Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins: A Tale of Two Quarterbacks
The Giants' selection of quarterback Daniel Jones at sixth-overall in the 2019 NFL Draft was arguably the biggest controversy of last year's event. Besides the shock value that the Giants would pass on Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen, many people questioned whether Jones was a top-10 pick. As a result, the selection drew heavy scrutiny.
Still, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has never been one to yield to outside opinion, and he held his ground. The Giants not only selected Jones at No. 6 overall, but they also devoted optimal resources to his development and provided him with strong mentorship in the offense.
That commitment paid off for the Giants in 2019, as Jones threw for over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns with an 87.7 passer rating as a rookie. Although he struggled with ball security issues which detracted from his game, Jones finished second in completion percentage (61.9%) among rookie quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts, behind Arizona's Kyler Murray, and his 24 touchdowns were tops among the rookie class.
The reaction to the Jones pick was harsh, but perhaps even louder was the criticism for passing on Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins. In his final year at Ohio State, Haskins, a one-year starter for the Buckeyes, had an all-star class around him that helped him achieve a superior college stat line against tougher competition the Big Ten than Jones in the ACC.
When he got to the pros, Haskins, unlike Jones, had to wait for a chance to become a starter. While Jones was getting ready in Week 3 to make his debut, then-Washington head coach Jay Gruden was busy trying to explain why he wasn't prepared to insert Haskins as the starter just yet.
When Haskins did get into the lineup as a starter, he tallied 1,365 yards with seven touchdowns to seven interceptions at a 76.1 passer rating and a completion percentage of 58.6%, the lowest of the four eligible rookie quarterbacks with a minimum of 200 pass attempts (Murray, Jones and Gardner Minshew of Jacksonville).
Jones' and Haskins' respective rookie performances contrast their 2019 scouting reports. Many draft reports such as CBS Sports, NFL.com, Walter Football, and Pro Football Focus put Haskins above Jones in the categories of accuracy, arm strength, and overall polish in decision making.
Ultimately, the hype around Haskins was based on one successful season. This opinion was shared by former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer who, in an interview with FS1's Speak for Yourself (h/t RedskinsWire), said the following:
My concern about Dwayne wasn’t so much about maturity; it was about lack of experience. He had the best quarterback year in the history of Ohio State — one of the best years in the history of college football for a quarterback. However, it was one year.
It didn't help Haskins that Gruden admitted before the draft that he was going into 2019 with a win-now mentality and wouldn't prioritize developing a young quarterback.
"There is no developmental process here. This is not Triple-A baseball, we’re not trying to develop a pitcher here," Gruden said in March 2019 during the NFL Owner's Meetings. "We’re trying to win a game right now."
The Giants were also looking to win, obviously, but whereas Gruden wasn't as quick in making a quarterback switch after his team, like the Giants, fell to 0-2, then-Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, who has a reputation as a quarterbacks whisperer given his work in Minnesota with Case Keenum, among others, was fast-tracked to the starting role.
Another advantage Jones had was joining a quarterback room led by two-time Super Bowl MVP and Giants franchise passing leader Eli Manning, who, despite being disappointed by his demotion, did what he could behind the scenes to support Jones' transition.
Washington's quarterback room lacked a comparable veteran presence to Manning during Haskins' rookie season. VEteran Pro Bowler Alex Smith spent the year recovering from a compound fracture in his right leg, leaving Haskins with now current Giants backup Colt McCoy and Keenum, neither of whom had the resume of Manning.
Because Gruden was focused on "winning now" despite his team's struggles--they'd lose their first five games of 2019--Haskins is believed to have seen minimal practice reps with the first-team offense.
That decision backfired when Keenum suffered a foot injury against the Giants in Week 4, and an underprepared Haskins was thrust into the spotlight. In that game, a 24-3 loss to the Giants, Haskins went nine of 17 (52.9%) for 107 yards with three interceptions thrown and two sacks absorbed, all of which led to a 32.8 passer rating.
Numbers aside, Haskins looked unsure of what he was seeing, at times holding the ball too long and appearing to guess on some of his throws.
Once Washington moved on from Gruden, Haskins got his chances to practice with the first-team offense, and he did improve. He suffered a Week 15 ankle injury against the Giants; before then, he had gone 12 of 15 with two touchdowns, looking like a much different quarterback than the one the Giants had seen earlier in the season.
With 2019 in the books and 2020 on the horizon, both Jones and Haskins will be starting from square one with new head coaches and new offensive schemes in 2020.
Washington head coach Ron Rivera has praised Haskins and his progress from a physical and maturity perspective. In contrast, new offensive coordinator Scott Turner has said that Haskins has the skillset to be a successful quarterback.
However, Washington's trade for 24-year-old quarterback Kyle Allen, who usurped Cam Newton as the starter under Rivera's leadership in Carolina last season, is something to watch, as it could indicate that Haskins is just one of multiple options Washington is considering at quarterback.
Washington also doesn't have much in the way of skill position players. Their top weapons include receiver Terry McLaurin and running back Adrian Peterson, but beyond that, Haskins' supporting cast seems pedestrian at best.
Meanwhile, with Manning having retired, the Giants have doubled down on building around Jones. They drafted Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas in the first round this year and have also added two other young offensive linemen in tackle Matt Peart and guard/center Shane Lemieux to provide additional reinforcement along an offensive line that last year was lead in its pass protection.
Thomas' presence gives the Giants a better long and short-term piece at offensive tackle than Washington, who traded away left tackle Trent Williams after failing to resolve a contract dispute with the seven-time Pro Bowler.
The Giants' most significant addition was the hiring former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, himself a one-time NFL quarterback, to serve as the team's offensive coordinator.
Garrett boasts a track record of helping young quarterbacks play at a Pro-Bowl level, evident by his work with former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and current Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
Jones' performance as a rookie did a lot to vindicate Gettleman's draft decision in 2019. The Giants' organizational strategy this off-season in getting Garrett and three offensive linemen in the draft now speaks volumes to their faith in Jones as the long-term franchise quarterback as well.
Haskins, meanwhile, will have an opportunity to prove that the talent he showcased in college can translate to the NFL as Washington's projected starter.
But without question, Jones' career is off to a much more promising start, and, given the supporting cast he has around him, there's no reason to believe that he won't continue to silence any remaining questions about the wisdom of passing up Haskins in that draft.