Futures: Dwayne Haskins

Futures: Dwayne Haskins
Futures: Dwayne Haskins
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Derrik Klassen

Quarterback prospects with just one year of starting experience are major gambles. Excluding Cam Newton (2011) -- who would have started at Florida before getting kicked out and did start at the JuCo level -- only Mark Sanchez (2009) and Mitchell Trubisky (2017) stand out as one-year collegiate starters to be drafted in the top 10. While the jury is still out on Trubisky, he has yet to quite live up to his second-overall draft slot, and Sanchez is long removed from being a starting quarterback in this league.

Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State is looking to break the mold. After sitting behind J.T. Barrett for two seasons, the first of which Haskins redshirted, Haskins got his chance as a redshirt sophomore in 2018. The Buckeyes experienced a clear shift in focus away from Barrett's offense, which was run-centric and featured a repressed passing game. Haskins evolved the offense into a wide-open, pass-happy attack that was comfortable with burdening its quarterback with both pre- and post-snap responsibility.

Above all else, Haskins is deadly efficient. His trigger and accuracy in the quick game are phenomenal. Quick outs, slants, curls, etc.; if Haskins can let the ball rip as soon as he hits the top of his drop, it is a safe bet that it will land right where it needs to be. However, Haskins' favorite quick-game concept requires a little more patience and vision.

Haskins is a fiend for a good ol' mesh concept. Mesh features two players from opposite sides of the formation running short crossing routes parallel to each other. As such, if there is a shallow crosser to be had, Haskins will find it and put the ball right out in front of his receiver to give him a chance to pick up as many yards after the catch as possible. To be fair, Ohio State's version of mesh is typically of the Chip Kelly variety, which features an 8-yard curl over the middle of the field between the two crossers, and Haskins did hit that route plenty, but you would be hard pressed to find an instance where Haskins passed up on the open crosser.

The following three plays are only a portion of the mesh clinic Haskins put up versus Michigan, but they show a grasp of how willingly and well Haskins throws the crossers on mesh.

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Haskins mostly prefers this style of concepts. The quick game is where Haskins thrives, where his advanced, veteran-like processing can take over and win games. Haskins is not scared to pull the trigger, though. He will not be found aimlessly throwing prayers into triple overage, but when Haskins knows he can get aggressive, he will.

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Take this throw versus TCU early in the season, for example. Ohio State got behind the sticks due to a penalty and was not able to make up much ground on first and second down. The unfortunate string of events left Haskins in a third-and-16 play out of empty, a moment likely too overbearing for most redshirt sophomores. Haskins displayed confidence in the face of adversity. Surveying the field through his dropback, Haskins wastes little time in exhausting his options and finding a receiver near the sideline just past the sticks. With a smidgen of help from the wide receiver, Haskins and the Ohio State offense keep the sticks moving despite an improbable third-down scenario.

Toward the end of the season, Haskins paired his next-level processing and calculated aggression to cook up a touchdown versus Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Start with this pre-snap snapshot of Haskins motioning a player from the right wing into the left slot. The motion is done to potentially identify whether the defense is in man or zone, as well as whether they change the coverage shell entirely to account for the offensive formation morphing from 3x1 to 2x2. Between the two screenshots, Northwestern's boundary safety walks up a bit and widens his alignment, likely indicating a two-deep safety shell to Haskins.

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Knowing Northwestern is in a two-deep look, Haskins looks to the right side of the formation. The tight end is running a deep crosser while the wide receiver is pressing vertically down the seam on a post route. With the assumption that Northwestern follows match-quarters coverage rules, Haskins knows the safety will follow the crosser and leave the middle of the field open for the wide receiver to run the post. Haskins eyes the safety through his dropback and quickly turns to the post as soon as he sees it start to come open. Without hesitation, Haskins fires and delivers the touchdown throw.

Haskins will take advantage of every opportunity to win with what he has upstairs. Pre-snap is Haskins' kingdom, and a clean pocket to reassess his pre-snap inclinations only makes Haskins that much stronger. It is not until Haskins is pressured that he devolves into a scatterbrained youngster.

Be it a legitimate flaw in Haskins' overall skill set, a product of inexperience, or inexperience exacerbating a legitimate flaw, Haskins does not fare well in a muddied pocket. Pass-rushers spook Haskins into hurried throws and early evacuations from the pocket. Haskins was not only nervous around pass-rushers, but flashed precious little nuance in navigating the pocket to dance around penetrating defenders. Michigan State rattled Haskins perhaps more than any other team throughout the season.

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Here is an example of Haskins simply being hurried. As Haskins takes a slight angle to his right during his dropback, the defensive end to that side works outside-in on the offensive tackle and breaks free. Haskins has to rush the ball out, but instead of taking a sliver of time to reset his base, Haskins just fires any way he can. The hurried throw sails a good 5 yards over the wide-open intended target, and out comes the Ohio State punter.

In a later instance, Haskins has an opportunity to slide up versus edge pressure, but panics and misuses the space in front of him in the pocket.

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There is no need for Haskins to run all the way up in the pocket here. Good on him for recognizing and reacting to the pressure off the right edge, but Haskins needs to remain calm and understand where his outlet is. A poised quarterback could have assessed the pressure, taken a quick hitch up in the pocket, and dished the ball out to the running back on the checkdown. Haskins instead sprints up in the pocket, both wasting time and inviting a hit upon making the checkdown throw he should have already made by this point.

To his defense, Haskins consistently makes the proper read before pressure becomes an issue, but that may not be true as often in the NFL. Haskins' skittish nature will be pounced upon by relentless NFL front sevens and defensive coordinators.

Another conundrum with Haskins is what his actual floor is. Haskins being excellent pre-snap puts his floor rather high, but there is more to it than that. By and large, a quarterback can raise their bare minimum level of play by being a good checkdown thrower and/or a valuable runner. Haskins is neither of those things. Haskins can get to the third read on mesh and the like just fine, but when asked to go to full-field reads and use the running back as a true checkdown, Haskins tends to forget that option is available to him.

Haskins is also a below-average athlete relative to the modern breed of quarterback, contrary to what national hero Stephen A. Smith said about Haskins being "more of a runner than a thrower." Haskins can pick up a few yards here and there, but he is no real threat to scramble or break off explosive rushes. Any value a team is getting out of Haskins is through the air, from the pocket.

Given his phenomenal processing for his age, as well as how much Ryan Day and Urban Meyer seemed to trust him, there is a world where Haskins irons out his poor pocket presence and internal clock. Quarterbacks that smart, that early are a tough find, and it would be shocking to see Haskins completely bottom out of the league while already ahead of the mental curve.

Shades of Alex Smith, Derek Carr, or a less mobile Marcus Mariota creep into the mind when sorting out Haskins' place in the league. All of those passers want to play the quick game and are reliable in their pre-snap process, but fail to create under pressure or manage a pocket well. That kind of quarterback can be highly productive in the right environment, as Smith and Carr have shown to different degrees, but they leave the observer wanting something more.

In this quarterback class, though, finding that "something more" will be a fool's errand. Taking Haskins for what he is -- a brilliant, yet flawed and incomplete young passer -- and hoping to develop him into a more creative, poised player is a team's best chance at getting an above-average quarterback in this draft.


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