By Sam Monson
Head coach Ron Rivera has no ties to Haskins, who was drafted by the old regime, and this offseason has been an incredibly quarterback-rich environment with the draft still to come. Washington’s only move so far was to trade for Kyle Allen from the Carolina Panthers, a move that speaks to familiarity and contingency, not competition.
What if they believe Haskins can be good, and what if they believe they’re set at quarterback?
The rush to write off Haskins has been strange in an era when the slightest glimmer of upside at the position usually has teams clinging desperately to potential, often to the detriment of reality.
It’s not that the move to draft Tagovailoa would be, in isolation, a bad one. Until you are certain you have a viable starting quarterback, the data says you should keep swinging. It’s the difference in attitude that many seem to have toward Haskins compared to the other second-year quarterbacks is difficult to justify.
Kyler Murray showed enough last season to convince Cardinals fans that it was the right move to swap Josh Rosen and that he is the long-term answer. New York Giants fans are doing victory laps because of Daniel Jones’ rookie year, and the Jacksonville Jaguars just traded away Nick Foles — a year after handing him a hefty contract — after being sold on the notion that Gardner Minshew is a better bet for the future.
Only Minshew had a higher Pro Football Focus grade than Haskins last season, and the three first-rounders plus Minshew all had a grade between 64.2 and 70.3 overall.
Haskins did it on fewer snaps, so that grade is inherently more fragile — he had around half the dropbacks that Minshew, Jones and Murray did as rookies — but it’s still curious that the reaction to the performances is so different.
Why is this the case?
Part of the explanation comes from Haskins’ rough start. He looked poor in training camp, and there were reports that he was struggling to learn the team’s plays, which had kept him off the field until Case Keenum was concussed and the switch was forced upon the team.
When Haskins finally first saw NFL action, there seemed to be justification for the reluctance to start him. In just 28 dropbacks across the first two games, he accounted for four of the seven interceptions he threw as a rookie.
He had just seven touchdowns to seven picks, but he had fewer turnover-worthy plays than interceptions. Typically, those numbers work in reverse (defenders drop a lot of would-be picks, so the number of interceptions is usually lower than the number of plays that should have been turnovers).
Jones, for example, had 31 turnover-worthy plays compared to just 12 interceptions. Murray had six more, and Minshew had 12 more. Haskins was the only rookie passer to end up with more turnovers than turnover-worthy plays, and that skews the narrative.
There’s arm talent with Haskins
All of the rookies had remarkably similar big-time throw rates, and while Haskins (3.7 percent) was marginally behind Jones (4.1 percent) and Murray (4 percent), it was a far closer thing than just looking at the raw number of touchdowns — a number influenced by receivers, defenders, etc. — would have you believe.
Haskins didn’t have the best accuracy numbers from the group (fourth in adjusted completion rate, second to last in advanced ball-location charting accuracy), but he also had the highest average depth of target of the group (9.1 yards) and only Terry McLaurin when it came to reliable receiving options.
Haskins’ arm talent jumps off the tape. When he sees the play and lets fly, he has the ability to fit the ball into tight windows, and/or deliver exceptionally accurate passes with touch. His arm even allows him to be a little late on throws, which happened more than once last season, and it buys him breathing room while the game slows down in a way some other young passers (Minshew) can’t rely on.
Haskins has the kind of arm to make special throws, and the sort of plays that would ordinarily excite fans and analysts alike. For some reason, they aren’t being talked about nearly enough.
The bottom line
None of the rookies did enough to remove all doubt that they will be their franchise’s future. However, looking at the data points on a per-snap basis, Haskins compares well to the others.
Washington has plenty of holes to fill on its roster, and if Tagovailoa medically checks out and is in play at No. 2 overall, the Redskins would likely be far better served to trade back and assemble draft picks to build around Haskins than they would be drafting his competition.
Haskins showed plenty of flashes of why he was a first-round pick, and while his transition to the NFL may have been bumpier than some of his peers, he had started in college for only a relatively short time and is still early in his development as a quarterback.
While everybody is eager to imagine a future where he has competition for his job or a camp battle with Tagovailoa on his hands, it’s more intriguing to imagine a future where the team gives him more than one reliable receiver to target, and we get to see him with another year of development under his belt.
For more analysis on the NFL, go to PFF.com
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