Make No Mistake: Washington Has a Decision to Make With the Second Pick

The simplest way for a 3-13 team to turn it around is to upgrade the most important position on the field: quarterback. So if Washington determines either Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert is a better prospect than Dwayne Haskins, why would they possibly pass on a QB?
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A million mock drafts, and one of the picks that people are debating the least is the one they should debate the most. Washington sits at No. 2. Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, widely considered the top prospect in the draft, will be available. Washington could do much worse than draft Young. But can it do better, by drafting a quarterback?

There are two ways to analyze a draft pick. One—the kind you see most often—is an evaluation of the player. This is pretty straightforward: Exceptional straight-line speed, a little undersized, fluid hips, sharp elbows, nice smile, sexy knees, above-average compete-a-bil-a-to-itive energy, etc. This analysis can be fun and informative, although often misleading. By definition, somebody in football likes every pick, or the pick wouldn’t get made, so one scout saying “I like this pick” means very little.

The other way is to analyze the logic behind a team’s draft. This is different from individual player evaluations; it is a look at how teams are built. Is a team properly investing in line play? Is it pouring too many resources into a position group that the rest of the league doesn’t value highly? Is it too worried about flash or not focused enough on depth? The team may hit or miss on the actual picks, but is the logic behind them sound?

And this is the problem with Washington taking Chase Young. It’s not the evaluation of the player. Pretty much anybody who has watched Chase Young agrees he is a great player. The question is whether scooping him up now is the best way to build a Super Bowl team. And over the past few weeks, there has been remarkably little chatter about Washington using the pick on Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. Instead, Washington is expected to take Young and carry on at quarterback with Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen. In a quarterback-driven league, that is insane.

The more you look at this, the more you realize that the conventional wisdom about Washington's pick doesn't hold up. Let’s look closer.

Chase Young is the best player on the board. You have to take him.

This “take the top player on your board” business has been twisted and comically oversimplified over the years. Building a team means paying at least some attention to needs. Needs will factor into almost every pick in this first round—general managers need to put a team on the field, not just get a nice letter grade from draft experts. Washington finished 3-13 last year. It needs almost everything, and the best on-field asset any team can have is a franchise quarterback.

Put it this way: At various points in the last decade, Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt played their positions better than anybody else in the NFL played theirs. But there were always quarterbacks who were more valuable than Donald or Watt. There is a reason that the list of highest-paid players is always dominated by quarterbacks.

As long as they still believe in Dwayne Haskins, they should take Young.

Washington drafted Haskins 15th overall last year. If they like Haskins, why draft another passer? Well, if you were happy with your Toyota, and you had a chance to trade it for a Ferrari, would you do it? It doesn’t matter—you can’t leave your house anyway. But you get the point. The question is not whether Washington likes Haskins. It is whether Washington likes Haskins more than Tagovailoa and Herbert.

One simple truth about the NFL is that you want the best quarterback you can find, not just one who might be good enough. So “we like Haskins, we think he can be pretty good” is lousy reasoning.

Washington should be asking this question instead: “If Haskins, Tagovailoa and Herbert were in this draft, who would we take?” If the answer is Haskins, then fine—keep him and take Young. But for most people, that’s not the answer.

The team, by the way, traded for Allen this offseason, ostensibly to compete with Haskins. Maybe this is one of those fake training-camp competitions that Haskins will surely win. But if Washington truly isn’t sure Haskins is better than Kyle Allen and still won’t take a quarterback, that is really absurd.

Coach Ron Rivera is new to the job. He has time to build a team.

Washington has had eight head coaches since 2001. Rivera doesn’t have time to pick out a desk lamp, let alone build a team.

Owner Daniel Snyder likes Haskins.

This would be the worst reason of all, and it is very much in play. Snyder views certain players the way I view my children: With unbridled love, even though they will probably never win a playoff game. Snyder felt that way about Robert Griffin III even when coach Mike Shanahan did not. Snyder apparently adores Haskins, who went to high school in Maryland with Snyder’s son. This may not be as simple as Snyder telling Rivera “Don’t draft a quarterback.” He may have hired a head coach with a defensive background with the implicit understanding that Rivera would want a defensive player and Snyder’s quarterback would get to play. If you’re a Washington fan, this should worry you.

Look through recent NFL history, and you see that taking Tagovailoa (or Herbert) at No. 2 is not crazy. Last year, the Cardinals dumped Josh Rosen, one year after trading up to get him, because they had a chance to grab Kyler Murray. The Eagles had 28-year-old Sam Bradford and traded up for Carson Wentz. In 2017, the Browns had the No. 1 overall pick and took a defensive end who was considered the best player available: Myles Garrett. He is a terrific player. But that Browns draft will go down as the one where they had the No. 1 and 12 picks and came away with neither Patrick Mahomes nor Deshaun Watson.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs had Alex Smith and traded up for Mahomes, and the Packers had Brett Favre and used a first-rounder on Aaron Rodgers, and Washington used a fourth-round pick on Kirk Cousins on the same weekend when they took Griffin. The Chargers had Drew Brees and picked up Philip Rivers anyway. They ended up with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the roster. What is so bad about that?

Circumstances vary, but this principle is consistent: If you have a chance to upgrade your quarterback, you do it.

There are questions about Tagovailoa’s health, and because of social distancing, Washington has not been able to evaluate him like it would in a normal year. But if he is a better prospect than Haskins, the question should be whether concerns about Tagovailoa’s health exceed concerns about Haskins’s ability.

One quirk here: The No. 2 pick is actually a low price to pay for an elite quarterback prospect. Yes, it’s a high pick. But recent history tells us that any team trading up to No. 2 would have to give up a ton of draft capital. The Eagles traded the No. 8 overall pick plus another first-rounder, second-rounder and a third-rounder for Wentz. The Rams traded the No. 15 overall pick, another first-rounder, two second-rounders and two third-rounders for Jared Goff. Essentially, within the context of acquiring an elite quarterback prospect, Washington gets a discount by already having the No. 2 pick instead of needing to trade up.

Chase Young is a star. The question is whether he is the star that Washington needs most.

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