Down on the Southwest Waterfront, in a mostly full concert venue, the crowd at The Anthem erupted. It was late Thursday night, in the middle of the NFL draft’s first round, and the Washington Redskins had just used the 15th pick on Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Lights, hands, voices, spirits lifted. A father recorded video of his young son as he jumped and screamed. Brass instruments, in the third deck, crashed together.
“This is what we needed. This is RG3 times two!” Steve Harley yelled.
It was a heady comparison. Haskins arrived with neither the pomp nor the expectations of Robert Griffin III, the quarterback who was once supposed to become the Redskins’ sun but ended up a comet. Hurley, who saw the differences as a plus, represented a sizable portion of the fan base that seemed to welcome the respite from an embarrassing, ambivalent 2018 season and embrace the hope and delirium of NFL draft night.
Hurley and others said they believed Haskins was a bigger, better second coming of Griffin. They praised a quarterback “who could take hits” and keep his eyes downfield. A few fans admitted they mostly liked the pick because Haskins cost no extra draft picks, like the three first-rounders and the second-rounder the team parted with in 2012 to move up and nab Griffin second overall. Some just appreciated a player who “knows the tradition around here.” (Haskins grew up in New Jersey and moved to Montgomery County when he attended Bullis School, but that doesn’t matter. The D.C. area can still claim him.)
At The Anthem, veteran defensive lineman Ryan Kerrigan seemed to share the fans’ optimism. Though Kerrigan didn’t watch much college football this season, he caught a few Big Ten games because of Purdue, his alma mater. Kerrigan’s Boilermakers thumped the Buckeyes, 49-20, this season, but Haskins impressed him.
“He’s got a great arm,” Kerrigan said. “He makes some really tight-window throws, and he does it all from the pocket, too. He can be mobile, but that’s not his game. He’s a quarterback that throws, that’s looking to make plays down the field. He does a good job of that.”
Shortly after the pick, fans flooded for the exits. The TV was not on, the cavernous concert hall was empty, and the DJ was long gone when the Redskins made a surprise move, trading second-round picks this year and next to grab edge rusher Montez Sweat at No. 26. The employees emptying trash, sweeping floors and wiping the bar didn’t believe the Redskins had acquired a second first-round pick when they were first told.
Before the draft, Redskins fans seemed anxious, worried the team would reach, or pick someone who wouldn’t pan out. Arnold Nicholson, a 26-year-old National Zoo employee, trusted the team to make a good pick, but only because “eventually, we have to get it right.” Right before the draft’s 8 p.m. start, sportscaster Bram Weinstein took the stage and asked the crowd what the Redskins should do.
Trading for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen received a mix of cheers and boos. Doing anything to draft Haskins received a roar from some, a shrug from others. Staying put and taking the best defensive player available earned the night’s loudest cheers until the New York Giants surprised everyone and selected Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth pick. Then the crowd hooted and howled.
The silence of some when Weinstein asked about Haskins indicated a divide in the room. A majority of fans seemed to think like Ben Grunther, a financial analyst, who understood the team’s needs at other positions such as wide receiver and linebacker but doubted quarterback Alex Smith would ever recover from the leg injury he suffered last season. He believed no NFL team could succeed without a big-time quarterback. So Grunther wanted a successor.
Others, such as Christopher Singleton, a student at Georgetown Prep, worried the Redskins would again become prisoners of the moment. He thought the “local” angle as well as Haskins’s talent might have spurred team owner Daniel Snyder to commandeer the draft board.
“This would be a pressure pick,” Singleton said of Haskins before the draft. “We’ve [given into pressure] before. We have other needs. He’s not the best fit for the team. He needs to sit down somewhere, and we need someone who can go now.”
After the pick, Aaron Meland and his three friends argued. Meland liked the move, because Haskins could be “the franchise QB we’ve always needed.” Nick Brown didn’t like it, because he wanted the more experienced Rosen or a defender to support the beefed-up front seven. No matter how anyone felt about Haskins, though, everyone agreed the team’s next priority should be to find the new quarterback some receivers.
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