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Dwayne Haskins Is 2020’s Under-the-Radar Sophomore Quarterback

The Washington passer didn’t exactly make waves helming an abysmal offense as a rookie. But there are enough flashes of talent on tape to put the potential of a dramatic a year-two leap on the table.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Dwayne Haskins’s rookie season didn’t exactly go to plan. The big-armed passer played a backup role for Washington for the first half of the year and watched as fellow rookies Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, and Gardner Minshew II all quickly earned starting jobs and impressed in their respective teams. He got his shot midway through the season, replacing Case Keenum at starter in Week 9, but failed to generate much buzz helming the offense of a dismal last-place team. And now, heading into the 2020 season, Haskins feels like the afterthought member of an exciting sophomore quarterback class. Even Drew Lock is getting more hype, thanks to his promising late-year finish.

But while the no. 15 overall pick in the 2019 draft failed to impress in the box score as a rookie (Washington went 2-5 in his seven starts, and he finished the year with seven touchdowns to seven interceptions and a disappointing 59 percent completion rate), he did flash in moments on the field. Down the stretch, Haskins showed off the arm strength and playmaking prowess that could portend a breakout in Year 2. After digging into Haskins’s tape and some more advanced stats, I found a few things he did well―and identified the key areas in which he needs to improve in 2020.

Most of Haskins’s numbers from 2019 look really bad ... like Jared-Goff-rookie-year-level bad. Obviously, a quarterback’s performance can be greatly affected by poor offensive line play―and that was definitely the case at times for Haskins last year―but his stats when playing from a clean pocket were disconcertingly poor, too. The former Ohio State star had a passer rating of just 81.8 when kept clean as a rookie, per Pro Football Focus, which ranked dead last among the 39 quarterbacks who recorded at least 150 pass attempts. He threw five touchdowns and five interceptions on those plays, notching an adjusted completion rate (which accounts for drops and throwaways) of 72.4 percent (38th of 39).

Turning to the tape, it was easy enough to see why Haskins struggled so much, particularly early on. He was often slow to process and react, either holding onto the ball for too long or bailing from the pocket too early. His mechanics broke down at times too, and that created issues with accuracy. Here’s a couple of plays where Haskins’s throwing motion looked off; on the first, he tried to flick the ball rather than step into the throw, and on the second, he failed to set his feet and fell away as he released it.

Normally, such dreadful clean-pocket stats would raise major red flags and cast serious doubt on that quarterback’s ability to function in the NFL. But the good news for Haskins is that those numbers improved dramatically later in the season as he began to get more comfortable in the offense. When isolating clean-pocket stats to just his final three starts (Weeks 14 through 16), it’s clear the game started slowing down for Haskins. He went 35-of-50 for 463 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception when kept clean in those games, notching a passer rating of 110.7—eighth best among QBs in that stretch of weeks. That’s a very small sample, sure, but for Washington fans, it should provide more than a glimmer of hope.

Haskins wasn’t much better under duress. Like most rookie quarterbacks, he struggled greatly when pressured in 2019, particularly in his first few starts. In obvious passing downs, teams frequently brought the heat with five or six rushers―and all too often, the rookie signal-caller looked like a deer in the headlights, unclear on where to go with the ball. It even happened when teams didn’t blitz.

In his seven starts, Haskins was sacked on 33 percent of all plays in which he was pressured, per PFF, the second-worst rate of any qualifying passer, behind only Marcus Mariota. That was a function of his inability to quickly identify the open man and in his inconsistency in extending plays when the structure broke down. Haskins finished 23-of-51 passing for 276 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions when facing pressure, notching a pitiful 58.9 passer rating on those plays.

Much like his clean-pocket improvement, though, Haskins’s performance under pressure recovered as the season went on. The rookie completed 12 of 20 attempts for 101 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions when pressured over his final three starts, notching a passer rating of 106.5 on those plays (fourth best among qualifying QBs in that stretch). On this play against the Eagles, Haskins sees the corner coming in off the edge at the snap and quickly reacts, throwing confidently into the vacated zone to beat the blitz easily.

Haskins also took strides with his pocket awareness as he got more reps behind center, too. He flashed the ability to sense pressure and move away from the rush, confidently stepping up to deliver passes from the pocket on these two plays.

Haskins’s confidence in third-down situations improved over his final three starts as well. He converted just 21 percent of his third-down pass plays (nine out of 43) over his first four starts, completing 44 percent of his passes in those situations while taking nine sacks. In Haskins’s final three starts, that rate jumped to 41 percent (nine of 22), and he completed 12 of 18 passes while taking just four sacks. Third-down conversion rates fluctuate wildly, so those numbers could be deceiving, but the eye test for his poise in those situations was favorable, at least. Haskins was markedly quicker to read the defense on third downs late in the year, and much more decisive in pulling the trigger on throws.

While Haskins was clearly more efficient statistically over his final three games than he was over his first four, the rookie quarterback showed traits over that entire seven-start sample that could translate to a big jump in 2020. One of my biggest worries for Haskins when he was coming out of Ohio State was his lack of dynamism outside the pocket. But while he’s still clearly a work in progress as an outside-of-structure playmaker, I thought Haskins showed functional ability to move around the pocket, escape pressure, keep his eyes downfield, and deliver the ball to his receiver. On these four plays, he showed the ability to drift, strafe, or otherwise scramble away from pass rushers to keep the play alive and let his receivers get open.

Haskins’s numbers didn’t always show just how creative he could be as a passer. For instance, while these next four plays all illustrate a dynamic skill set, none showed up as positives in the box score―the first two were called back to penalty, and the last two were drops.

It’s unclear exactly what the Redskins’ offense will look like this year under new head coach Ron Rivera and coordinator Scott Turner, but I’d guess the team’s brain trust will look to design something that caters to Haskins’s strengths. If it were me, I’d focus on a few things: For starters, Haskins was decisive and accurate when attacking the intermediate level in the middle of the field.

He showed the ability to push the ball deep down the sideline.

And, he looked especially comfortable when throwing from the shotgun in spread-out looks, like these three-by-one formations we see below.

Turner has mentioned that Haskins is at his best when he can get the ball out quickly and distribute it to his playmakers, so I’d expect plenty of easy “layup” throws on early downs to take some of the pressure off the quarterback. Last year, the team seemed hell bent on running the ball on first and second down, which far too often put Haskins into third-and-long situations. This new staff will look to remedy that.

Haskins still has plenty of variables working against him: The team’s offensive line is, to put it charitably, a work in progress, particularly on the left side, and the skill-position group is young and lacks experience. But despite his atrocious overall rookie numbers and the coaching staff upheaval, I remain bullish on Haskins heading into this season. He’s supposedly down to 218 pounds after reporting last year at 235―no, really, he’s in the best shape of his life―and that change in body composition should help him better elude pressure behind the line. Crucially, Haskins will have another offseason under his belt building chemistry with his top targets in Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims, Kelvin Harmon, and the rest of the team’s young playmakers. Perhaps most importantly, he’s set to get all the first-team reps in whatever training camp and preseason look like―and, at least in theory, he’ll be playing in a scheme that maximizes his talent. Goff made a massive jump in his second season after posting abysmal rookie numbers, in large part thanks to the team’s change in coaching staff and scheme. After posting Goff-level stats as a rookie, Haskins has a chance for a Goff-level breakthrough in Year 2.