Ryan Day watched the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday with what had to be bittersweet emotions.
The Ohio State coach was gratified to see quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. taken with the 15th pick by Washington. He invested much in Haskins, nurturing him from a talented but inexperienced redshirt freshman to a Heisman Trophy finalist in his only season as an Ohio State starter.
But as Haskins tore it up last year, Day increasingly could envision the flip side of his success. Haskins has said he believed all along that he would need only one year as the Buckeyes' starter to make the jump to the NFL, but that wasn’t Day’s timetable. He expected to have Haskins for two more years.
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Haskins’ departure and its aftermath has left Ohio State like many other top programs these days — short of depth at a critical position that has increasingly resembled a game of musical chairs.
Consider how loaded Ohio State was at the position a year ago. Haskins was the presumed but unannounced starter. Joe Burrow had not yet announced his transfer to LSU. Tate Martell was coming off redshirting as a true freshman. He was antsy about his future as a Buckeye, but that was kept behind the scenes.
Then there was Matthew Baldwin, who knew he wouldn’t play as a freshman while rehabbing from knee surgery.
None of those players remain on the roster. Martell transferred to the University of Miami when Justin Fields transferred in from Georgia. Baldwin unexpectedly left a few days after the spring game.
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That left graduate transfer Chris Chugunov and walk-on Danny Vanatsky as the only other quarterbacks on the roster until the Buckeyes added two this weekend. JP Andrade, a three-star from California, committed Friday night as a preferred walk-on.
Then on Saturday, The Dispatch learned that Dublin Coffman graduate Gunnar Hoak, who recently left Kentucky, will join Ohio State as a scholarship player. He is expected to provide the stiffest competition to Fields.
The ever-changing mix of quarterbacks is becoming the norm, something that Day lamented even before Baldwin left.
“It’s very sensitive,” Day told The Dispatch in March before spring practice. “It changes from year to year and takes on different personalities, and it’s hard to find depth there. When you look at some of the high-end programs in college football, it’s pretty thin.”
In fact, even Haskins apparently considered leaving Ohio State a couple of years ago. Cornelius Green, the Buckeyes quarterback during the Archie Griffin years in the 1970s, told The Dispatch that he helped dissuade Haskins from leaving after J.T. Barrett decided to return for his senior season in 2017.
“They were a little apprehensive because they thought J.T. would be leaving, and then he stayed and kind of threw a wrench in their plans,” Green said Thursday after attending the Haskins family’s draft party in Maryland. “They thought (Dwayne) would be starting. I said, ‘Wait it out, you’ll get your turn,’ and thank God he did.”
Haskins is almost the exception in staying. When Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence — the only player ranked ahead of Fields in the 2018 recruiting class — beat out incumbent Kelly Bryant, Bryant transferred to Missouri. Clemson had already lost former five-star quarterback Hunter Johnson to Northwestern, where he’s expected to be the Wildcats’ starter this year.
Clemson’s projected backup for this year is Chase Brice, who rescued the Tigers against Syracuse last year but was only a three-star prospect ranked 393rd among all prospects nationally. Behind him is Taisun Phommachanh (166th).
Alabama’s backups behind Tua Tagovailoa are three-star sophomore Mac Jones (399th) and Tua’s brother Taulia (180th).
Alabama did have two elite quarterbacks the past two years, before Jalen Hurts transferred to Oklahoma after last season. When Hurts arrived in Norman, the Sooners’ three-year backup, Austin Kendall, entered the transfer portal.
Fields’ departure left Georgia thin. True freshman Dwan Mathis might be the best option if Jake Fromm gets injured. Mathis was an Ohio State commitment before Georgia lured him away, partly in desperation after losing Fields.
Keeping track of all the quarterback movement feels dizzying.
“The whole thing is crazy,” ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said.
He said it is increasingly difficult to find prospects who can understand the value in redshirting and then being content to develop until they’re truly ready to play.
“You’re in an environment where everybody expects to start right away and if it doesn’t go their way, they automatically want to transfer,” Luginbill said. “It’s dangerous. In the old days, you recruited a guy, you redshirted him, you brought him along and he developed, and he became a really good player over time.
“Kids don’t look at it that way anymore. So it’s so hard to sell player development when in their mind they think they should be playing even if they haven’t earned it yet. That’s a challenge for everybody.”