Maybe Ron Rivera and the Washington Football Team are being too hasty by benching Dwayne Haskins in favor of Kyle Allen. Maybe they should have made the switch during training camp if no one in the organization or Rivera’s staff was really sold on Haskins. But Wednesday’s decision to change horses makes one thing clear: the Washington quarterback of the future is not on the current roster. And Washington looks like the ideal landing spot for a top rookie prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft next year, whether that’s Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Don’t believe it? You will after we take a deep dive into the Washington roster and organization.
What happened with Dwayne Haskins?
The Washington offense ranks 30th in points, 28th in yards, and 29th in Football Outsiders DVOA through Week 4. The New York Jets and Giants rank below them in all of these categories, with the Denver Broncos (three quarterbacks in four games, injuries everywhere) and Philadelphia Eagles (multi-faceted catastrophe) ranked below them in DVOA.
The Washington defense, on the other hand, ranks 8th in yards and 4th in DVOA. They rank 22nd in points allowed, but that’s largely due to lack of support from the offense. The Cleveland Browns, for example, scored 21 points on short drives of 28, 24, and 35 yards after turnovers in Week 3.
Haskins ranks 29th in the NFL with an efficiency rating of 80.3 and 30th in Football Outsiders’ DYAR metric. He has taken 13 sacks. He has shown few signs of progress after a miserable 2019 rookie season.
The cutoff point for Dwayne Haskins
Rivera spoke last week about a “cutoff point” at which developing and evaluating Haskins would take a backseat to making sure that the Washington players who are performing well – Rivera singled out defenders Jonathan Allen, Jon Bostic, Da’Ron Payne and Montez Sweat – to have a chance at winning after “playing their hearts out.”
That cutoff point probably came when Haskins faced 4th-and-goal from the 13 when trailing by two touchdowns against the Ravens in Week 4 and Haskins checked down for a short, useless completion instead of forcing the ball into the end zone (an interception, after all, would only hurt the team as much as his checkdown did).
“[I’m] a little disappointed in the situational awareness,” Rivera said after the game. “He’ll have to understand that ball has to be in a position to put it in the end zone.”
Kyle Allen was Rivera’s backup for Cam Newton in Carolina for the last two seasons. He’s pretty terrible: he threw 16 touchdown passes but 17 interceptions last season, was sacked 36 times for an NFL-high 397 yards lost, and fumbled 13 times.
But Rivera is comfortable with Allen and there is no one left in the Washington organization who was there when Haskins was drafted. The switch won’t make Washington much better, but it signals the end of the Haskins era, sends a message to the roster that expectations are high, and marks the official start of Rivera’s effort to find “his guy” at quarterback.
Why any rookie QB would be lucky to play for Washington
To understand why the Washington Football Team is a great place for a top prospect like Lawrence, Fields, or Lance to land, let’s run through a checklist of what every young quarterback needs to succeed:
A great owner
Ooh, no checkmark here. Washington may have the worst owner in professional sports, though Dan Snyder is only incrementally worse than the owners of other franchises, like the Jets, who are likely to finish near the bottom of the standings and need a quarterback.
Check. Rivera isn’t exactly an offensive guru, but he won’t be fighting for his job or firing coordinators to exert his authority anytime soon. Cam Newton fared pretty darn well under Rivera’s leadership. Rivera isn’t one of those defensive curmudgeons who wants to hand off on first and second downs, either: his offensive coordinators were expected to customize plays for Newton in the past.
Provisional check. Terry McLaurin has developed into a go-to receiver and has been a well-respected locker room presence since the day he arrived. Antonio Gibson’s speed, elusiveness, and versatility could turn him into an Alvin Kamara-like impact player. The cupboard is a little bare after that, but that’s about as much skill-position talent as the Jaguars and more than the Jets.
Check. The Washington line is a pleasant surprise this season, even with Brandon Scherff out with an MCL sprain. Left tackle Geron Christian had a rough start against the Eagles but is growing into his role.
Haskins’ deliberate decision making in the pocket made this unit look weaker than it is, and Kyle Allen won’t help much. But some version of the current Washington line would at least be stout enough to keep a young quarterback from being forced to run for his life.
Huge check. A great defense is an important, easily-overlooked component of a rookie quarterback’s development. A defense that holds opponents under 20 points per game and sets up easy scoring opportunities now and then with turnovers puts a young quarterback in a position to succeed.
Edge rusher Chase Young is an obvious keeper. Sweat is quietly having a dominant season. The defensive line rotation, led by Jonathan Allen and Payne, is deep and rugged. Linebackers Bostic and Kevin Pierre-Louis are thriving in Rivera’s linebacker-friendly system. The secondary needs some reinforcements, but the Washington defensive front keeps them in games all by itself.
So someone like Lawrence, Fields, or Lance won’t have to be great to win games early in his career. He will just have to be better than Haskins.
This is why Washington is the best landing spot for a rookie
Among teams that will be looking for quarterbacks at the top of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jaguars have a better offensive line and the Jets have nicer home uniforms (though it’s close). Otherwise, Washington is the best landing spot for a rookie. Despite their owner.
The best of the bad situations
The worst thing for any young quarterback is to get trapped in an endless rebuilding cycle for an organization in perpetual turmoil. That’s essentially what happened to Haskins: Washington was going through an upheaval when they selected him, fired Jay Gruden when he was a rookie, and swept out the rest of the front office in 2019. It’s what’s happening to Sam Darnold right now and has been happening to Jaguars and Cleveland Browns’ quarterback prospects for much of this century.
The best way to avoid an endless rebuilding cycle is to actually rebuild. Rivera and Washington are the closest team to doing that among the NFL’s bottom feeders. They already have one elite unit in place, where other terrible teams have none. They already have an established head coach at the helm, while the other bad organizations will be searching for theirs.
Give Washington a top quarterback prospect that they have faith in, and Rivera can turn the organization around in a hurry. There appear to be several solid candidates in the draft class. And while Rivera certainly isn’t thinking this way, Allen may be just the quarterback to put the team in position to get one.