In retrospect, the marriage of Dwayne Haskins Jr. and the Washington Football Team was a bad fit from the start.
Through no fault of his own, the Maryland native Haskins was drafted 15th overall last year and handed to a coaching staff that was already on the hot seat and clearly didn’t want him, which we all know is always a recipe for success with a young quarterback.
Hey, let’s draft a guy and expect people to develop him even though they don’t want to. Super Bowl here we come!
After an uneven rookie year, Haskins got new life when Ron Rivera, a competent and respected NFL coach, took over. After weathering the organization’s tumultuous offseason, Haskins received every first-team rep this offseason and was even named a team captain after training camp … only to learn his margin for error was comically small, as Rivera announced Wednesday that Haskins was being benched in favor of Kyle Allen.
If the news took you by surprise, you weren’t paying attention. Allen, who started 13 games for Rivera in Carolina last season, is a favorite of new offensive coordinator Scott Turner. After Haskins’ rough three-interception outing against Cleveland in Week 3, news leaked that Rivera had told him he had to pick up his play against their next opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, or risk being benched.
Washington basically demanded Haskins move a mountain, despite having to get up to speed with a new coaching staff and without weeks of key summer reps amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the 23-year old fared better statistically Sunday, completing over 70% passes for 314 yards, a rushing score and zero turnovers, it of course wasn’t enough.
That’s why the first and only item in this week’s “Things I Noticed” column is Haskins’ development, or lack thereof in Washington, and where he must go from here.
Washington’s decision to bench Haskins wasn’t fair
It must be noted the game plan against Baltimore was more conservative than past weeks; according to Pro Football Focus, his average depth of target was less than 5 yards downfield, and 67% of his passing production came after the catch.
And that, plus Haskins’ poor decision early in the fourth quarter — when he threw far short of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 13-yard line and his team down by 18 points — likely gave Washington’s new coaching staff the last bit of ammunition it needed to make the switch to Allen.
That’s certainly their right. The NFC East is weak, and Rivera’s defense is downright spunky, ranking fourth in DVOA. Better quarterback play could make a big difference.
“With the division the way it is now, I’d be stupid not to give it a shot,” Rivera said.
Still, that doesn’t make the decision fair. On multiple levels, the organization has failed Haskins, and while he hasn’t been a world-beater over the first month of the season, he’s also shown flashes of competency. At least arguably as many as Allen showed last year in Carolina, when he completed 62% of his passes for 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and an 80 passer rating.
Now stats aren’t the end-all, be-all. But Haskins was on track to complete 61% of his passes for nearly 4,000 yards, 16 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and an 80.3 passer rating. In other words, pretty similar to Allen, with Haskins presumably having more upside.
Haskins has the arm talent to be a solid NFL starting QB
I’ll stand by this: After reviewing all four of Washington’s games this season, Haskins’ arm talent is real. Mixed in between some bad throws and decisions were some legitimately good ones (and some great) as well, powered by his excellent arm strength and flashes of touch.
In the first clip in the video at the top of the story, Haskins unleashes an awesome bucket throw. In the second, he pumped a missile between two defenders for a touchdown. In the third, he connected on a deep strike by showing anticipation by throwing before the receiver breaks. And in the fourth and final clip, he fires a well-placed play-action strike beyond the grasp of a linebacker.
Although he’s not the type of dual-threat quarterback that is taking over the league — see: Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, etc. — I firmly believe he has the arm talent to be a solid starting quarterback in the NFL.
But honestly, whether he ever gets there will depend largely on how he responds to this moment. Yes, getting benched as a first-round pick in only Year 2 is embarrassing, and yes, it’s hard not to go into the tank if you believe you’re being treated unfairly.
And to be sure, being demoted from starter to No. 3 after only four games feels drastic, especially since there are other young quarterbacks with worse stats and more time on the job — see: New York’s Daniel Jones — who are still getting the benefit of the doubt from their own organization.
However, Haskins has an opportunity to prove his mental toughness and maturity right now. He cannot go into the tank, and fortunately for him, he has an example in his quarterback room of how he needs to respond.
What Haskins can learn from Alex Smith
Alex Smith, who moved to No. 2 on the depth chart Wednesday, was drafted by the downtrodden 49ers in 2005 and saddled with poor coaches for years. Then, when Jim Harbaugh saved the day and turned the franchise into winners, Smith was benched right when the going got good.
He then went to Kansas City and thrived, making three Pro Bowls in five years under a future Hall of Fame coach in Andy Reid ... only to be traded after a career year and replaced by a future Super Bowl MVP in Mahomes.
When Smith was in the process of turning Washington into a winner too — never forget, they were 6-3 in his first nine starts of 2018 — he suffered a grotesque injury that almost cost him his leg.
But through it all, Smith never quit. He never felt sorry for himself, never complained publicly. He kept pushing, working and trying to improve, and now he’s perhaps one play away from doing the seemingly impossible: returning to play in an actual NFL game.
In the NFL, respect comes in this league from conquering adversity, both on and off the field. Haskins now has the opportunity to turn the embarrassment of this moment into a positive by staying engaged and focusing on self-improvement, both as a football player and a leader.
The correct way to handle this setback is to keep your head up and keep pushing, just like Smith and so many young quarterbacks who have struggled early in this league, whether it was due to coaching or organizational incompetence or whatever else.
As for the ones who don’t? Well, the league chalks it up to a lack of mental toughness, which means they never had the makings of a championship quarterback anyway. Some are all too ready to write him off.
But if Haskins takes this setback and, as Michael Jordan would say, adds this log to his competitive fire, my hunch is he’ll get his chance at redemption very soon. Maybe with some other team like Pittsburgh, with a pocket passer-friendly system and a veteran, established coach. Or maybe even in Washington later this season.
Don’t laugh. Barring a trade, it could happen. Given the way Allen has performed in the past, he’s no lock to hold onto the starting job, and while Smith’s elevation to No. 2 is intriguing — again, it’d be a heck of a story if he returned — it would be difficult for Washington to not take another look at Haskins if they get eliminated from playoff contention. The organization has simply invested too much in him not to be double sure before they cut bait.
Unfortunately, the way things have already turned for him in Washington is likely all the indication we need to see this was a bad fit from the start. Here’s to hoping Haskins finds a way to overcome it.
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