We have reached Draft Week here in the football world, and at Big Blue View we are nearing the top of the quarterback board. Dwayne Haskins is a player previously discussed as a fit for the New York Giants, and if he is available for the Giants at the sixth spot, he would be perhaps an ideal fit for their offense and their future.
Originally from New Jersey, Haskins and his family moved to the Maryland suburbs so that Dwayne and his sister could attend the Bullis School, a prestigious private high school in the Washington D.C. area. With College Park just down the road, the University of Maryland was one of Haskins’ strongest suitors during his recruitment process. But Haskins was not without other schools seeking his services. Graded as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, Haskins had 39 offers in hand when he first committed to Maryland over his hometown Rutgers University.
However, things changed shortly after this initial decision. Haskins was recruited to College Park by Randy Edsall and assistant coach Mike Locksley, with the young quarterback’s relationship with the assistant coach playing a huge part in his decision. When the school fired Edsall and moved Locksley to interim head coach, Haskins reiterated his commitment to play for the Terrapins.
However, the school moved in another direction, passing Locksley over for D.J. Durkin as their next head coach. Haskins started to entertain other schools, taking visits with some other potential suitors. Urban Meyer came calling as well, adn eventually Haskins decommitted from Maryland and signed with the Buckeyes.
Haskins redshirted his first year on campus, and as a redshirt freshman he backed up J.T. Barrett, completing 40-of-57 passes for 565 yards and four touchdowns in limited action. He entered the 2018 campaign as the starting quarterback thanks to the transfer to LSU of Joe Burrow, and in his one year as a starter he reworked the Buckeyes’ record book. He claimed the single season passing and touchdown records for both Ohio State and the Big Ten, as he threw for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns, against just eight interceptions. Additionally, he claimed school records in total offense in a season, total offensive yards in a game and total passing yards in a game.
Haskins ended his season on quite a high note. He threw six touchdown passes in Ohio State’s rivalry game against the University of Michigan, leading the Buckeyes to a 62-39 victory over the Wolverines. Then in the Big Ten Championship Game against Northwestern University, Haskins threw five touchdowns (and one interception) in the win over the Wildcats. In his final game, a 28-23 win in the Rose Bowl, Haskins threw three touchdowns and no interceptions. Shortly after the bowl game, Haskins declared for the NFL draft.
Haskins at his core is more of a throwback to the quarterback position. A prototypical pocket passer type of player who wins more with his mind and mental approach than his athletic traits for the position. A question raised by that, however, is whether that kind of QB is still a highly sought after commodity given how the league is trending. Driving that point home is the inevitable contrast between Haskins and the quarterback widely expected to come off the board first, Kyler Murray. Haskins may be the type of QB that teams built around a decade ago, but Murray and quarterbacks like him might be the wave of the future.
The contrast between them spills over into the evaluation process. Traditionally, the focus of quarterback study was on “process.” Does the player demonstrate the correct process on a wide majority of given plays? Does his thinking lead him to the correct decision with each throw? If those questions remain at the forefront of NFL thinking, then Haskins should be in good stead. Yet, Murray is the player considered to be the first overall selection? Why? Because we might be reaching a point where the results on a given play outweigh how the player arrived at that moment. (For more on this dichotomy here is a piece on Murray breaking down the question of process versus results).
With Haskins, the process is king. The mental approach he puts together on a play-to-play basis is perhaps the strongest in this class. As we will see in a moment, however, the execution might sometimes be lacking. Again, process or results.
Let’s start with Haskins as the prototypical pocket passer. He has an ability to hang in the pocket and make strong, anticipation throws as the pressure starts to build. This play is an example of this in action. Haskins will face a linebacker blitz on this play, and pressure off the edge builds late in the snap. But he seems unfazed by it, and throws a comeback route to the left (after opening to the middle of the field with his eyes) and throws that route on time, in rhythm with some anticipation to it:
As you can see, this ball comes out well before the break, preventing the wide receiver from making a play on the football.
The anticipation on this throw is something we can see from Haskins to any area of the field. Anticipation throws are a great indicator of a quarterback whose mental approach is solid. If he trusts his eyes and his read of the defense, he can throw receivers open and get the ball out on time and in rhythm, keeping the structure of the play intact. QBs who are more “see it, throw it” types of players often put their offense at a disadvantage, making life tougher for their receivers and intended targets alike.
An easy example of this is when a quarterback identifies off coverage over a hitch route, and he can get the ball out of his hands before the break, but that’s low hanging fruit. When a quarterback can identify the coverage and throw a receiver open in the middle of the field, that’s heady stuff.
That is exactly what Haskins does on this play against Purdue:
To drive the point home, here is a still of when Haskins is pulling the trigger:
As you can see, he does not need to see the route come open behind the linebackers, he knows it will come open, and he leads his receiver to the space between the underneath defenders and in front of the safeties. If Haskins waits here, that defender to the outside of the route will be in position to make a play on either the ball or the receiver. This is anticipation at a higher level, something Haskins displays regularly as a passer.
The mental approach Haskins takes is exemplified on some plays in the short and intermediate areas of the field. With some passers in this class, they are primarily quick and boundary throwers. Haskins is not, and his ability to attack underneath coverage will serve him well as he transitions to the NFL. Take, for example, this play against Indiana University:
This play comes right out of a West Coast playbook. The slot receiver comes in motion and runs the shallow crossing route, and with a defender trailing the receiver during the motion, Haskins knows pre-snap that the Hoosiers are in man coverage. From the opposite side the tight end runs the sit route over the middle and starts to work back to the left, but by then Haskins has pulled the trigger on the crosser. Also important here for Haskins and his overall evaluation is that he gets blitzed but is able to step up in the pocket and deliver in the face of edge pressure.
Also with Haskins, you can see the mental approach coming into focus despite just one year as a starter. It begins in the pre-snap phase, before the play begins. (As an aside, when you sit down to study quarterbacks in the weeks ahead if your analysis begins at the snap, you’re missing half the battle). Haskins is very involved in the pre-snap phase of the play, and it does not come from the sidelines all the time as it does with other college quarterbacks. You can see him calling out blitzes, identifying the MIKE defender, sliding the protection, moving players around as necessary, and it often pays off in the post-snap phase of the play.
Haskins is also a more natural manipulator of defenders with his eyes, in comparison to Murray for example. Whether it is moving a deep safety on a vertical passing concept, or even influencing an underneath linebacker in the quick game, Haskins can manipulate defenders with his eyes, get them out of position, and exploit the defense in a flash. Take this throw against Purdue, where he freezes the safety in the middle of the field with his eyes before throwing the corner route to the left:
This end zone angle gives a clearer indication of how he freezes the FS:
Haskins flashes his eyes to the middle of the field, and then comes to throw the corner route. You can see how the safety flips his hips away from the corner route in response to Haskins.
He also checks the “competitive toughness” box. Take, for example, this throw against Oregon State. Haskins threw an interception on the previous drive, and how does he respond? By throwing the football through a wall on this rocket shot:
Yes, Haskins checks the velocity box as well.
My favorite game of his to study this season was Ohio State’s loss at Purdue, and we already saw a play from that game. Despite trailing for most of the game, and often by more than two scores, Haskins kept battling in that contest, throwing it over 70 times and hanging in the pocket on multiple third down plays to make a throw before taking a shot from a pass rusher. In a similar vein was Haskins’ game against Penn State. Leading up to halftime it seemed like Urban Meyer might have needed to pull Haskins, as the QB was struggling. But Haskins came through, leading the Buckeyes to the road victory.
One play that might sum up Haskins’ strengths as a quarterback is another snap from the Purdue game. This comes on a fourth and five play late in the game, with the Buckeyes trailing by 22. As you can see, Haskins adjusts the protection and slides the tight end into a wing to help in pass protection, anticipating a blitz. The blitz does not come, but Haskins still throws a rope on a quick post route for six:
These are the little things that you need to do in the NFL to be successful, and Haskins is showing those traits and tools while still in college.
If there is a book on Haskins it is this: pressure. Yes, pressure impacts all quarterbacks, but some handle it better than others. If you watch Haskins against Penn State you can see that blitzes and pressure cause him to speed up his process in the pocket, leading to inaccuracy. In addition, if Haskins is forced to move parallel to the line of scrimmage, he tends to miss throws. He is not an overly mobile quarterback, and is more of a player who can extend plays in the pocket with strength instead of quickness, and that can lead to sacks and opportunities for a defense.
This video breaks down some of his plays against Penn State, highlighting how he fares in the face of pressure, as well as what he can do if allowed to climb the pocket:
Haskins will need to develop the ability to manipulate the pocket as he adapts to life in the NFL, and his Penn State outing is a roadmap for that effort.
With Haskins, the major weakness comes after the decision has been made. If his process is strong, there are times when the results do not match the buildup. Take, for example, this throw against Purdue which might sum up where Haskins is as a quarterback. He identifies in the pre-snap phase the MIKE, then when the Boilermakers show blitz, he spots it and changes the protection:
After that, he hangs in the pocket in the face of a Cover 0 pressure package and makes the right read:
But then he just misses the throw.
Now this throw comes under duress, but this throw does not:
Everything comes together for Haskins on this play. He knows the coverage, he freezes the free safety in the middle of the field using the backside crossing route. The playside cornerback squats in response to the jet motion, and the corner route comes wide open. But he flat out misses the throw.
Both of these plays came against Purdue, and Ohio State lost this game.
Is it a mechanical issue? A lack of experience? Or something else? Whatever team drafts Haskins will need to identify the answer to these questions, and have a plan in place for fixing the answer.
The strongest trait for Haskins is his mental approach. His ability in the pre-snap phase, and in the post-snap phase when his expectations are changed by a defensive rotation, is among the best in the class.
As laid out in this piece, the questions are in the results. Haskins is great up until the decision, but there are times when the results do not match the process.
Over at Pro Football Weekly I put together a piece breaking down ideal schemes for the four expected first round quarterbacks. Here is a part of what I wrote on Haskins: When it comes to putting together some play designs for Haskins, I want to try and take advantage of two of his strengths: His mental approach to the game as well as his ability to work underneath and over the middle with anticipation against a variety of coverages. To that end, we are going to turn to more of a West Coast flavor, and draw from Mr. West Coast himself, Jon Gruden.
Studying Haskins you can see some potential schematic diversity, but his strengths as a passer mesh best with a West Coast or Erhardt Perkins type of system. His ability to challenge defenses in the short and intermediate areas of the field as well as on timing routes, and to win with his mind make these offense the best fit for him.
Do not let his lack of experience fool you. Mentally, Haskins is close to ready as an NFL starter. The trick for his next team is to get him the ideal offensive system and to put some talent around him, where he can rely on those around him to help him as he acclimates to life in the NFL. If there is still a home for a prototypical pocket passer in this league - and I believe there is - Haskins is the ideal player cut from that cloth. He could start as a rookie and if he lands in the right spot, could be a mid-tier starter by the end of his second season.
A pro-ready quarterback chiseled from the mold of quarterbacks of yore. If teams still value the process over the results, Haskins might be at the top of their board at the quarterback position. If, however, the game is truly trending in a different direction, some of the other passers in this class might be valued higher than the Ohio State product.