If you're looking for human drama to play out in the first round of the NFL Draft in Memphis Thursday night, don't look for Dwayne Haskins. He'll be out enjoying the blessings of being an NFL player, no matter when he's selected.
Dwayne Haskins is nothing if not prepared for all of this.
This is not simply the NFL Draft, but the hype cycle that comes with it, starting as soon as the Super Bowl is over and never really stopping. Through the NFL Combine a month later, then pro days, team visits and culminating Thursday night with the insanely overblown first round coverage, starting at 8 p.m. Thursday and running well into the night. Expected to go in that first round, Haskins — the Bullis graduate and former Ohio State quarterback — is tuning out the noise.
The hard part is already behind him.
“For me, the biggest part was being prepared for what could happen and what couldn’t happen, ready for all the possibilities of visits, and meetings, and combine, and Pro Day, and what to expect and what to be ready for,” Haskins told WTOP at the DC Touchdown Club 3M Awards Dinner last week, where he was honored as the Washington Metro College Player of the Year.
The best piece of advice Haskins said he got along the way throughout the pre-draft process came from Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“Be you and let everything else take care of itself.”
But how does who Dwayne Haskins is matter to the teams that might draft him?
The football knowers in our industry pride themselves on eating as much tape as humanly possible — that is, watching play after play, highlights and lowlights, trying to glean some insight beyond what everyone else can see about a player’s talent. It’s why teams ask bizarre questions at the Combine; it’s why anyone reading this knows what the Wonderlic is, why the results of this year’s tests were leaked to the press just days before the draft.
This happens with every draft prospect, but it happens with the most scrutiny when it comes to quarterbacks, especially those expected to be taken high in the draft. Drafting the right quarterback can turn a franchise’s fortunes for a decade or more. The pressure to get these picks right is so great that executives who have spent their careers climbing to the place to be able to be in position to make these draft decisions are putting those careers on the line with their choices.
Haskins, who moved to Potomac, Maryland for high school, might be the best, or the second- or third-best, or the most overrated quarterback in the draft, depending on which cycle of noise you latch onto. For every anonymous scout trashing him behind his back, he’s got former NFL QBs gushing over his film review.
But for all of the on-field particulars or personality quirks that such tests might reveal, there are more practical ways of knowing whether or not a quarterback is ready for the bright lights and intense pressure of the NFL. Has he thrived in a high pressure environment already? Has he rebounded from failure or, as he may well be expected to do his rookie year, had to redshirt and sit out a year to develop?
Haskins is used to the din of the football media. Playing under the bright lights and intense scrutiny at Ohio State will prepare you for that.
“I’ve been preparing how to answer questions since I was 10 years old. I’ve been doing interviews for forever,” Haskins said. “Being at Ohio State has amplified the attention. Being at Bullis and being a quarterback in this area also helped me as well. I just feel like each process I learn and I grow and I’m able to get better at things I need to get better at. Ohio State did a great job mentoring me as far as being a professional quarterback, being a professional athlete, and what’s it’s like to be in their shoes.”
Perhaps that prolonged exposure to the spotlight helped inform his particularly mature decision for how to handle the draft itself. Whether he goes higher, lower, or right where the prognosticators expect, he won’t do so as character in a reality television show, in the fishbowl of the green room or draft pen. Rather than fly to Nashville to sit in a suit with a host of other nervous hopefuls and thousands of overzealous fans — and potentially endure an agonizing wait, like Aaron Rogers did in 2005 — Haskins is eschewing the formal festivities in favor of family, friends, and a bowling alley in Maryland.
“I’m going to do the best I can to enjoy myself and not worry about when I get picked or where I get picked and just have a good time,” said Haskins. “It’s just a dream come true. The last thing I want to do is speculate of me going 22, or 6, whatever pick I could get picked at.”
He knows his history, that Alex Smith was picked 23 spots ahead of the future Hall of Famer Rodgers, that other No. 1 overall picks haven’t even had nearly the success that Smith has. He knows that Draft Night was just the beginning of Rodgers’ wait, as he sat behind Brett Favre for three full seasons before finally getting his shot in 2008.
Haskins had to sit, too, redshirting his freshman year at Ohio State. That’s not something a lot of top college quarterback prospects do anymore, but Haskins thinks that experience taught him the patience needed to succeed if he’s made to wait at the pro level.
“I had to be able to learn how to deal with not doing what I wanted to do right away,” he said of his redshirt year. “Whether that was Year 1, Year, 2 or Year 3, I just needed the opportunity, and all I needed was one year. In the NFL, whether I get to play from Day 1, or Game 6, or Year 3, I’m just going to be preparing every day as if I was trying to go win a game, as if I was trying to be a Hall of Fame quarterback.”
Haskins’ on-field credentials from 2018 are unimpeachable. He led FBS with 47 touchdowns and set school marks in yards (4,580) and completions (348). Perhaps equally impressive, he also set the completion percentage record (70.2), showing an ability to make both the routine and the home run plays.
Ohio State nearly had its season derailed late in the year in College Park. The Buckeyes had to come from behind to force overtime, on a Haskins pass with just 40 seconds remaining. In OT, he ran home a 5-yard keeper to put Ohio State ahead 52-45. But Maryland scored and went for the potential game-winning two-point conversion. The ball out of his hands, Haskins could only watch and trust in the team around him, that their preparation would lead them to victory. The two-point pass fell incomplete and the Buckeyes won.
Since the end of the season, Haskins has done everything in his power to show NFL franchises he has what it takes to be a franchise leader. Come Thursday night, the ball will be out of his hands once more. So he’ll once again trust that those closest to him have helped him set himself up for success, whatever may come. That’s who he’ll be out bowling with.
“I’m looking forward to spending some time with my friends and family, people that have mentored me along the way,” he said. “It’s gonna be a great time.”
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