When should Dwayne Haskins start in 2019? Questions Patrick Mahomes faced provide clues

·Senior NFL writer
Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. walks to a practice at the team's NFL football practice facility, Monday, May 20, 2019, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. was the third quarterback selected in the 2019 NFL draft. (AP)

The past month has been downright dizzying for Dwayne Haskins. But at times it feels too good to be true.

Not only did Ohio State’s star quarterback fulfill a lifelong dream by being taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft in late April, the team that selected him 15th overall — the Washington Redskins — is the Potomac, Maryland, native’s hometown squad.

What’s more, in a final fairytale flourish, the club granted Haskins’ request to wear No. 7 (his preferred number at Ohio State), despite the fact it hadn’t been worn by anyone in 33 years in honor of Joe Theismann.

And don’t think for a second that Haskins, who spoke to Theismann and eventually received his blessing to wear the number, is taking any of this for granted. That much Haskins wanted to make clear during a recent interview with Yahoo Sports.

“I just can’t see myself not wearing 7 — I just feel like it’s a part of me, it just fits me, and I just felt like that was the right number for me,” said Haskins, who was recently making the rounds to talk about his involvement with Panini America. “This is going to give me the opportunity to wear it, and I’m very thankful for that, and I feel like I’m going to do a great job in it and hold that number to a high standard.”

Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins points during the first half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game against Washington Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Sporting the No. 7 jersey at Ohio State, Dwayne Haskins went 13-1 as a starter last season. (AP)

Sooner rather than later, perhaps. Before drafting Haskins, the Redskins traded a 2020 sixth-round pick to Denver for veteran journeyman Case Keenum, so internally, they continue to insist there’s no rush to start Haskins in 2019.

Still, it behooves them to give the 22-year-old every opportunity to win the job, especially since a quality quarterback on a rookie deal is the best value in professional football.

“Having sit out at Ohio State for two years, I know what it’s like to prepare to play, even though you’re not [playing],” Haskins said. “It’s whatever Coach [Jay] Gruden and the coaching staff want to do … but I’ll make damn sure [that I’m] ready to play and make that decision hard for them.”

How quickly he can do both of those things will come down to his ability to answer two primary questions that, interestingly enough, were the ones that Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s reigning MVP, faced two years ago.

‘In college, you have like four or five signals and that’s it.’

Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s West Coast offense is heavy on verbiage — just like Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s. Haskins must consistently spit out Gruden’s long play calls if he wants to have a fighting chance of adequately running the offense.

There’s zero doubt about his ability to eventually do so, but considering Haskins didn’t have to call plays in Ohio State’s huddle, there’s a fair question to be asked about whether he can nail it down by the regular-season opener.

“In college you have like four or five signals and that’s it,” Haskins said. “In the West Coast [playbook], you have like 15 words and it’s a lot, it’s different, but it’s pretty cool.”

FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2017, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback quarterback Alex Smith, right, stands on the sideline with backup quarterback Patrick Mahomes, left, in the second half of an NFL football preseason game in Seattle. The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the league's nastiest, youngest defenses but also the specter of instability with first-round pick Patrick Mahomes waiting to succeed QB Alex Smith. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Patrick Mahomes (L) took some pointers from Alex Smith (R) before being named the Chiefs' starting quarterback. (AP)

The good news for Haskins is that Mahomes, the 10th overall pick of the 2017 draft, didn’t call plays in the huddle at Texas Tech either. That’s one of the reasons why, despite his preponderance of athleticism, he sat on the bench for the majority of his rookie season in Kansas City, as the coaching staff gave him time to master the verbiage behind entrenched starter Alex Smith.

Yet, by the time Mahomes made his NFL debut in the regular-season finale against Denver — a brilliant performance in which he led a game-winning scoring drive — not only did Reid rave that Mahomes had a “complete” command of the verbiage, he was also well-acclimated to the speed of the NFL game, as he’d spent four months working against the first-string defense as the scout-team QB.

This would be the best-case scenario for Haskins, who may be thrust into playing time sooner than Mahomes yet be better served sitting for at least the first month of the season, when the Redskins open the year. Four of their first five games are against playoff teams from the 2018 season (Eagles, Cowboys, Bears and Patriots).

“It’s a long process, but he’s a bright guy,” Gruden said of Haskins. “He’s wanting to work at it and he will work at it.”

‘I simply don’t have a great sample size’

Mahomes’ second-reaction ability — where the quarterback makes defense-demoralizing throws when the original play design breaks down — was stunning last season and he made the trait cool again.

And in a pass-centric era of football where defenses are more multiple and adept at confusing quarterbacks, young QBs with Mahomes’ playmaking skills are given a reprieve, of sorts, when their first few reads are taken away.

While Mahomes’ second-reaction ability was once thought of negatively (he was called “reckless” by many during his draft process), the 6-foot-3, 231-pound Haskins also found himself being criticized for second-reaction ability during his pre-draft process, albeit for a lack of it.

“I simply don’t have a great sample size [of that] because I was able to be on time in the pocket and protect myself with [blitz] protections,” Haskins told Yahoo Sports. “It was how [well] I prepared for the game.”

Haskins’ entire supporting cast at Ohio State — from his skill players, to the offensive line, to the coaching staff — was far superior to anything Mahomes had at Texas Tech, where he had to regularly pull things out of his rear to keep his team in the game. So in many ways, Haskins didn’t have to be as creative.

Yet, that doesn’t change the fundamental fact that Haskins’ ability to create and throw on the run when plays break down remains a projection, one that contributed to him falling to the 15th pick of the draft, and third overall quarterback selected behind Kyler Murray (No. 1 overall) and Daniel Jones (No. 6 overall). But the Redskins say they aren’t worried much about that.

“Whether it is a 6-inch step, a step up [or] a lateral step — what have you [do is] buy some time, and he can buy some time with his size and strength,” Gruden said. “People bounce off of him ... he is a big, strong kid and he has functional mobility.”

‘He’s very likable’

While Haskins has some clear areas of improvement — including his footwork, accuracy and anticipation on intermediate routes — his ability to win in the pocket still excites many in the NFL. He regularly worked his way to the third or fourth progression of passing reads and showed off his strong, accurate arm at Ohio State.

By the end of the 2018 campaign, he completed 70 percent of his passes and set school records with 4,831 passing yards and 50 touchdowns (and only eight interceptions) as he led the Buckeyes to a 13-1 record in his only season as a starter.

While the lack of college starting experience remains a red flag, scouts around the NFL are intrigued by what the 22-year-old can develop into if he’s allowed to get more seasoning in Washington before taking over under center full-time.

“[He’s] very likable — he just has to naturally grow up some more and obviously, as a one-year starter, he just doesn’t have a ton of experience dealing with the ups and down of the year and moving on from them,” one scout told Yahoo Sports. “[He only had] one loss this year.”

And to Haskins’ credit, he seems excited to learn from Keenum, Colt McCoy and Mahomes’ former mentor Smith (the Redskins’ starter in 2018 who suffered a devastating leg injury last year), adding that sometimes, he can’t believe he is playing for his hometown team, wearing his favorite number, with all the veteran support he could ever ask for.

“To be around these guys I looked up to growing up … and now I’m in the same room as them, you’ve got to pinch yourself,” Haskins said. “They definitely want to assist me along the way and I’m just thankful they’re so helpful in that situation — a lot of guys usually aren’t.”

So now, with a clear sense of his good fortune, he knows his task is to master the playbook, prove his second-reaction ability and get better in every other area every day.

“And everything else,” he says, “will just take care of itself.”

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