Dwayne Haskins’ benching is unusual for a first-round quarterback
Washington’s young QB hasn’t been given as much time to succeed as others
In what was likely his final start for the Washington Football Team, quarterback Dwayne Haskins completed the most passes (32), threw for the most yards (314) and had the second-highest completion percentage (71.1%) of his short career in a Week 4 31-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
A few days later, the team announced that Haskins, the 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft, had been demoted to third string behind Kyle Allen and Alex Smith following a 1-3 start to the season. In four starts this season, Haskins completed 61% of his passes (89-of-146) for 939 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.
Taking those four starts and adding them to the seven games he started last season beginning in Week 9, Haskins completed 59.9% of his passes for 2,164 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. In those 11 starts, Haskins posted an 83.2 passer rating and averaged 6.6 yards per pass attempt.
Not the best numbers for the supposed future quarterback of a franchise, but far from the worst.
Add in the fact that Haskins is a Black quarterback and that makes it even more concerning that he possibly wasn’t given the same length of leash as other white quarterbacks who struggle through their first few games. Historically, Black quarterbacks have either not been given the chance to play in the league (Warren Moon), pushed into other positions (Marlin Briscoe) or given a short time to be successful (Tyrod Taylor).
Race more than likely did not play a role in Haskins’ demotion. Regardless, a first-round quarterback being benched after just 11 starts is pretty uncommon in the NFL. So uncommon that, since 2000 (not including the 2020 draft), only two quarterbacks drafted in the first round – Johnny Manziel, Paxton Lynch – have failed to make it to an 11th start for the team that drafted them. Every other first-rounder not named Haskins, 53 in total, made at least another five starts after their 11th start.
Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner drafted 22nd overall in 2014, started eight games (2-6 record) over two seasons for the Cleveland Browns until domestic abuse allegations and substance abuse concerns forced the team to release him in March 2016. Lynch, drafted 26th overall in 2016, never won the starting job for the Denver Broncos and started only four games (1-3) over two seasons before injuries and performance led to him being released in September 2018. If not for character concerns and the Broncos reaching in the first round for a quarterback out of Memphis, those two below-average white quarterbacks likely would have either made it longer as a starter than Haskins (in the case of Manziel) or not have been drafted in the first round (Lynch).
When discussing his benching of Haskins, Washington head coach Ron Rivera said the team’s 1-3 record at the time was one of the reasons for the demotion; Washington was tied for second place in the NFC East. Taking into account a team’s record in a quarterback’s first 11 starts, Haskins’ 3-8 mark is unusual for a first-round pick losing his job.
Because Haskins started 11 games, and because the average length of an NFL quarterback’s career is three seasons, we looked at how many first-round quarterbacks made it through their third “season” as a starter, which would be their 48th start. Since every player except Manziel and Lynch made it to their 11th start, we’re calculating how many games the player started out of the next respective 37 regular-season games.
Since players drafted in 2017 will be reaching start No. 48 at some point in the 2020 season, only players drafted in 2016 or earlier were used, which came out to 43 players – 11 Black, 32 white. Mark Sanchez (Latino) and Marcus Mariota (Pacific Islander) were withheld from the data.
Of those quarterbacks, 15 (two Black, 13 white) had a team record of 3-8 or worse through his first 11 starts. Those 13 white quarterbacks went on to start, on average, another 19.5 of the next 37 games. The Detroit Lions’ Joey Harrington (3-8) and Houston Texans’ David Carr (3-8), long considered to be busts at the position, started 34 and 32 games, respectively, after their first 11 starts. Black quarterbacks Cam Newton (3-8) and JaMarcus Russell (3-8) also combined for six wins in their first 11 starts. Newton, voted as the 2011 Rookie of the Year, continued on as a starter for the Carolina Panthers over the next 37 games while Russell flamed out after just 14 more starts for the Oakland Raiders.
It’s unknown how well Haskins would have played had he continued starting for Washington, but if every former first-round quarterback in the league were benched based solely on the numbers Haskins put up over the last two seasons, a lot of above-average careers may have been cut short – and the New York Giants would be down two Super Bowl titles:
- Smith (3-8), Matthew Stafford (2-9) and Jared Goff (3-8) had similar or lower winning percentages than Haskins.
- Eli Manning (50.8%), Andrew Luck (56.8%) and Carson Palmer (58.1%) had lower completion percentages.
- Stafford (5.1%) and Smith (4.5%) had similar or higher interception percentages.
- Sam Bradford (82.0), Joe Flacco (78.7) and Ryan Tannehill (72.9) had lower passer ratings.
Smith, whose presence knocked Haskins down to third string in Washington, began his San Francisco 49ers career in 2005 with a worse completion percentage (53%) and passer rating (57.4), yet Smith remained the 49ers starter for seven more seasons.
All that being said, Haskins could’ve followed the trajectory of flameouts Blake Bortles, J.P. Losman or Brandon Weeden. Even still, those players went on to start another 37, 20 and 14 games for their respective teams.
Overall, first-round quarterbacks drafted between 2000 and 2016 averaged 25.2 starts over the next 37 games, with Black quarterbacks averaging 26.4 starts compared with 26.8 starts for white quarterbacks (not including Manziel, Lynch and Brady Quinn, who was drafted 22nd overall by the Browns in the 2007 draft; Quinn failed to be named the starter until the 2009 season and only started 12 games in Cleveland). Which means that the average first-round quarterback – including those who lost time to injuries, including Teddy Bridgewater and Alex Smith – made it to the equivalent of a second and one-quarter seasons as a starter before losing his starting spot. Haskins made it to the equivalent of three-fourths of his first season.
Performance isn’t everything in organized sports, though.
Sometimes the most talented player on a team (see: Antonio Brown) can be such a negative presence or influence in a locker and/or film room that the team has no choice but to cut their losses and move on.
For Haskins, all that is known is what has been leaked to the press following his demotion. Despite Rivera stressing patience and seemingly hitching his ride to Haskins in the offseason, and Haskins being named a team captain, reports now say that Haskins wasn’t developing, wasn’t preparing more than the backup quarterbacks, wasn’t learning from his mistakes, and according to The Washington Post, his “lack of preparation was hurting him in games.” The relatively short careers of Ryan Leaf and Russell prove that if a high draft pick isn’t putting in the work, then a team will cut him loose early. In another example of how astonishing Haskins’ benching is: Leaf started 18 games for the San Diego Chargers from 1998 to 2000.
Those types of concerns are familiar evaluations of Black quarterbacks. From Moon to Michael Vick to Deshaun Watson, Black quarterbacks are questioned about their work ethic and intelligence when they struggle – or even when they succeed. For the quarterbacks drafted from 2000 to 2016 (not including Lynch, Manziel, Quinn), Black quarterbacks averaged higher completion percentages (58.2% vs. 57.6%), passer ratings (79.1 vs. 76.8), yards per attempt (6.8 vs. 6.7) and identical interception rates (3%) than white quarterbacks, but lasted shorter times as starters. Haskins could be as lazy and incorrigible as Russell reportedly was, or he could just be struggling as Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold did and could possibly turn things around.
In the end, Haskins might also not be the issue. The Washington offensive line has allowed the second-most sacks this season and the defense is one of the worst in the league. In Week 5, Allen and Smith combined to go 18-of-30 for 111 yards with zero passing touchdowns or interceptions. The pair was sacked eight times.
While Rivera said he has “by no means” given up on Haskins after sitting him, those 11 games were probably the last we’ll see Haskins start for Washington. If that is the case, Haskins would be considered one of the least successful first-round quarterbacks drafted by a franchise in the last 20 years.