ASHBURN, Va. — Quarterback J.T. Barrett went down, Dwayne Haskins entered the game and Ohio State Buckeyes fans were introduced to his ability to handle pressure. At the time, the Buckeyes trailed by six at Michigan late in the third quarter. They soon faced a third-and-13. And that’s when Haskins unloaded a decisive dart between two defenders, converting a first down en route to a comeback win.
In clutch moments in big games, Haskins produced in college. In the fourth quarter last season alone, he threw a combined 14 touchdowns and only one interception.
It’s a good thing he can handle that sort of pressure. He’s about to receive plenty.
He was drafted No. 15 overall by the Washington Redskins, an organization that was split on him entering the night. He joins a team whose coach, Jay Gruden, enters a must-win season and whose fan base has turned sour because of years ending in frustration — and with legitimate hope too often lacking.
Regardless of any pre-draft divisions, all that matters now is how Washington handles it moving forward, and that’s the internal spin. Haskins is a quarterback with special arm talent who can give this franchise — and fan base — a big jolt if he succeeds. And, oh man, do they need him to succeed.
Gruden enters his sixth season, with the last three ending the same way: no playoffs. Owner Dan Snyder and president Bruce Allen need to prove they can build a consistent winner, something the franchise hasn’t had since coach Joe Gibbs retired the first time — after the 1992 season. Since then, Washington has had no 11-win seasons, only three 10-win seasons and two playoff wins.
But quarterbacks represent hope. There’s debate on Haskins’ game, but it’s not as if he were a reach at No. 15. The Redskins got a guy whom experts applauded without having to trade up to get him. For what it’s worth, that option didn’t seem to be in play anyway, as the Redskins believed he would be available at 15.
This isn’t the first time the Redskins have been split on a player, nor will it be the last. With a first-round quarterback, though, you would like to have unanimity. But they must be unanimous moving forward. Otherwise: Unemployment awaits. The job now is to make it work. Haskins has arm talent, a willingness to work and is considered smart — the Redskins liked how he handled the board work during their visit. That’s a pretty strong base.
The concerns revolve around his inexperience and mechanical issues. He does need to improve his footwork in the pocket; he does need to throw with anticipation at an NFL level; he does need to speed up his delivery at times.
He’s also coming from an offense that featured a lot of run-pass options (RPOs), bubble screens and jet passes. While the NFL has turned more to the RPOs, the feeling among teams was that this style did not provide enough of a look at what he could do at the pro level. Ohio State had planned to build on concepts with him, anticipating his return. With NFL offensive concepts comes having to read defenses against those looks, so it’s a definite back-to-the-starting-line situation for him. Hence, the drop to 15.
However, Haskins did throw a lot from the pocket, and that’s something he’ll do in the NFL. He was more involved in protections, too, and that’s a big part of a quarterback’s job. You don’t get to 50 touchdowns and 4,831 yards in your first season of starting without having something big to offer.
There were questions about Kyler Murray, too, but his ability to run enables him to contribute immediately. Haskins lacks that ability, but he also wasn’t a statue in the pocket.
“He is a big, strong guy,” Gruden said. “He can maneuver in the pocket. He can buy some time with his size and strength — people bounce off of him, he can do a good job in the pocket.
“There are some things that he can work on, and there are some things he has to work on. He can work on everything, as every quarterback can. Tom Brady is still working on things now, Drew Brees … Dwayne is the type of guy that I think is very excited about getting into a building and working, and that is what drew us to him.”
The key here: The owner must now let the football side develop him. Patience will be required; it’s important for the health of the franchise.
There certainly is fodder for doubters, including the thought that if you’re going to draft someone who might take time, perhaps you find that guy in the third round and not 15th overall.
Allen is the one making decisions — knowing that Snyder likes Haskins — and should be under pressure if this doesn’t work. But what if it does work out? It’s not like the Redskins reached for Haskins. It’s a move that some loved — such as ESPN’s Louis Riddick, a former safety and NFL executive, and Dan Orlovsky, a former quarterback. Both are smart men who do deep dives into players, and Riddick loved Patrick Mahomes two years ago. Are they right? We’ll find out.
“I do know this: When he was forced to play at a high level in the fourth quarter, when the money was on the line, he showed up,” Orlovsky said earlier this month. “I love that part of his game.”
It’s an interesting mix. Gruden needs to win, the organization needs to prove it knows what it’s doing, and Haskins wants to show why others should have taken him earlier. As always with the Redskins, it’ll be intriguing theater.