The quarterback was going to revive the franchise, providing a jolt for a fan base in need of a major one. That’s the situation Robert Griffin III entered in 2012; it’s also the one in which Dwayne Haskins finds himself in 2019.
Griffin was the last quarterback drafted by the Washington Redskins in the first round before they selected Haskins in April.
Although they saw a strong start with Griffin, they need to reach a much better finish with Haskins. Here’s how their situations compare:
Though Haskins has helped energize the fan base, it was much different with Griffin. There was no debating how good he was or would be, at least for most people. Haskins’ ability provides hope, but there is uncertainty about when he might develop. Griffin was a dynamic player in college — thanks to his legs — and charismatic. He had national endorsements before playing a game in the NFL. He won the Heisman Trophy.
Eric Bickel, one-fourth of the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, bought into the hype.
“All that charisma and freakish athleticism, it seemed like finally the Skins would be a team to reckon with for years to come for the first time under [owner Dan] Snyder,” Bickel said earlier this year. “I remember going on the air — half-joking — but I called him ‘RJesus.'”
It was also about the pairing: then-coach Mike Shanahan, who had won two Super Bowls in Denver, was entering his third season in Washington. The Haskins era begins with a coach, Jay Gruden, who enters his sixth season with no playoff wins and plenty of chatter about his job security. Fans are worn down by years of unmet expectations.
“The RGIII thing was over the top,” said Kevin Sheehan, a longtime local radio host who now has his own podcast. “This isn’t comparable. You also had a borderline Hall of Fame coach who some of us know had a very creative and very bright offensive coordinator [Kyle Shanahan], and RGIII was a true star. He played the game uniquely and was the No. 2 pick. This is a fraction of what that was in terms of excitement.”
Day 1 starter
Griffin began training camp as the starter. Yes, they were all-in on him for Week 1. Haskins will compete with Case Keenum and Colt McCoy, but there are people in the building who say it would be best for Haskins to sit and learn this season. It’s not about his talent, but rather learning the mechanics of the position in the NFL — like calling plays in the huddle.
Griffin rewarded the Redskins for that decision by throwing for 3,200 yards and rushing for 815; the Redskins were one of the more exciting offenses to watch, thanks to Griffin incorporating his legs. He was named to the Pro Bowl and was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. All of it was deserved.
“They have had nothing like Dwayne. They need to realize he’s something special here and make sure they set the table for him in every way they can.” ESPN’s Louis Riddick on the Redskins and rookie QB Dwayne Haskins
Griffin’s legs mattered: The Redskins could trim their playbook while adding zone-read concepts he used in college. Haskins is a pure pocket passer, which is why the Redskins want him to master more of the offense first. He’s not a statue, but he’s not Kyler Murray, either.
There are some concepts Ohio State used that Washington also uses, but sources with the Redskins say there isn’t enough overlap to make Haskins a guaranteed early starter. Also, Haskins started only 14 games for the Buckeyes.
The good news for Washington: Haskins says he understands where he must improve. He knows there are throws he made in college that he can’t get away with in the NFL.
“Once I learn the playbook, I know what I’m doing,” Haskins told ESPN after minicamp in June. “I can call out the reads and point out sight [adjustments] and move protections; everything else will go from there. So I feel one full year of learning would do me justice.”
In the spring, there was a mix of “Wow” and “Oh, no.” It speaks to the heights he could attain — and where he is now.
“You see the ‘wow’ plays and you’re like, ‘Jesus,'” Gruden said in June. “When he’s on, there’s nobody you’d rather have than Dwayne. Really. It’s pretty. He stands tall; he has a cannon and he can quicken up his release. He’s got great touch. Strong, powerful arm; strong, powerful body. But sometimes when he’s off, he’s abnormally off. It’s kind of weird.”
For a variety of reasons, Griffin did not pan out: his torn ACL, a rift with the coaching staff, a difference of opinion in how others saw him and how he saw himself. Griffin hasn’t come close to those rookie numbers again and now enters his second season as a backup in Baltimore.
Meanwhile, one member of the Redskins organization said that Snyder uses the word “patience” when discussing Haskins.
When healthy at Baylor, Griffin was the star — he was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman. Haskins had to sit at Ohio State for his first two seasons. He could have transferred, but he didn’t. He had to study more, learn the position better. And, in the spring of 2018, he had to beat out Joe Burrow. That experience should prepare Haskins to handle his current situation. He faced strong competition and emerged.
Haskins said in the spring: “I’m not worrying about starting Week 1. I just want to be ready to play Week 1 — whether that’s this year or next year. Whenever the time comes for me to play. I want to make sure that when I do play, I don’t want to look back.”
ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick called Haskins the best quarterback in this year’s draft. And, because of Haskins’ skill set, Riddick says he’s in better position for long-term success than Griffin.
“Dwayne is twice the thrower of Robert Griffin,” Riddick said in the spring. “He’s twice the quarterback. Robert was never a good pocket quarterback. On first and second down, when the Shanahans were able to use play-action and be more creative, there was a lot more doubt about what they were going to try and do, [and] Robert was spectacular. When it came to third down and you’re sitting in the pocket and you don’t have the benefit of play-action, he folded like a lawn chair. … He didn’t have the football intellect of Dwayne Haskins. I was impressed, too, when he came out of Baylor, but [Haskins] is a legit franchise quarterback.”
Riddick, who worked for the Redskins from 2001 to 2007 when they drafted two other quarterbacks in the first round (Patrick Ramsey in 2002, Jason Campbell in 2005), said of Haskins: “They have had nothing like Dwayne. They need to realize he’s something special here and make sure they set the table for him in every way they can.”
That means adding more weapons. That means not rushing him onto the field. The Redskins like what they have in quarterbacks coach Tim Rattay and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell — both former NFL quarterbacks (as is senior offensive assistant Matt Cavanaugh). Gruden played quarterback in college. Haskins’ long-term growth could be stunted if the team brings in an entirely new coaching staff next season.
Griffin’s star descended quickly. Haskins might be starting at a different point; the Redskins need him to finish at one as well.