It’s in the Washington Football Team’s best interests that Dwayne Haskins develops and progresses throughout the 2020 season. But as a professional sports franchise, Washington has to be prepared for every possible outcome. If Haskins doesn’t progress past his replacement-level performance, Washington may be forced to select a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Dwayne Haskins’ status as starting quarterback in danger
Washington drafted Haskins with the intent to develop him into the team’s franchise quarterback. After trending upward for much of the back half of the 2019 season, Haskins has noticeably undergone a stark regression in the early stages of 2020.
At his best moments in 2019, Haskins’ game came together in such a way that the full extent of his upside was visible. He stood tall when going through his progressions and displayed pocket navigation skills amidst pressure. He worked through those progressions quickly and kept his base mechanically intact as he let the ball fly. He even showed off surprising mobility, as well as the ability to throw off-platform in certain scenarios.
While Haskins left 2019 on a note of uncertainty, with his entire rookie year coaching staff being ousted, there was reason to be optimistic. Haskins, who had been viewed as a limited prospect by some scouts, managed to put relatively complete and proactive quarterback play on tape. It was enough to earn Ron Rivera’s confidence and maintain the starting job throughout the offseason.
Haskins’ 2020 regression confounding in nature
In a way, that strong finish to 2019 is what makes Haskins’ 2020 regression so perplexing. His offensive line and skill position groups are far from fully stocked, but Haskins himself has been of detriment to the rest of the offense at times.
When his passes aren’t schemed to facilitate a quick release, or when he has to go off-script, Haskins has been startlingly inconsistent. Mentally, he seems to panic when he feels the play is evolving, and this leads to him rushing his mechanics, which perpetuates an over-arching inaccuracy.
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Haskins’ problems came to a climax in Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns. He wasn’t pressured as often as in previous games, and yet, he still looked uncomfortable, out-of-sync, and indecisive. His inner clock and his outer mechanics did not match with one another. He didn’t always trust what he saw, and when he was called on to buy time and navigate the pocket, the play collapsed.
Haskins’ play in Week 3 was a microcosm of his development in a sense; when he was on, he threw two darts into the end zone, displaying his upside with his arm strength and poise. But far too often, his inconsistency directly contributed to his team’s struggles.
10 games into his career, Haskins shouldn’t be expected to be perfect, but he’s only moved backward through three games in 2020, and now Ron Rivera has succinctly stated that there is a point where Haskins may be benched.
Why Haskins’ development is suddenly in question
Haskins is partly a victim of circumstance; in a normal year, Washington wouldn’t have cause to take Haskins off the field at all. Washington wasn’t expected to compete in 2020, and no matter the early results, the 16 game season was supposed to serve Haskins’ development. This would allow him time and flexibility to get comfortable and potentially enable him to catch on late, as he did last year.
But after three weeks, Washington is instead tied for the NFC East lead at 1-2. While they haven’t inspired anyone with their production, they’re still not only statistically in the playoff hunt, but they can be in control of their destiny if they improve offensively.
From afar, one may ask: “Should a 7-9 playoff bid truly be desired, if it doesn’t matter long-term?” and this is an important question. But Rivera has emphasized that other players on the team have played well enough to win, and if the quarterback is the one weighing them down, he may feel forced to make a change, regardless of the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the team’s playoff aspirations.
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Of course, it’s hard to expect Washington to compete with the other options on their roster. Behind Haskins is 24-year old Kyle Allen, a decent backup who proved himself to be a marginal starter with Rivera’s Panthers in 2019. He may be more comfortable in Scott Turner’s scheme than Haskins, but he’s similarly inconsistent, and he can’t elevate a mediocre roster.
Then there’s Alex Smith. As inspiring as his comeback has been, and as valuable as he could be from a cultural perspective, starting an already limited quarterback that may have mobility limitations due to his leg injury would be a very precarious initiative.
If Haskins doesn’t learn and progress, and continues to be of detriment to the offense, the most likely scenario seems to play out like this: Haskins gets benched, loses the rest of his confidence as well as his established foothold in Washington, and Washington limps to regular season elimination with either Allen or Smith.
At that point, Washington has a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and a serious quandary at quarterback. What happens next?