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The Dwayne Haskins Experiment- Risk vs Reward

We all know that developing as a quarterback in the NFL can be a process. For some, its short and sweet, and for others, it’s a bit longer time period and more involved. There is no timetable that works for all. Part of that process is the overall maturity of the person and the evolution of growing and understanding ourselves as people.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed the WFT’s former first-round pick, QB Dwayne Haskins, to a future contract this past January, some inside the NFL and even more people outside of the league responded with “huh’? Haskins had been released by Washington in mid-season last year for his inconsistent play and was criticized for being less than focused, not working hard enough, and, in general, being selfish and immature. What could the Steelers have possibly seen that would lead them to signing him?

At the time of his release, I actually went back to the film room to see if and where the blame on this failed run, in his hometown area of DC, could have gone wrong. I saw a slightly different player on the field than what was being portrayed to the public. I saw the inexperience and I saw the inconsistent processing of coverage and information. I also saw a skill set that should be still desirable in the NFL. Haskins showed the arm strength necessary to make all the required NFL throws and he showed a variety of touch and trajectory which is very hard to teach. At times, he was inaccurate but he could get the ball out quickly under pressure at times and he saw the field well for the most part. Haskins was also more athletic than some have thought. He is not a sitting duck in the pocket and can run for a first down when things break down.

It was easy for people to get in line with the herd mentality of “this guy can’t play”. I think you have to separate the talent and the personality/immaturity, etc. My guess is the Steelers and General Manager Kevin Colbert (one of the best evaluators in the league) believe this glass is half full and that the opportunity just might be what the Doctor ordered in Pittsburgh. It’s a low-risk signing with a decent amount of upside potential.

I understand why the WFT made the decision to release him. They are in the midst of a culture change and an accountability check for everyone in their building. Coach Ron Rivera had to make several verbal and nonverbal statements and his actions had to show that things were going to be different. Haskins’ play and his actions in Washington were on “blast” for all to see. I realize the kid has to make changes and sometimes you have to hit rock bottom in order to implement those changes. By getting fired in Washington, Haskins’ career was at a new low.

After seeing the aforementioned video, I saw enough to Haskins’ game, even in the struggles of 2020, that he didn’t deserve 100% of the blame for the results that were not achieved. He played in an offensive system that did not flow, lacked some originality, and to that end, gave him very few answers.

I’m not here to claim that he was wronged. I agree with what the WFT did, but you must tell the whole story. He was a one-year wonder at Ohio St, who chose him over Joe Burrow (who transferred to LSU and won the Heisman). That’s on Urban Meyer, not Dwayne Haskins. He played for a team in college that was more talented and better than 90% of their opponents that year and should have won every game. He ran a simple play-action offense and seldom trailed or experienced adversity. In fact, the kid was anointed “king of Columbus” without really paying a price. Haskins got drafted in DC by an owner who knew him from high school and by a staff that was lukewarm on picking him in the first place. He became part of a culture that was failing badly before he got there and he was in a high-profile city and with a nationally high-profile franchise. In the meantime, he’s young, he’s immature, he’s not a great listener, and he knows very little about being a pro.

I think the Steelers saw a chance to mold a young player with skills, but more importantly, mold a “person” with Mike Tomlin, their coach, as a mentor. Haskins would probably be the first to tell you that he needed to grow up. He probably needed some accountability as well, but not without some tough love. All of us mature at a different rate. “I’ve been more concerned about Dwayne the person,” said Tomlin after a recent mini-camp practice. The fact that he has taken on this project and is willing to invest his time and efforts into developing Haskins, both on and off the field, is a great sign for the quarterback. He obviously sees something worth investing in.

Haskins’ sights should be set on Mason Rudolph, the presumed backup QB for the Steelers, in 2021. That is a very attainable job, IMO. I, for one, have expected things to go better for Rudolph. As the National Scout for the Los Angeles Chargers for 10 years, I had evaluated Rudolph coming out of Oklahoma State and actually had given him a 1st round pick evaluation. He had shown enough talent, paired with production, that I saw him being an option to take over an NFL team as an eventual starter. I remember as part of that evaluation, attending a game in person, ironically in Pittsburgh when Oklahoma State played the Pitt Panthers. My seat mate that day, and lunch partner, was none other than Steelers GM Kevin Colbert. Rudolph led the Cowboys to a 59-21 win over the Panthers and he threw for 497 yds and five TD’s. Colbert and I were so impressed that we didn’t even need to talk about his performance. However, we both thought “Wow”, as we raised our eyes at each other when we were exiting the stadium. Needless to say, I was not surprised when the Steelers drafted him.

My guess is that the Steelers had a first-round grade on Rudolph as well. We talked about drafting him with the Chargers on draft day after he slid to Round 3, but at the time, Head Coach Anthony Lynn wasn’t ready to use a high pick to draft a QB. Lynn’s thought was that Philip Rivers had a few years left and it turned out to be a solid decision. Rudolph has failed to meet expectations in Pittsburgh after being handed the starting job in two separate seasons when injuries have hampered long-time starting QB Ben Roethlisberger.

Rudolph recently said he is preparing to be the Steelers’ starter of the future. I think he has a more time-sensitive battle brewing on his path to the throne. His career 15 TD passes vs 10 interceptions are a positive, but his career QB rating of 82.7 is evidence he has a long way to go. Rudolph recently signed a one year, $5 million contract extension. His game seems to wilt when the pressure gets turned up and his decision-making ability from the pocket, along with inconsistent accuracy, have been part of his problem. Rudolph simply needs to show marked improvement this year, his fourth at the NFL level.

Whether Rudolph gets a third chance at being the starter in Pittsburgh will depend on if he can hold off the challenge from Haskins. If Haskins’ release caused him to examine his own ways, then this will be fun to watch for Steelers fans. The advantage of a stable franchise with solid standing with its decision makers has given Rudolph opportunities that Haskins has not had. The signing of Haskins and the one-on-one attention from Tomlin regarding his development makes this an interesting battle for the backup job this year during preseason. Rudolph had better not sleep on his competition.

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