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The race to become the first quarterback off the board in April’s draft heated up Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis despite buzz to the contrary.
“In terms of [Oklahoma quarterback Kyler] Murray, people are beginning to believe almost universally he will indeed be the No. 1 pick in this draft by the Arizona Cardinals,” NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones reported before Saturday’s sessions (via NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman). “In fact, teams picking in the top 10 believe they’ll have no chance of drafting Murray. He’s not the biggest quarterback in the world, but he is a very big presence at this combine.”
Unlike Murray, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins participated in position drills and showed off his natural passing ability and arm talent.
“I’m not worried about Kyler,” Haskins said Friday, per Eleven Warriors’ Dan Hope. “I got to worry about me.”
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Right now, Murray and Haskins are intertwined as elite quarterback prospects in a class that lacks the quality and depth found in last year’s draft.
Even the Heisman Trophy winner’s standing seems more dependent on team fit than natural talent. The Arizona Cardinals own the No. 1 overall pick and employ the perfect system to maximize Murray’s capabilities. Arizona’s new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, said in October he “would take him with the first pick of the draft if I could,” per KLBK’s Eric Kelly.
Now, Kingsbury can. Obviously, Murray is exceptional, but he’s a very different prospect compared to Haskins.
Haskins, who set Big Ten single-season records with 50 touchdown passes and 4,831 passing yards, fits traditional standards. Not every team is going to be enamored with Murray because of his diminutive stature (5’10”, 207 pounds). Other organizations will prefer a 6’3″, 231-pound pocket passer.
The difference between Haskins and the rest of the class was on full display for the entire NFL and onlookers everywhere to see. Two particular traits stood out: the way the ball exploded off his hand, and the natural leadership and attitude necessary to lead a franchise.
None of this matters if a quarterback can’t throw the ball with timing, touch, accuracy and velocity. All of those qualities were apparent during Haskins’ throwing session.
“I’ve been throwing for 11-plus years. That’s all I do,” the 21-year-old signal-caller said during his combine media session, per the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Doug Lesmerises. “I was going to throw no matter what.”
The ease of Haskins’ release and ability to spin the football looked different than anyone else’s in Lucas Oil Stadium. He delivered his passes with standout ball placement, as seen below courtesy of the NFL:
.@OhioStateFB QB Dwayne Haskins out here throwing darts 🎯 @dh_simba7 📺: #NFLCombine on @nflnetwork https://t.co/PlX3ntqPSO
He effortlessly drove the football down the field once the quarterbacks attempted deep passes:
Dwayne Haskins has a pretty deep ball 💪 @dh_simba7 📺: #NFLCombine on @nflnetwork https://t.co/QWgCnvefwt
How a quarterback throws is only part of the equation, though. NFL scouts and evaluators keep a very close eye on how prospects carry themselves. Does the individual stand out among other alphas who are used to leading programs? Haskins carried himself as QB1 throughout the entire process.
The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year competed even though he wasn’t 100 percent healthy. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Haskins battled leg cramps before he ran the 40-yard dash. He didn’t need to run but did so anyway, and he posted an unofficial 5.04-second 40-yard dash.
Once the quarterbacks took the field, Haskins looked at ease with a calm and collected demeanor to show exactly how he responds to high-pressure situations.
“Being the face of the franchise, everyone is watching you,” Haskins said, per USA Today‘s Jarrett Bell. “You have to be able to lead other men. It’s a lot of responsibility.”
The still-developing quarterback seems like a natural at taking on said responsibility.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
However, the concerns regarding Haskins’ game couldn’t be answered at the combine. As a one-year starter, he’s still developing pocket and pressure awareness. Improvements can come with time, but the Ohio State product quickly became flustered when the pocket collapsed and forced him off his spot.
He also isn’t much of a running threat because of poor foot speed. He knows his strengths are slinging the pigskin.
“I can maneuver if I need to but I’m deadly in the pocket,” Haskins said, per Browns Zone’s Scott Petrak.
Whether Haskins becomes the first quarterback off the board is entirely out of his hands. Maybe the Cardinals really are enamored with Murray. Maybe they’re not. If so, a door opens for Haskins to take the title of QB1 with teams like the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars searching for more traditional options.
“All of them said I was the most impressive quarterback they talked to,” Haskins said of his meetings, per Lesmerises. “All we talk about is football, so you’ve got to be able to speak it.”
Two teams are going to come away with elite quarterback prospects very early in the draft. Murray might have cast the biggest shadow in Indianapolis, but Haskins lit up the combine.
“I feel like I’m the top quarterback,” Haskins said. “I just have to do what I do. It’ll speak for itself. I know what I can do and I’m just going to show that to teams.”
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.