In the spring of 2018, Terry McLaurin and his fellow wide receivers at Ohio State were in a meeting room discussing the heated quarterback competition unfolding in front of them: Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow, battling in drills every day for the chance to be the Buckeyes’ starter in the fall.
From one practice to the next, it was anyone’s guess as to who was winning.
“It was like, ‘Shoot, it’s a win-win for us whoever wins the competition,’” McLaurin recalled thinking at the time.
It was Haskins, of course, who prevailed, surprising as that might seem now, given the different trajectories the two quarterbacks’ NFL careers have taken.
Haskins and Burrow will be competing again, technically, on Sunday when Washington hosts the 2-6-1 Cincinnati Bengals, though the contest won’t necessarily feature the former rivals going head-to-head.
Burrow, one of the league’s top rookies, leads the Bengals, but Haskins isn’t likely to see the field unless starter Alex Smith gets injured.
Burrow has been a sensation in Cincinnati, while the uneven Haskins has been benched in Washington.
If Haskins has any shot at regaining his starting job in Washington, he’ll have to impress like he did that spring in Columbus, Ohio. Back then, Haskins was motivated to show he belonged and had the momentum of having led a signature Buckeyes’ win over Michigan from the previous fall. Not only did Haskins emerge the winner, he then shattered school and Big Ten records in his only year as a starter.
Haskins capitalized on the opportunity, McLaurin said.
“He continued to try and change his body so he’d be better for that position,” McLaurin said. “Just the approach that he took to that competition was really impressive from a guy that was really young at the time.”
Speaking to Fox Sports in August, Haskins and former Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer remembered how competitive that battle with Burrow turned out to be. Meyer said the race was as “close as you can get,” while Haskins admitted he and Burrow “couldn’t stand each other” while competing.
Haskins told the outlet that he “loved” Burrow, but was motivated to out-perform him — no matter the task. Winter workouts? Haskins had to win. Mat drills? Haskins made sure his footwork was better. The competition got to the point that Haskins and Burrow were cutting each other in lines to make sure they were throwing to the starting receivers, Haskins said.
“He made it hard for me, I made it hard for him,” Haskins said. “I didn’t let him take it away.”
In hindsight, Burrow losing the quarterback battle might have been the best thing for him. After Haskins was named the starter, Burrow transferred to LSU and went on to win the Heisman Trophy and a national championship in 2019. Burrow, who was eligible to play right away in 2018 as a grad transfer, had a solid first year with Tigers before taking college football — and NFL scouts — by storm last fall.
Burrow’s rise last fall made him the overwhelming choice to be the first overall draft pick this past spring. Despite holding the second selection, Washington still met with Burrow at the NFL combine, where coaches were blown away by the quarterback’s confidence. “It’s not in a boastful way either,” coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s just kind of matter of fact.”
Burrow’s confidence carried over to the NFL, where he is the favorite to win offensive rookie of the year. In nine games, he’s thrown for 2,485 yards and 12 touchdowns to five interceptions. According to Pro Football Reference, Burrow’s 276.1 yards per game are the fourth-most in league history for a rookie.
The success that Burrow is having stands in stark contrast to Haskins. Drafted 15th overall in 2019, Haskins’ future in Washington remains unclear after he was benched last month. On Wednesday, Rivera denied a report that suggested Haskins could start again if Washington is officially eliminated from playoff contention.
So much of Haskins’ development has centered around the quarterback’s preparation. Rivera talked openly earlier this month how he wants Haskins to study Smith’s work ethic closely and learn from the veteran.
Rivera says Haskins has an NFL-level arm — it’s the same arm that beat out Burrow and wowed his teammates at Ohio State, after all. But Rivera said he wants Haskins to “put it all together.”
In many of the same ways, Haskins is being pushed like he was back then. But there’s no indication that he’s about to prevail like before.
“You’ve got to have that mentality like you’re the best guy and the leader of the team,” McLaurin said. “They had big shoes to fill with J.T. (Barrett) leaving. The next guy was basically the leader of our team, the leader of our program. They were going to try and compete and one-up each other in the sense to be that starting quarterback.”