By 10 p.m. Thursday, it was obvious Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins was going to fall in the NFL draft to the Washington Redskins at the 15th pick. And it was clear, too, that the Redskins, who need a quarterback to lead them into the future, were going to select Haskins, a former star at Bullis School in Potomac, Md., watching with his family and friends at a Gaithersburg bowling alley.
Before Washington could even call, former Redskins star cornerback Shawn Springs — a mentor to Haskins — sent his friend a text.
“Hail to the Redskins, we got our quarterback of the future,” it read.
A little more than an hour later, the Redskins made an unexpected move, trading their second-round pick and a second-round pick in next year’s draft for Indianapolis’s 26th selection. They filled another need by taking Mississippi State edge rusher Montez Sweat.
Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said Haskins was the No. 1 quarterback on the team’s draft board, and he said the team had rated Sweat so highly it considered picking him at 15 instead of Haskins. He added the people in the team’s war room were surprised Sweat was still available when they chose Haskins, and the desire to get him led to them later making the trade with Indianapolis.
In the end, Washington came away from the draft’s first night with two players who went lower than originally anticipated but who could turn out to be bargains. Some teams may have shied away from Haskins because he only started one season in college, and Sweat was diagnosed at February’s NFL scouting combine with a heart condition. But Haskins also had an astounding 50 touchdowns against nine interceptions last season, and Sweat said Thursday that the Houston Texans team doctor had examined him recently and told him he had been misdiagnosed.
“I’m just ready to play football,” he said.
In two seasons at Mississippi State, after transferring from Michigan State, Sweat had 23 1/2 sacks and 30 1/2 tackles for loss.
Sweat said he wondered “why am I dropping so far?" and was elated when the Redskins finally called. “They definitely got a winner in me,” he said.
Haskins might have been the most predictable first-round selection Washington has made in years. A quarterback from the area, who had gone to high school at the same school as owner Daniel Snyder’s son, had tumbled in the draft until there seemed no other clear selection. Moments after Springs texted, the Redskins phoned.
“I just really can’t believe it,” Haskins said a few minutes later in a conference call. “I’m excited for the opportunity.”
But how soon will that opportunity come? With the Redskins not expecting Alex Smith to ever return after several surgeries to remove an infection from the leg he broke last November, they need a player they can build around. Still, Haskins only started for one year at Ohio State and might require time to learn the nuances of playing against NFL defenses. Colt McCoy and Case Keenum are expected to compete for the starting job this year, but Gruden said he might have to add Haskins to that mix as well.
“We’ve got to give him a chance to compete,” he said.
Sweat will also compete for the starting pass rushing role opposite Ryan Kerrigan. The Redskins were prepared to go into the season wth Ryan Anderson in that position, but the 6-foot-6 Sweat, who has the long arms and strong hands desirable in a pass rusher, would seem to be a logical starter.
Through much of the winter and into the spring, Haskins was widely seen as the draft’s second-best quarterback, behind only the Heisman Trophy winner, Kyler Murray, who was selected first by the Arizona Cardinals. When the New York Giants, desperate for a quarterback, took Duke’s Daniel Jones with the sixth pick, it was clear Haskins might fall to Washington. As Denver, rumored to be interested in a quarterback, traded out of the 10th choice, and two other possibilities, Cincinnati and Miami, passed on Haskins, it seemed clear the Redskins would take him.
They announced the pick on their website even before Commissioner Roger Goodell told the world from the draft stage in Nashville.
“I’m just looking forward to being able to compete against those guys for the rest of my career,” Haskins said of the Giants.
The Redskins have long been interested in Haskins, in part because of intense lobbying on his behalf from Springs, who cornered Snyder before a game last season and then heavily lobbied team president Bruce Allen during last month’s league meeting in Phoenix. Washington sent a large contingent to his workout last month, including Coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell.
Recently, Haskins had a meeting with Redskins coaches and executives at the team facility that went well, according to people who were familiar with the interview.
“It’s just crazy how small this world is and how you meet somebody and that can change your life,” Haskins said of meeting Snyder, whose son he said he knew from school, despite the fact Haskins is a few years older. “That’s why I make sure I treat people the way I want to be treated, and I’ve got to do all I can to make sure that I leave a lasting impression on people. I think that’s why Mr. Snyder thought that I was the guy for this franchise.”
Evaluators have praised him for the speed and power with which he throws as well as his ability to stand in the pocket. He is seen as mobile enough to evade a pass rush, but he is not an overly elusive quarterback. His huge statistics at Ohio State are believed to be inflated because he had a strong line in front of him and excellent receivers to target. Some suggest he will have to work on his accuracy deep downfield and benefited by making many simple, short throws that receivers turned into long gains.
Haskins’s family moved from New Jersey to the Washington area six years ago, partially on the advice of Springs, who had seen Haskins at a football camp and thought the quarterback would grow more at one of the area’s top programs. Ultimately, Haskins chose Bullis, which developed a spread offense for him.
He redshirted his first year at Ohio State and played sparingly his redshirt freshman year before taking over as the starter last year. He is the first Big Ten quarterback to be drafted in the first round since 1995, when Penn State’s Kerry Collins was chosen fifth overall by the Carolina Panthers.
The system run by then-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer often generates huge passing numbers for quarterbacks and has been a path to the NFL for several signal callers, including Smith, who thrived in Meyer’s system at Utah. In a sad twist, it is because Smith’s future is in doubt after a series of surgeries to remove infection from the leg Smith broke last November that Washington had a need to draft Haskins.
Asked Thursday what Haskins does best, Springs did not hesitate.
“Study,” he said. “Study. Study. Study. He studies tape like all the best players in football. He studies like Tom Brady [a former teammate of Springs’s]. He studies like Peyton Manning.”