Mark Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
At some point this season, Ron Rivera will have to make a tough decision about quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
After Washington’s head coach made it clear the 2019 first-round draft pick needed to show “positive growth” on the field following a poor performance against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3, Haskins completed 32 of 45 passes for a career-high 314 yards Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Haskins didn’t commit any turnovers in the game, but he also didn’t throw for any touchdowns and failed Rivera’s pop quiz in the red zone, throwing the ball well short of the goal line on fourth down.
“The ball’s got to go into the end zone or be put in position to be put in the end zone,” Rivera said. “It’s something he’s got to learn. If he’s going to be a starter in this league and contribute to the football games, he has to understand and develop.”
That’s the problem. It doesn’t appear Haskins is developing into the team’s franchise quarterback. And if history is any guide, it might be time for Washington to consider a Plan B.
Just look at the numbers. In four games this season, Haskins has thrown for 939 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions, producing an 80.3 passer rating, the fifth lowest among 33 qualified quarterbacks. His completion rate is 61 percent, considerably lower than the league average (67 percent).
Haskins is a league-average passer on throws within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, but once he ventures past that, his accuracy suffers. He is 5 for 23 (22 percent) on throws traveling 15 or more yards in the air, in a league that averages a 48 percent completion rate on such attempts. Perhaps that’s why Haskins, on average, is throwing the ball more than two yards short of the first-down marker this season, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats; that’s one of the lowest marks in the league, and it makes it difficult for Washington to move the ball down the field or sustain drives. (On an average second-and-eight snap, Haskins is throwing the ball just six yards in the air, hoping his receiver will do the rest of the work.)
It gets worse.
Haskins has been the least-valuable passer of 2020. When Haskins drops back, Washington is scoring almost five points per game fewer than expected after taking into account the down, distance and field position of each passing play, per data from TruMedia. By that metric, only Jeff Driskel, Sam Darnold and Carson Wentz have been worse this season.
To put Haskins’s futility in a broader context, here are the passers selected in the first round since 2002 who have produced similar expected-per-game output (within one point) on passing plays over their first 11 NFL starts: Brady Quinn, Kyle Boller, EJ Manuel, JaMarcus Russell, Matthew Stafford, J.P. Losman and David Carr.
Will it get better? Among that group, only Stafford — who had injury issues during the first two years of his career — and Losman managed a positive “expected points added” result over their next 11 starts, and only Stafford has produced results above expectations over the rest of his career.
The remaining quarterbacks barely hung on in the NFL. Quinn, Boller, Manuel and Losman all became little-used journeymen after unsuccessful tenures as starters, while Carr spent five seasons as Houston’s starter and then barely played over his final six NFL seasons.
Other members of the 2019 quarterback draft class, even those taken well behind Washington’s No. 15 pick, are outpacing Haskins in that regard. Gardner Minshew II of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals and Drew Lock of the Denver Broncos have all positively impacted their clubs on passing plays, according to that metric, while Daniel Jones hasn’t hurt the New York Giants as much as Haskins has hurt Washington. (None of the other quarterbacks drafted that year have more than three starts.)
Haskins also hasn’t shown much awareness in the pocket. He has been sacked 13 times this season, with six of those attributed to Haskins (and not the offensive line) by Pro Football Focus graders. And when he is under pressure, his completion rate drops from 70 percent in a clean pocket to a league-low 24 percent. His passer rating sees a similar decline, from 93.0 in a clean pocket to 36.7 under pressure, a worse rating than just throwing the ball into the dirt (39.6).
An argument could be made that much of this isn’t Haskins’s fault. Washington’s offensive skill players are mostly young and unproven, and outside of wide receiver Terry McLaurin and running back Antonio Gibson, there hasn’t been a reliable target for Haskins to throw to. However, Haskins’s on-target rate was the second worst of 2019 (64 percent) among 33 passers with at least 200 attempts, and he has the worst on-target rate (62 percent) among the 29 passers with at least 100 drop-backs this season, according to data from Sports Info Solutions. Even if he had a plethora of weapons to choose from, it seems unlikely Haskins could put the ball in their hands consistently enough to make Washington’s offense hum.
Could Haskins turn the corner and blossom into a franchise quarterback the team could depend on? Doubtful. The stats, both traditional and advanced, suggest he is more likely to be a bust than a cornerstone.