“The league done messed up,” Dwayne Haskins says. Actually, there’s a better than good chance that the Washington Redskins are the ones who messed up by taking Haskins in the first round of the NFL draft.
You hope not. You hope this pleasant-seeming youth has a career to match the size of his deltoids and his daddy’s mouth. But he started just 14 college football games, and the main thing you notice when you look at him is his baby face.
The numbers show that when NFL teams draft a quarterback in the first round, they hit on a great one about 28 percent of the time. It’s not so much a question of whether the New York Giants “messed up” by passing on Haskins and picking Daniel Jones instead. Chances are, both teams made the wrong choice. The kindest thing anyone can do for Haskins is calibrate his presumptions of this brutally expedient profession he’s entering. His father is doing him no favors by predicting a Super Bowl, and Coach Jay Gruden isn’t, either, by promising he will get a crack at starting right away.
About 28 percent — those are the odds that Haskins will turn out to be a franchise player, according to a Pro Football Outsiders study of quarterbacks chosen in the first round from 1994 to 2016. Quarterback success is a highly subjective metric, but if by “franchise player” you mean a guy who starts for several seasons (not just one or two) and takes you to the playoffs regularly, a Russell Wilson or Carson Palmer or even a Joe Flacco, then the success rate is just 16 of 57. Those are cold-water numbers that should cool expectations.
Here is some more cold water: Even the can’t-miss greats struggled as rookies. Maybe Haskins, the 15th pick, is the unprecedented 21-year-old whose quarterbacking mind is so superior that he won’t need time to develop. Maybe he is a marvel of neuroscience whose perceptual brain messaging is so swift that, after just 14 college starts, he can enter the NFL and understand the personnel he’s looking at; recognize all the formations and what they mean probability-wise; scan one-on-one matchups; assess the quirks, stances and speed of veteran players; remember all the tendencies of the opposing team’s system; and check his protection and decide whether he needs to get out of a bad play-call and into an audible. All in less than 30 seconds.
Peyton Manning’s team went 3-13 as rookie. Troy Aikman’s went 1-15. John Elway was benched with twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. Jared Goff was 0-7 as a rookie starter; Carson Wentz, 7-9. Maybe Haskins is better than all those guys.
Then again, maybe the best quarterbacks of the 2019 class haven’t even shown themselves yet. Remember: Wilson and Nick Foles were the sixth and seventh quarterbacks chosen in 2012 — third-rounders. That’s how difficult it is to predict who can really play in this league.
It’s so tempting to view Haskins as a ready-made solution to the Redskins’ problems based on that broad, mature physique of 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, and the spectacular numbers at Ohio State, throwing for 50 touchdowns and a 70 percent completion rate last season. But still another set of cold analytics suggests that Haskins will be a project.
A data analysis from FiveThirtyEight gave him a 63 percent probability-of-success rating but noted a couple of red flags, including his yards per attempt and depth of targets, which were on the lower side (as were Jones’s). Also, he was not as accurate throwing against NFL-based nickel and dime defensive packages. We’ve seen quarterbacks with high percentages in college struggle to have the same impact in the NFL. Robert Griffin III was a 72 percent thrower in his final year at Baylor. The previous guy to throw for 50 collegiate touchdowns was Sam Bradford in 2008.
What makes an NFL quarterback is not what he has done up to now. It’s how he deals with the league once he’s in it, once he experiences the inevitable reversals, the interceptions, the collapsing pockets, the holes in the talent around him, the schemes with which he feels uncomfortable, the instability of NFL coaching staffs, the impatience of management and the chilling realization that nobody gives one lace on a football whether he’s a nice kid or not.
There is a guy already in the house for the Redskins who will be entering the season without the sack of rocks that has been put on Haskins’s back in the way of expectations. Case Keenum went undrafted. But he can play this game: His Minnesota Vikings racked up 13 wins and reached the NFC championship game in the 2017 season. If Haskins is smart, he will learn from Keenum, whose experience in the league is the far more common one: The 31-year-old is on his fifth team in seven years. That’s how quickly teams grow discontented and move on from you, once they decide they “done messed up.”