But that is where the similarities end. In playing style, experience, personality and nearly every major metric and measurement, Haskins and Jackson have had divergent starts to their careers.
Yet when the Washington Football Team hosts the Ravens at FedEx Field on Sunday, the comparisons and questions will be ubiquitous.
Over the past three years, the Ravens have rebuilt and tailored their offense to fit Jackson’s skill set as a dual-threat quarterback. They surrounded him with a bevy of playmakers and provided him with one of the league’s best offensive lines. With a system created to maximize his rare talent, Jackson ascended to league MVP in his second season.
Haskins, on the other hand, is on his second coaching staff in as many years and lacks many playmakers or a consistent line. Amid a season that is essentially a glorified tryout in front of Coach Ron Rivera and his staff, it’s reasonable to wonder how fair it is to judge Haskins, given the circumstances in Washington.
“There’s a lot of pressure on these young quarterbacks that are set up to lose because you have to develop and evolve as a player, but you also bear the burden of winning football games,” former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said. “That’s really hard. There are some quarterbacks that can just develop. Patrick [Mahomes] was given a full year to develop, and he didn’t have to have the burden of winning football games. I’m not comparing them, but even Lamar — Lamar developed for nine games.
“But that team is set up for so much more success. I think that when you have to bear the burden of winning football games and trying to carry a football team but also grow as a player, it’s just really, really hard.”
The two quarterbacks also entered the NFL with varying levels of experience: Jackson started 34 games at Louisville while Haskins started only one season (14 games) at Ohio State.
“I knew he was an NFL quarterback,” former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. “It’s just there’s so much to this game, and that’s a major step up from college to the NFL.”
Meyer added that Washington’s previous regime, led by coach Jay Gruden and president Bruce Allen, never reached out to him for insight into Haskins. “Not even a phone call,” he said.
It soon became clear why. A month before Haskins was drafted 15th overall, Gruden told reporters he had no interest in developing a quarterback. “This is not Triple-A baseball,” he said. “We’re [not] trying to develop a pitcher here. We’re trying to win a game right now.”
Haskins received his first game action around this time a year ago, when Gruden benched Case Keenum. Having had minimal practice time, Haskins threw three interceptions, recorded a 32.8 passer rating and was back to the bench.
“You got to have an absolute steel mind-set as a young quarterback in the NFL who is struggling because you’ve got millions and millions of people that can tell you how much you stink in a matter of seconds,” Orlovsky said. “Dwayne’s active on social media. I know that. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a reality. It’s hard not to read those things. It’s hard not to hear doubts.”
Gruden was fired a week later. Haskins started seven games to close out the season, but he operated mostly in an offense built for someone else.
Jackson, meanwhile, replaced injured starter Joe Flacco for multiple games before he started in Week 11 of the 2018 season. He set a franchise record for a quarterback with 119 rushing yards in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals and closed out the season with a 6-1 record as a starter. When Jackson returned for offseason workouts in 2019, he was surprised with a new scheme — built for him and around him.
The Ravens also traded away Flacco, signed Robert Griffin III to be Jackson’s backup, and provided plenty of additional help by signing veteran running back Mark Ingram II, drafting wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, and retaining key members of their offensive line. The same year they drafted Jackson, they also drafted tight ends Hayden Hurst (now with the Atlanta Falcons) and Mark Andrews, as well as two starters on the line: Orlando Brown Jr. and Bradley Bozeman.
“A lot of other situations, you know you’re the backup but you’ll learn how to be a pro from the guy in front of you, and then you can take it from there,” said Quincy Avery, Haskins’s longtime quarterbacks coach. “Dwayne’s situation is so unique. I think that’s what made it tough. … I don’t think there are many people who have started fewer games than him in the NFL who are starting right now, rookies included.”
Haskins’s second season has been one of the weirdest the NFL has ever seen. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, there were no offseason workouts at team facilities, no organized team activities or minicamps, no joint training camp practices and no preseason games. Washington changed play-callers and scheme, both of which seemed to work in Haskins’s favor. The team altered the roster to bolster the defense and change the team’s culture.
But two of Washington’s top playmakers (running backs Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice) were cut, and one of its top projected receivers (Kelvin Harmon) was lost to injury. Its overhauled tight ends room, led by Logan Thomas, is 26th in receiving yards per game, and its offensive line is regarded among the weakest in the league, with veteran guard Brandon Scherff on injured reserve.
Orlovsky believes Haskins was doomed to struggle with Washington’s personnel.
“I’m somebody who thinks [offensive coordinator] Scott Turner is a good coach — a really good coach — so I don’t think that coaching is the issue,” he said. “But they need to rebuild their offensive line, and they need to have more playmaking pieces around him. They just don’t have enough pieces, though [Terry] McLaurin’s a really nice one.”
Haskins, to his credit, has owned his mistakes this season and says Washington has the talent to succeed.
“I feel like we have a lot of young, talented players on this team, a lot of veterans that can contribute and make plays,” Haskins said. “We just have to do better as a whole, and I have to be better. There isn’t like: ‘Oh, I wish we had this. We needed this,’ Or, ‘We needed more of this.’ We needed to play better and win more games with what we have on the field. We have to make do with that and do better.”
Rather than measuring Haskins against the reigning MVP, perhaps better comparisons can be found.
“I just think Haskins is primed — as long as everything holds up around him — to have one of those second-year situations kind of like [Los Angeles Rams quarterback] Jared Goff did, when he went from [being coached by] Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay,” ESPN analyst and former Washington executive Louis Riddick said.
“You remember how it was in Jared’s first year. There were people saying they should send his behind to Canada. ‘Get him out of the league.’ And people were saying the same kind of s--- about Dwayne last year.”
Rivera believes a player needs 5,000 repetitions in practice and games before he can fully grasp an offense and feel comfortable on the field. By that standard, Haskins has barely made it out of preseason-level development. With his 24 starts in college and the NFL combined, he has played roughly 1,700 snaps.
Rivera also believes a rebuild takes time. He has a plan that, for now, includes Haskins, a player he committed to in early September, much like he did with Cam Newton nine years ago.
First years can often be outliers for young quarterbacks, especially those working with a new staff and in a new system and especially those with minimal experience.
Washington’s game against Baltimore on Sunday will be the latest — and perhaps most significant — test yet for Haskins after his rough outing in Cleveland. And as Rivera has indicated, the measure of his success may not appear in the stat sheet.
“You don’t want to be so consumed with the results as much as the process,” Orlovsky said. “I know that’s a cliche in football nowadays, but I want to know why he’s doing things on the field.
“You can’t allow your circumstances to impact or force you to regress. You’ve got to try to create these good habits.”
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