Through four games as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, Dwayne Haskins has thrown 16 touchdown passes, averaged 10.4 yards per attempt and thrown just one interception. He ranks No. 3 nationally in passing efficiency behind Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and West Virginia’s Will Grier. Perhaps most impressively, he’s changed the paradigm of the Ohio State offense, as it’s morphed into a souped-up hybrid of Urban Meyer’s spread and coordinator Ryan Day’s uptempo offense from the Chip Kelly tree.
The result has been a quarterback ascension that we haven’t seen since Cam Newton back in 2010. To be clear, Haskins plays nothing like Cam Newton. Haskins is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound quarterback who is at home in the pocket, picking apart defenses at a transcendent 75.7 percent clip. Think of a Carson Wentz-type quarterback playing in the Big Ten, as Haskins’ emergence has virtually eliminated the quarterback run game from Ohio State’s offensive dossier. (Newton, of course, ran the zone read relentlessly at Auburn and continues to run it in the NFL.)
The only place the comparisons to Newton are apt come from the rare pace of their ascensions. NFL Network scouting guru Daniel Jeremiah points out the last time we saw a similar rise came after Newton arrived at Auburn from Blinn College and barnstormed through the SEC to the national title. Newton, of course, ended up as the top pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Haskins, 21, is eons away from those accomplishments, but the early arc feels familiar.
“At the trajectory things are going, there’s a chance of him coming out,” said Quincy Avery, Haskins’ private quarterback coach, who stressed he hasn’t discussed this with Haskins. “If he has a first-round grade, he’s going to be playing in the NFL next year. It’d be almost irresponsible of him not to.”
Here’s what we must stress with Haskins. It’s early. Really early. He’s played four games as a starter, and only one – TCU at AT&T Stadium – would be considered more than a modest challenge. He faces a critical test at Penn State on Saturday night, with a whiteout in the stands that creates arguably the most intimidating environment in college football. One dud will change the Haskins narrative just as fast as it has emerged, as he needs to keep playing at a high level to continue streaking on the NFL radar.
No one in the NFL will go as far as saying that Haskins has done enough, or flashed enough talent, to overtake Oregon’s Justin Herbert as the top quarterback in this class. Herbert is the presumptive No. 1 pick in the draft in scouting circles, and his brilliant regulation against Stanford – 25 of 27 for 331 yards – did little to quiet that speculation.
Because of his limited reps, Haskins’ production hasn’t yet dictated that he’s a sure-fire first-round pick either. But there’s a general feel that he’s a high-end prospect and talent, as there’s an eagerness to see more.
“He’s got a lot of talent, great size and arm strength,” said one of the few scouts who’d seen enough of him to make an early projection. “Ideally, we’d see him throw guys open, but I think he’s the real deal. I think he’s talented enough that he’d be a first-round pick if he leaves.”
Yahoo reached out to more than a half-dozen scouts and team officials this week, and it’s far too early to put any finite grade on Haskins. NFL teams don’t study third-year sophomores in the offseason, and Haskins had only 57 attempts as a redshirt freshman last season backing up J.T. Barrett. In late September, NFL scouts can’t pinpoint or project his future with any professional precision because they haven’t studied him enough yet. (NFL scouting, if you really want to dive in, is a thorough and meticulous process where gunners are vetted as thoroughly as quarterbacks.)
But the prospect of Haskins, a redshirt sophomore, as a one-and-done starter has percolated in NFL circles. A big night on Saturday could continue to bubble up the hype. Yahoo Sports polled three of the college head coaches who’ve faced Haskins, and they all raved about him. Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith complimented his command of the offense, Rutgers’ Chris Ash noted his “confidence and poise.” In a phone interview this week, Tulane’s Willie Fritz called Haskins a “very, very poised and big NFL-looking type quarterback.”
What Fritz came away most impressed with was how many different things Ohio State could do with Haskins, as his talents stretched the Green Wave defense horizontally and vertically. “I watched a little bit of them from last season,” Frtiz said. “They didn’t seem as dynamic as they are this year with all the different things that they do.”
He then rattled off a host of different offensive packages – dropback passes, sprint-out passes, bootlegs, inside zone, stretch runs, power and quick game – that Haskins is running. They do it with a tempo that’s had them averaging five more snaps per game this season (80), as OSU ranks No. 15 nationally after finishing No. 37 last year.
“They spread it out, use all parts of the field horizontally and vertically,” Fritz said, comparing it to the offense Tulane sees Memphis run in the AAC. “They get fast guys the ball in space. It’s not an old-style offense in any way, shape and form.”
Behind the scenes at Ohio State, the topic of the NFL hasn’t come up with the coaches. Parsing Meyer’s public comments, it’s clear he’s hesitant to heap too much praise on the inexperienced quarterback to avoid setting unrealistic expectations.
“It’s so early, though, I hate to put him in those…” Meyer said, when asked to put him in context of the great quarterbacks he’s coached. He quickly pivoted to the Penn State game. “Game 5 coming up. This one is a big one coming up, so I’m pleased with his performance.”
Back when Haskins was a high school sophomore, he took part in the NFL’s Prep 100 camp in Baltimore. He caught the eye of Rich Bartel, a counselor who is a former NFL quarterback and now works in the private quarterback space. Haskins didn’t have any offers at the time, but his presence and talent struck Bartel.
“It’s like he fell out of the womb throwing the football,” Bartel said. “It’s long and fluid, it’s just beautiful. It’s the right length of limbs and arms and legs. The fluidity of his motion just looks different.”
Bartel said that Haskins had an uncanny ability to recall information and a unique presence that “was right in between arrogant and confident, both disengaged and highly engaged at the same time.” Bartel loved him, sent his film to June Jones at SMU who gave Haskins his first scholarship offer in March 2014. Bartel projects Haskins as a franchise NFL quarterback, but he cautions rushing Haskins to the NFL.
“What do you really want?” he said. “The first contract? Is the goal to make it or be a sustainable and long-term NFL quarterback.”
Avery compliments the job co-coordinators Day and Wilson have done developing Haskins, which includes “pure progression passing” and “all the things NFL teams want to see.”
“They haven’t taken any shortcuts,” Avery said. “Dwayne has advanced so much knowing protections. Those are the things that are going to allow him to go to an NFL team and play early.”
Haskins’ performance on Saturday night at Penn State will go a long way in determining if his early trajectory holds true.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Panthers sign S Eric Reid, longtime Kap ally
• Ex-NBAer Chris Dudley defends former classmate Brett Kavanaugh
• Ohio State gets blasted for posting ‘Silence’ graphic on Twitter
• Rick Reilly confounds Justin Thomas with awkward Ryder Cup question