? Because he had six receptions of 40-plus yards and two rushes of 60-plus yards. At the combine, he ran 4.39. Gibson primarily worked at running back at the Senior Bowl. Gandy-Golden was one of the most punishing rebounders in the draft class at 6-4 and 223 pounds. Per PFF, he made 17 contested catches in 2019 (ninth-most among CFB wideouts) and was hyper-productive at Liberty. He just doesn't have high-end athleticism.
Charles looks the part of a franchise left tackle at 6-4 and 321 pounds with 33-inch arms and has short stints of dominance, but his balance and hand work are both works in progress. Ismael was a three-year starter in college and excels as a run-blocker yet tested poorly in the agility drills and really lacks power.
In general, with Trent Williams gone, Washington's offensive line is a bottom third unit -- at best -- and beyond McLaurin, there's much uncertainty and youth in the receiver group. Secondary targets will be the following ages at the start of the 2020 campaign: Gandy-Golden (22), Kelvin Harmon (23), Trey Quinn (24), and Steven Sims (23). While they're building -- with a new head coach -- the Redskins roster around Haskins has considerable room for growth at basically every spot on that side of the ball (outside of McLaurin, who looks primed for legit stardom).
Out is Jay Gruden and his West Coast offense. In is the youthful Scott Turner and his his roots in the vertical-based Air Coryell scheme he learned from his dad, Norv. But Turner will get creative and blend elements of other schemes into his own.
If Scott follows his dad's adoration for backs in the pass game, it should theoretically help Haskins get the ball out of his hand quicker to avoid taking sacks (his sack rate was a whopping 12.5% as a rookie).
Improving his weaknesses
While the Buckeyes hit of plethora of big plays down the field during Haskins' lone season as the starter in Columbus, the vast majority of those plays featured receivers brilliantly schemed open, meaning he didn't have to place many passes into the bucket deep. Haskins' downfield accuracy was a clear weaknesses of his game as he entered the NFL. As a rookie, his passer rating on downfield throws was just 41.1, which paled in comparison to an average of 93.7.
Also, because Haskins simply wasn't pressured often at Ohio State, along with his lack of experience and lower-level athleticism, it wasn't shocking to see him struggle under duress with Washington in Year 1. According to PFF, Haskins had a 58.8 rating in those situations last season, nearly 10 points lower than the NFL average.
His downfield accuracy can basically only go up from where it was as a rookie, and a (slightly) better receiver group should help when it comes to tracking long passes. The offensive line still isn't great, but the draft additions up front should at the very least create healthy competition and lead to an overall sturdier blocking unit. That, combined simply with the experience he got in 2019, should give Haskins more confidence to quickly react and throw with good ball placement while under pressure.
His pocket drifting does need to improve regardless of how good the line is.
Strengthening his strengths
Taking the next step as a quarterback in the NFL isn't solely bound to improving weaknesses, mostly because improving weaknesses at the pro level is quite difficult for any player, particularly those playing the most demanding position in the game.
The enhancement of strengths can catapult a quarterback to new heights.
Haskins did some of his best work at the short and intermediate levels as a rookie. That's where he rocked at Ohio State, operating the Buckeyes' spread offense loaded with short, horizontal throws and maximized yards after the catch. He made rapid decisions and understood he needed to get off his first read in a hurry if it wasn't there. Haskins demonstrated those advanced quarterbacking qualities with the Redskins in 2019.
In Columbus, 51.5% of Haskins' passing yards came after the catch, per SIS. That number was 46.4% in his rookie year with the Redskins. During Turner's four-game stint as Panthers offensive coordinator last year, Kyle Allen and Will Grier combined for a gargantuan 69.9% of their passing yards coming via yards after the catch. While the small sample and quality of the quarterbacks must be considered, the high YAC figure has to be music to Haskins' ears.
I'll be short and maybe not so sweet here. Haskins' weaknesses are still deeply concerning because he didn't make discernible improvements in his rookie season from what he put on film at Ohio State, and Washington simply hasn't set him up for success in Year 2.
The offensive line should be better. But how much better, considering Williams is now in San Francisco and the offensive line additions made were two Day 3 selections who aren't even in line to start as rookies? I feel the same about his group of pass-catchers, (although I do believe Gibson will emerge as his security blanket and hit some splash plays on high-percentage throws because of his explosiveness.)
Haskins is still a relatively inexperienced passers with a average-at-very-best supporting cast. Turner should provide him plenty of easy throws, but I don't have a high expectations for the former first-round pick in 2020.