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The 5 O’Clock Club: There should no longer be any doubt - Dwayne Haskins is the Redskins’ quarterback... period

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The young man has proven that he has what it takes

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Weeks 4 to 16 in a nutshell

Week 4 - Redskins versus NY Giants

Dwayne Haskins

  • 9/17 (52.9%) for 107 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs
  • Total Offensive grade from PFF = 36.3, Passing grade = 31.1
  • Passer Rating = 32.8

Week 16 - Redskins versus NY Giants

Dwayne Haskins

  • 12/15 (80%) for 133 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
  • Total Offensive grade from PFF = 84.1, Passing grade = 82.2
  • Passer Rating = 143.2

There’s no doubt that Dwayne Haskins has grown leaps and bounds as an NFL quarterback in the 12 weeks from his first appearance in an NFL game to his last appearance in 2019.

In Week 4, he was the backup, coming off the bench in relief of an injured and struggling Case Keenum. Haskins looked pretty good on his first completion; he stood in the pocket and delivered an on-target ball to Kelvin Harmon for a 9 yard gain. On the same drive, Haskins had his first scramble as a pro — a 14 yard canter that picked up a first down and set the Redskins up for business at the Giants one-yard line. After hearing all off-season that Haskins was an immobile statue in the pocket, this was an encouraging sign.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot more to put on Simba’s highlight reel for that game. He had 11 more completions, with a few going for good yardage, but the three interceptions and the total of only 3 points scored far outweighed everything else.

Following that first appearance, coincidentally coming against the Giants, with Danny “Dimes” Jones making his second NFL start, people were saying a lot of things about Haskins — very little of it positive.

The most charitable comments talked about how “raw” he was, pointing to his limited experience as a starter at Ohio State, his lack of experience in a complicated NFL offense, and his lack of first-team reps at practice as being reasons for looking so lost and confused on the field.

Less charitable comments derided Haskins as a “bust”, saying he had no future in the NFL.

I was mostly in the former camp — ready to ‘wait and see’ how Haskins developed. We (as fans) had been continually warned that Dwayne was going to need time to learn and develop. Of course, the situation with Jay Gruden didn’t help. Jay was under pressure to win if he wanted to keep his job. Colt McCoy was injured, Case Keenum was unfamiliar with Jay or his offense, and Haskins couldn’t read a defense. For the first four weeks of the season, Jay made the only decision that made any sense to him — he started Keenum.

Once Jay was gone and the season had progressed far enough that there was nothing to play for but pride, the coaching staff made the commitment to playing the rookie. He started against Buffalo in Week 9, but was putatively the backup filling in for injured Case Keenum.

Following the bye, Haskins was named the official starter for the Week 11 game against the Jets.

In the seven games (starting with Buffalo) where Dwayne got first-team reps in practice, he threw 7 TDs and 3 INTs, but in his three most recent games (losses against the Packers, Eagles and Giants) he went 47/70 (67%), for 564 yards (8.05 ypa), 5 TDs and 1 INT, with an average passer rating of 113.

  • In Weeks 13 to 16, Haskins earned a PFF Passing grade of 69.8, which ranks him 16th in the NFL for those three games.
  • If you shorten the look to just the two most recent games against Philly & NY, his rating of 75.0 puts him at 13th according to PFF.
  • However, his 82.2 PFF Passer rating puts him at #2 overall for Week 16.

What we have is a picture of a player who is exactly what we were told he would be when he was drafted. Dwayne Haskins is a young player (22 years old), with limited experience, but who is intelligent, with a ton of arm talent. He’s a player who has gotten better every week.

Passing the eye test

Haskins has been trending upwards statistically, with his best PFF grades coming against the Jets, Panthers and at home against the Giants, but the eye test has been more convincing than the statistics.

Haskins has looked more like a leader on the field from game to game. He has shown the ability to get in and out of the huddle more quickly. The problems with getting players lined up that we saw in his early games seem to have disappeared.

Here’s a recent take from Kevin O’Connell on the improvements in these aspects of Haskins’ development as an NFL quarterback:

I don’t have to give him the play three or four times in his headset before he’s got it. I can now say it once and there’s still seven or eight seconds left on the play clock before the headset cuts out and I can say, ‘Hey, remember two-deep or pressure here, we’re throwing this.’ I can give him coaching points, which allows him to click right into the play and he starts to be like, ‘If I can know the play call, that’s the easy part. Now I can understand breaking the huddle,’ – we’ve been out of the huddle in some cases on third down before 20 seconds on the play clock, which is really, really good for us.

The other thing that he’s done a really good job with is his cadence. At Ohio State, I don’t know if he was using a lot of double counts and hard counts and dummy counts and things, trying to get the defense to unlock their disguise. I don’t know if he was doing things at the line of scrimmage with motions and shifts to try to give him information that allows him to know exactly where to set his feet and eyes and be aggressive.

He’s really starting to understand how that plays into the pre-snap success we talk a lot about leading into the post-snap success. It might be really small things that people watching the game might not notice, but every single time he does it I get really, really fired up about it because I know where that’s building for him and what’s to come for him.

Quicker release

Probably as a product of this greater control and understanding, Dwayne’s movement in the pocket has improved, and — importantly for an NFL quarterback — he is getting rid of the ball more quickly.

During the Giants game on Sunday the Fox Sports team showed specific numbers on Dwayne’s release, noting how it had gotten quicker from the Packers to the Eagles to the Giants games. I didn’t write down the numbers, but they were significant as the faster release takes pressure off the offensive linemen, who no longer need to hold their blocks as long or deal with the quarterback moving in the pocket in unexpected directions, leading to fewer sacks and penalties. Here’s OC Kevin O’Connell talking about Dwayne’s speed of play ahead of the Giants game:

Sometimes as a rookie quarterback, if you’re not playing fast from that standpoint, you can struggle to be on time in quick-game capacity. That’s why I said I give him all the credit because he was able to play fast, being incredibly accurate and be really good with his feet and eyes early on there.

Pocket movement and designed runs

In Dwayne’s first 5 starts, he took 22 sacks, an average of 4.4 per game.

In the roughly six quarters he played in his final two games, he took 3 sacks, which equates to about 2 sacks per game — or about 37% of his pace in Weeks 9 to 14. This is the major impact of his quicker release and more predictable movement in the pocket.

Also, after scrambling 8 times in his first four starts, he did so just two times in the past three games, meaning that he is staying more committed to the pocket, trusting his blockers, his receivers and his arm.

But he hasn’t stopped running. In fact, Keven O’Connell seems to have reached back into the Ohio State playbook and implemented some option plays that Haskins has executed against the Philly defense almost to perfection.

In fact, Haskins ran the ball three times against the Eagles, gaining 26 yards (8.7 yards per carry).

Ball security

One final area in which Haskins has shown statistical improvement is the rate at which he fumbles the ball. In Weeks 11, 12 and 13, Haskins put the ball on the ground 5 times. In Weeks 14, 15 and 16, he lost control of the football only once. With 3 INTS and 5 fumbles, Haskins put the ball at risk 8 times in his first five starts, compared to just one lost fumble (on the final desperation play of the game against the Eagles) in his final two games.

Clearly, as he has become more comfortable with being on the NFL field with his teammates, Haskins has improved his command of the huddle and formation, improved his pre-snap reads, improved his movement in the pocket, sped up his release of the ball on passing plays, reduced his scrambling, enhanced his called runs, and dramatically increased his ball security.

Dwayne’s 2019 season is over

While all of that demonstrates a ton of growth in just half a season, Haskins is by no means a finished product, though his 2019 season is finished due to a high-ankle sprain suffered against the Giants on Sunday.

What does he need to work on this off-season, and what challenges lie ahead for the starting quarterback of the Redskins?

Footwork and mechanics

The most obvious issue to a casual fan like me is Haskins footwork and mechanics. He still struggles to get his base set, his feet in the proper position, and his arm moving consistently, with the result that he has a number of off-target throws. Early in the season he was ‘sailing’ balls, often putting them over receivers’ heads, and costing the team opportunities for first downs and touchdowns. He has also put a few balls in the dirt on shorter passes, at the feet of open receivers. He’s gotten better as the season has progressed, but he still relies on the strength of his arm above excellent mechanics to make many of his throws.

Here’s Kevin O’Connell talking about Haskins’ challenges as a pocket passer:

I think the biggest thing is the NFL pocket and that’s one of the things that we evaluate really hard when you’re looking at guys in the draft. I know everybody likes to be a draft expert, but when you’re looking at quarterbacks in college football, how do they finish throws in a cloudy pocket? How do they finish throws maybe not with a free rusher, but with push, because that’s really when you’ve got [Eagles DT] Fletcher Cox in there or this week with [Giants DT] Leonard Williams?

I mean, you’re in the pocket, you have time to take a hitch and finish the throw, but you may not be able to do it like you would in seven-on-seven out on the practice field. So can you do that?

Maybe change your arm angle, maybe not be able to finish a throw like you normally would, but you still have to be accurate, you still have to have the velocity when needed on the football and you still need to understand that playing with timing and finish in the pocket doesn’t always mean just clean hitches right up in the pocket and it’s a clean throw.

We talk about those dirty throws a lot where he finishes a throw and not hitting your hand on a helmet or anything like that, but just the push that people see in an NFL pocket. That’s one of the things that a rookie quarterback, a young guy, especially playing with the type of line that he had at Ohio State and the skill players he had at Ohio State. There were a lot more easier snaps than those messy pockets and tight coverage that he sees in the NFL, and that’s why it’s been a progression for him and once again why he deserves a ton of credit.

Haskins now has six months before the next training camp begins to work on these passing skills. I imagine that when we see him next in an NFL game, his footwork and mechanics will show the benefit of an off-season of work.

The coaching staff

There’s a second, and perhaps bigger challenge that may lie ahead. When Gruden was fired, not much changed for Haskins because the rest of the coaching staff remained in place. He had the same quarterback coach, the same offensive coordinator, and a familiar face as the interim head coach. That meant that Haskins was able to continue working with the same offensive system, with the same voices in his ear as had been the case from the day he was drafted. I suspect that Jay’s firing did nothing to hurt Dwayne’s development during the 2019 regular season, and may have done a lot to enhance it, since it may have removed some distractions.

Now comes the next step in the development of the Redskins franchise, and Haskins’ development as an NFL quarterback may be hugely affected by the decisions made in the next few days and weeks.

Dan Snyder has reached what should be a watershed moment for the franchise. Jay Gruden was fired after the loss to the Patriots in Week 5; Bruce Allen’s position seems untenable. Something needs to change.

The real questions revolve around how much change the owner is ready to embrace, and what that will mean for the front office and coaching staff. The direction of the franchise for at least the next five years relies, quite literally, on what Dan decides in the coming days (assuming his decisions haven’t been made already).

Where Haskins is concerned, the key issues come down to head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, and offensive scheme.

Will there be consistency or will there be a big change? And, which will be better for the young quarterback’s development?

There’s at least some possibility that Callahan, O’Connell and Rattay will be back again in 2020.

I’m not sure that this would be a popular move with the Redskins fan base, a large portion of which has pitchforks and torches in hand, ready to burn it all to the ground. But there’s at least an argument to be made that the young team that seems to have responded well to the mid-season coaching change may benefit from Callahan’s disciplinarian approach and consistency in message, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

Would the fans be appeased if Bruce Allen departs and Greg Manusky and his defensive coaching staff are replaced? After all, the Redskins offense that looked so moribund in the first 12 weeks managed to put up 29, 27 and 35 points in three of its past 4 games, while scoring 15 points against a Packers team that limited 5 of their last 6 opponents to an average of 13.5 points per game.

The pace of 26.5 points per game that the Redskins have managed over their most recent 4-game stretch would be good for 5th in the NFL if it had been managed across the first 16 weeks of the season, putting the Redskins behind the Saints (27.7 ppg) and ahead of the Patriots (26.4 ppg).

Perhaps the current coaches have solved the offensive puzzle that Jay Gruden couldn’t put together to start the season, and done so without a receiving tight end to rely on.

New head coach and assistants

Of course, the changes to the coaching staff may be much more significant. In addition to whatever may happen in the front office, the Redskins could see a complete house-cleaning on both sides of the ball.


Related:

Redskins head coaching search 2020


A new head coach is likely to want to bring in his own assistants and position coaches. This would create both challenge and opportunity for Haskins.

The challenge, of course, would be learning an entirely new offensive system, with potentially entirely new terminology, less than a year after he had to learn the Gruden/O’Connell system.

The opportunity is grounded in the idea that learning a second system from a new group of coaching professionals could expand Haskins’ understanding of NFL offenses and defenses. Having become, to some extent at least, master of the Gruden system, understanding a second system could perhaps deepen the young signal caller’s overall knowledge of NFL X’s and O’s.

Consider what offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell recently had to say about Dwayne’s development:

I give [Dwayne Haskins] all the credit. Him and Tim Rattay, our quarterbacks coach — those guys have done a great job of getting together and working to the point where [Dwayne] feels comfortable.

When I call a play in a game, we’ve had a lot of conversations leading up to that. We’re going to go have our normal Friday meeting now, make sure whatever we’re getting ready to roll with, he’s comfortable, but that menu has certainly gotten a lot larger, which is good. It helps our team to be able to have our normal volume [of] plays that we go into the game with and he’s really grasped what we’re trying to do and he had a good practice today so I’m excited for him.

He kind of understands we talk through things pre-drive. ‘This is why I’m giving you that.’ We’ve got into a lot more about the ‘why’ lately, which I love. I think if the quarterback understands why we’re doing things, what we’re trying to attack, both in coverage and both from a schematic standpoint of tendency, I think he’s going to be one step ahead of the play and that’s what it really seemed like last week. He was playing fast with a lot of confidence and with his arm talent when he does that, I think he’s going to have a lot of chance for success.

If Haskins can understand the “why” of one offense, then learning the “why” of a second might simply make him that much more effective.

Looking to 2020 and beyond

At the moment, the question of what changes are coming at Redskins Park is an open one, but there are opportunities and threats related to Dwayne Haskins’ development in whatever scenario unfolds. I believe that the way he has responded to the challenges put in front of him this season should give fans confidence that he will be able to handle whatever comes next.

There should no longer be any doubt or discussion about who the Redskins quarterback is. It is Dwayne Haskins.

There should be no consideration of “doing an Arizona” and drafting a new QB of the future to go with the new head coach and trying to move Haskins for a draft pick.

He is here, he is developing, and he is good. The next few years will see an offense that is built around his considerable skills.

Roster questions

What will lie ahead in the 2020 season is a mystery at the moment. There are unknowns with regard to the front office and coaching, but also huge questions about the roster. Unusually for the Redskins, the defensive roster looks more stable than the offensive side of the ball.

The Redskins will almost certainly be without Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, meaning a completely new look at tight end.

The offensive line also has huge question marks. In fact, the O-line may be the most unstable position group on the team.

  • It would take a miracle, I think, to see Trent Williams to return to his spot at left tackle, and Donald Penn showed this season that his best days are behind him. There is every reason to believe that the Redskins will have a new face in the spot where Silverback had been a fixture for so long.
  • It seems likely that the team will bring back one of its two guards, with Flowers seeming more likely to re-sign than Scherff, but with the price tag for the pair of them likely to be well over $20m per season, at least one of the two players will probably need to be replaced through free agency or the draft.
  • In addition, Morgan Moses has regressed over the past couple of seasons, and may now be among the least productive right tackles in the league.

There are only so many draft picks available to fill these needs, meaning that the Redskins will likely have to rely on veteran free agency to build part of the team, and that takes salary cap dollars.

Salary cap

In 2020, the team will still be charged $21.4m for Alex Smith, who is extremely unlikely to ever play on an NFL field again. However, expected roster moves to trade or release players like Josh Norman, Trent Williams, Jordan Reed, Paul Richardson and possibly Ryan Kerrigan can free up a lot of cap space.


Related: 2020 Salary cap update


By 2021, Landon Collins, and possibly Jonathan Allen or Brandon Scherff should be the only players currently on the roster with cap hits above $10m per year.

With Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, Derrius Guice, Bryce Love, and Steven Sims all playing on their rookie contracts for the next 2 to 3 seasons, there should be plenty of money available to bring in veteran free agents at the relatively less expensive offensive line and tight end positions to round out the offensive roster.


Click here to access OverTheCap projections of Redskins salary cap in 2020 and beyond


Also, the surprisingly rapid development of McLaurin and Sims along with the clear development of Haskins means that the the Redskins don’t need to devote early round draft picks or free agent cap dollars to these offensive skill positions.

The net result is that the Redskins should have the resources available, via cap dollars and draft picks, to put together a competitive roster. With Alex Smith likely coming off of the roster (freeing up salary cap space) in 2021, the then-3rd year quarterback Dwayne Haskins and his scheduled $3.9m cap hit will be providing a huge competitive advantage that should last through the 2022 season. With Russell Wilson setting the market at $35m per year, the Redskins have the benefit of the 4 year, $14.4m contract that Dwayne Haskins signed as the 15th overall pick in the draft.

Bottom line

In short, Dwayne Haskins is the present and future of the Washington Redskins at quarterback, no matter what happens with the coaching staff in the coming weeks.

The surprisingly fast development of Scary Terry and Steven Sims at receiver, combined with the expected explosive power of Bryce and Guice at the running back position means that Redskins fans can look forward to a young core of skill players who can grow together and create the offensive identity of the team for the next three or four years.

Dwayne Haskins is no longer the team’s “quarterback of the future”.

Dwayne Haskins is the Redskins’ quarterback... period.

Poll

What position will the Redskins target with their first pick in the 2020 NFL draft?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Left Tackle
    (248 votes)
  • 2%
    Tight End
    (18 votes)
  • 57%
    DE/Edge Rusher/OLB
    (392 votes)
  • 1%
    Free safety
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Cornerback
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    Off-the-ball linebacker
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Quarterback
    (8 votes)
687 votes total Vote Now