Ohio State has had superstars play longer than the third-year sophomore, who is expected to declare for the NFL draft after facing Washington in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Haskins received a first-round grade from the NFL’s college advisory committee, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Haskins at No. 7 on his latest Big Board. But although Haskins’ first — and likely only — season as Ohio State’s starting quarterback led to its share of records, awards and championships, he isn’t the most decorated Buckeye.
There are two reasons Haskins will have a significant place in Ohio State annals. He’s proof an Ohio State program short on producing high-level NFL quarterback prospects can deliver one. Perhaps more significant, he’s the first Buckeyes quarterback primarily developed by Ryan Day, who officially takes over as head coach on Wednesday.
Haskins could represent the new quarterback paradigm at Ohio State under Day, whose roster influence will show up more in the coming years. Day’s NFL experience — he spent a season with both the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers under Chip Kelly before joining the Ohio State staff in 2017, and he had a chance to become the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator last winter — and his work with Haskins make Ohio State a more appealing destination for quarterbacks with NFL potential. While there are legitimate concerns about Day — a first-time head coach taking over for three-time national champion Urban Meyer — quarterback development shouldn’t be one of them.
“He’s very diverse in his playbook,” Haskins said. “Having [worked with] Chip Kelly and coaching in the NFL, he has a ton of experience. He definitely has a lot in his toolbox.”
When Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert announced he would remain with the Ducks in 2019, Haskins became, in many projections, the top quarterback on draft boards for the spring. He could become the first Big Ten quarterback drafted in the first round since Penn State’s Kerry Collins in 1995, and the first Ohio State first-round quarterback since Art Schlichter went fourth overall in 1982. Ohio State has had only nine quarterbacks drafted overall, and just two — Schlichter and Bobby Hoying (85th overall) — in the first three rounds.
The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Haskins is responsible for the most prolific passing season in Ohio State history. He set all the top single-season passing records, including yards (4,580), touchdowns (FBS-leading 47), completions (348), completion percentage (70.2), total offense (361.7 YPG) and number of games with 200 passing yards (13), 300 passing yards (9) and 400 passing yards (5). He also set an Ohio State record with eight consecutive games of at least 20 completions and now holds four of the top five single-game passing marks in team history, breaking a 37-year-old record with 470 yards against Purdue and then breaking his own mark five games later with 499 yards against Northwestern in the Big Ten championship.
Haskins earned several Big Ten awards, including offensive player of the year and the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football (MVP), and was Ohio State’s first Heisman Trophy finalist since Troy Smith, who won the award in 2006.
“If you watched the last month, I don’t know if there’s a kid playing better,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “I just think he’s a complete player, because he can run, he’s very athletic, he showed the ability to lower his pads on the goal line and be physical, as big as he is. And then he can make every throw. There were some throws he made in our game, as the opposing coach, you just kind of look over and give the golf clap.
“I’ve got nothing to say to that besides, ‘Heck of a job, young man.'”
Meyer recruited Haskins to Ohio State before Day joined the staff in 2017, so he deserves credit for identifying the potential. Haskins switched his commitment from Maryland to Ohio State in January 2016 and signed weeks later as ESPN’s No. 4 pocket passer and No. 63 overall player in the 2016 class.
But Haskins never seemed like a typical Meyer quarterback, most of whom attacked defenses primarily with their legs while supplementing with passes. Although Meyer’s quarterbacks have thrived at the college level, only one — Alex Smith — has become a long-term starter in the NFL. Meyer’s primary quarterbacks at Ohio State, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, could gash defenses as runners and make key throws, although neither consistently displayed the NFL-level passing Haskins did this season.
“Guys he had like Braxton Miller — some of those guys he inherited,” Day pointed out. “So when you look back at Alex Smith and Chris Leak, in his past, he had quarterbacks that would throw first, as well.”
Former Florida star Tim Tebow, Meyer’s most decorated quarterback, put up strong passing numbers in his final three seasons with the Gators — eclipsing 2,700 yards and 64 percent completions each year, with 83 passing touchdowns — but he also logged 603 rushes over the span. Haskins has just 73 entering the Rose Bowl.
“It’s hard to find the true dual guy who is big enough to take the pounding like Tebow could,” a Big Ten coach said. “Even Barrett was tough. You usually compromise accuracy and passing skill to get that guy. He’s the guy Urban Meyer usually got.”
A Big Ten defensive coordinator added of Haskins: “He’s certainly your pure dropback style [of quarterback]. He’s a big presence in the pocket, plays with a lot of confidence, makes all the throws. That’s different from what we’ve seen out of J.T. and those guys the last couple years.”
Big Ten Network analyst and former college coach Gerry DiNardo said Meyer had modified his vision for quarterbacks in recent years, recognizing a greater need for efficient passing. The ideal Meyer backfield, according to DiNardo, featured quarterback Cardale Jones and running back Ezekiel Elliott, the tandem that spurred Ohio State to its most recent national title four years ago. Meyer brought in Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, a former Indiana coach, because of their ability to bolster the passing game.
“Between Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson, they like to throw the ball a lot and spread people out,” said Pat Cilento, Haskins’ coach at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. “They did a good job modifying the offense to his skill set. The vibe that you got, even when he wasn’t starting, Haskins was the best pure passer there. They took his skill and maximized it.
“It’s going to open up more avenues for Coach Day in recruiting.”
For Day, Haskins’ success creates an even stronger sales pitch to top high school quarterbacks aspiring to play in the NFL.
“The evolution in college football, as we sell kids on wanting to play in the NFL, now [NFL teams] are looking for pass-first, dual-threat quarterbacks, not run-first, dual-threat quarterbacks,” DiNardo said. “Did Urban really want to be that much run, or was that because J.T. was his best quarterback? If Urban was still coaching, we’d know in the next two to three years.”
With Day coaching, we’ll soon know whether Ohio State’s future at quarterback will look more like Haskins and less like Barrett and Miller. The 2018 offense looked dramatically different from what we typically see from Ohio State. Passing accounted for nearly 68 percent of the yards, more than twice as many touchdowns (48-22), nearly 57 percent of first downs generated and, perhaps most striking, 65 of the team’s 80 plays that went 20 yards or longer. Ohio State’s seven longest plays were all passes. Of the Buckeyes 28 plays that went for 35 yards or longer, 24 were passes.
“We’ve always tried to recruit the best possible player and adapt the offense to him,” Meyer said Sunday. “And I think Ryan, we’ve talked about this, he’s going to recruit the best player possible and adapt the offense and adjust the offense to him, which is kind of what we’ve always done. But I think we’re more equipped with a throwing quarterback now with what Ryan’s brought to our offense.”
Even before Haskins became the starter, he sensed the potential of what the offense could be under Day and Wilson.
“He liked it because they threw the ball a little bit more,” Cilento said. “He liked that Coach Day had been with the Eagles, so he thought they would get into more of a pro-style offense.”
Ohio State certainly wanted to run the ball better, and it did later in the season thanks in part to Haskins’ improvement as a ball carrier. He had 32 carries for 88 yards in the final three games after 41 carries in the first 10 contests. But it’s not a stretch to envision future Ohio State offenses, under Day and Wilson, having more of a passing lean than they did under Meyer.
“You have to be able to run the football as a quarterback, and you have to be able to extend plays with your feet,” Haskins said, “but Coach Day really wants a guy to be able to dissect the playbook, be able to throw the football and have different types of throws — layered throws — different types of ball speeds because of the way his offense is set up. I definitely feel like you have to be an athletic quarterback to play here, but definitely it’s more pass-heavy now than ever.”
If Haskins departs, Ohio State’s immediate future at quarterback will be interesting. Tate Martell has waited his turn for the past two seasons, recording 269 pass yards on 82.1 percent completions and 128 rush yards in limited action this fall. But the 5-11 Martell might be better suited to Meyer’s offense than Day’s offense. Matthew Baldwin, a pocket passer from Texas prep power Lake Travis who wasn’t a highly rated recruit, also could be in the mix. But most of the intrigue rests with Georgia’s Justin Fields, ESPN’s top-rated recruit in the 2018 class, who is expected to transfer after the Allstate Sugar Bowl and could end up with the Buckeyes.
The 6-3, 225-pound Fields is more mobile than Haskins but fits the profile of what Day seems to be seeking in Columbus. Ohio State hasn’t signed a quarterback in the 2019 class — amid the Fields transfer rumors, Dwan Mathis switched to Georgia on the early signing day — but Jack Miller, ESPN’s No. 8 pocket passer and No. 111 overall player in the 2020, remains fully committed to Day and Ohio State.
“Obviously, he had a great relationship with Urban and really liked him, and it’s unfortunate he won’t be there, but at the same time, he developed a really good relationship with Coach Day,” said Brent Barnes, Miller’s coach at Chaparral High School in Arizona. “All along, he was going to be playing in his system. So that’s not a major change. And when you see the numbers and just the way Haskins was playing, it’s just so efficient. When you see a quarterback that knows what he’s doing with the football, that is making good decisions, a lot of that comes with really good coaching.”
When Miller and Barnes studied Ohio State’s offense this season, they saw parallels in what they run at Chaparral: 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) with the tight end lined up at several spots. Miller, like Haskins, is primarily a passer with the ability to run when necessary.
“I don’t know if they’re going to be classified as dual-threat guys,” Barnes said. “Ultimately, what people are looking for nowadays is not so much dual-threat, just somebody that can throw the football efficiently but also be mobile enough to make some plays.”
Day said he, like Meyer, seeks “somebody with extraordinary traits” to build the team and the offense around. He found those in Haskins, who has forever changed what an Ohio State quarterback can become.