Player Spotlight - QB Robert Griffin III, Washington
By Jason Wood
July 17th, 2012

It's been a long time coming. Faithful Redskins fans, most notably the team's owner Daniel Snyder, have waited patiently for the emergence of a true face of the franchise. Since buying the Redskins in 1999, Snyder has not been shy about facilitating change at the key positions within the franchise; specifically the head coaching and quarterback positions.

  • In 13 seasons, the Redskins have gone through seven head coaches: Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn and, currently, Mike Shanahan

  • Over that span, the quarterbacking situation has been even more tumultuous, with thirteen quarterbacks receiving at least one start: Jason Campbell (52 starts), Mark Brunell (33), Brad Johnson (27), Patrick Ramsey (24), Rex Grossman (16), Tony Banks (14), Donovan McNabb (13), Jeff George (7), Shane Matthews (7), Tim Hasselbeck (5), Danny Wuerffel (4), John Beck (3), and Todd Collins (3)
  • Enter Robert Griffin III.

    The Redskins traded for the second overall pick in the draft in order to draft Griffin, and hopefully end the long search for the face of the franchise. Griffin is the energetic, electric, do-everything quarterback who not only put Baylor on the national map as a BCS powerhouse, but also won the Heisman Trophy, AP's College Football Player of the Year Award, the Davy O'Brien Award, and the Manning Award. His 2011 statistics were almost impossible to believe:

  • 4,293 yards passing
  • 72.4% completion rate
  • 37 touchdown passes
  • 6 interceptions
  • 189.5 passer rating
  • 161 rushing attempts
  • 644 rushing yards
  • 9 rushing touchdowns
  • Griffin's collegiate stats were impressive, but he wouldn't be the first collegiate star with eye-popping numbers that didn't translate well to the NFL. So why is Griffin considered by most to be a can't miss prospect?

  • Rare Athleticism - Griffin measures at 6'2" and 223 pounds and ran a blistering 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. To put that number into perspective, Griffin was faster than EVERY running back at the combine, and only four players at any position were faster. More importantly, he not only runs fast on a track, but watching his game film shows a player capable of making tacklers miss and breaking away once he sees daylight

  • Strong Arm and Quick Release - Too often a quarterback's physical limitations or flawed mechanics can be masked by the system they play in college. That's not a concern for Griffin as he has shown a clear ability to make any throw on an NFL route tree, and he has a high, quick release which will prevent him from taking too many undue hits in the pocket

  • Smart and Coachable - NFL front offices have learned from their past mistakes, and now understand that all the physical tools in the world mean next to nothing if a quarterback isn't a) able to process complex information quickly and b) willing to be coached (see: Ryan Leaf). If you've ever seen Griffin interviewed or spoken to people that have coached or played with him, you know he's the antithesis of Leaf. He has the physical gifts, but he's also got a tenacious desire to improve, and a recognition that he's far from a polished product

  • Maturity and Leadership - Fame and fortune can derail otherwise promising careers, as young men succumb to the temptations that are born out of becoming multi-millionaires in the public eye. Those natural distractions can be hard to overcome, but it would be shocking if Griffin fell prey to such things. He's from a military family, and has never had a hint of trouble in college. If you've ever heard him speak to the media, it's clear that Griffin is far more eloquent and refined than the typical NFL rookie
  • Re-thinking the Rookie Quarterback?

    In a league with very few absolutes, it used to be understood that fantasy owners should avoid drafting rookie quarterbacks, even when they're as well regarded as Griffin. For every Dan Marino or Peyton Manning, a half dozen rookie starters struggled so mightily that they weren't even viable fantasy backups. But are times changing? Last year, Cam Newton completely re-wrote the book on what's possible with 4,051 yards passing and a 60% completion rate (not to mention his rushing stats, which we'll address later). Newton was not only a viable fantasy quarterback, he was a top-five fantasy option in all formats. Newton wasn't the only rookie that mattered - Andy Dalton started for the Bengals and threw for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns.

    Were Newton and Dalton flukes, or is there more to the story? Consider that the college game has evolved, and the complexity of college offenses has grown by leaps and bounds. Quarterbacks enter the league with a far better understanding of complex passing systems than ever before, and are also being given the ability to call audibles and manage their offenses; essential skills at the next level. Additionally, NFL teams are no longer afforded the luxury of letting young quarterbacks sit and watch for years. If a high rookie draft pick doesn't play within a year or two, it can mean the general manager and head coaches that chose that player are looking for new jobs.

    Assessing the Supporting Cast

    No matter how talented and NFL-ready Griffin may be, it won't matter if his supporting cast isn't up to snuff. Let's examine each segment:

  • Coaching - Mike Shanahan's reputation precedes him, and it's hard to argue that Shanahan isn't one of the better offensive minds working in the league today. To be fair, it's been a long time since Shanahan has won a playoff game, but as an Xs and Os coach on game day, he remains terrific. His son, Kyle, is the Redskins offensive coordinator and has prior experience as the coordinator in Houston. Matt LaFleur is the team's quarterbacks coach, and is considered a bright, young, hands-on position coach.

  • Wide Receivers - The Redskins didn't sit idly by this offseason, and have completely reshaped the receiver depth chart. Pierre Garcon comes over from Indianapolis as the team's new No. 1 - Garcon may not be in the upper echelon of receivers, but he's young, productive, and a significant upgrade. Josh Morgan was added in free agency, and he'll either win the job opposite Garcon or provide an excellent number three if second-year Leonard Hankerson can step into the lineup as the coaches expect. Hankerson has the size/speed combination to excel, but he needs to bounce back from offseason hip surgery. Santana Moss, the elder statesman of the group, is capable of significantly more than we saw last year.

  • Tight Ends - Chris Cooley is nearing the end of his career, but Fred Davis is just a rung or two below the best tight ends in the league. Davis was franchised this offseason and will be the focal point of the passing game for years to come. He's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and he will make Griffin look good by snatching contested passes in space and finding gaps in tight coverage in the red zone.

  • Offensive Line - This unit is the biggest question mark, ranking toward the bottom of the league a year ago. Unfortunately, Washington didn't make any significant changes to the line's depth chart this preseason, so the unit will have to hope that another year of cohesion can mask an otherwise uninspired cast of individual contributors.
  • The bottom line is that the Redskins' supporting cast is hardly elite, but it's not awful either. The receiving corps should be improved enough to allow Griffin to sustain drives and have some big games. He has multiple difference makers in Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis, and the coaches will put this team in the best position possible. On the other hand, the offensive line is a massive question mark and could completely derail an otherwise promising situation.

    Mobility as the Fantasy Elixir

    It should be evident that we're enthusiastic about Griffin's opportunity to succeed over the long-term, but it's important to keep perspective. Even if he's eventually a Pro Bowl caliber passer, history tells us that he's more than likely going to struggle with inconsistency in his first season under center. Even Peyton Manning threw more interceptions (28) than touchdowns as a rookie, and you should expect Griffin to do the same. But the reason Griffin remains a compelling fantasy option is because of his mobility, his ability to make plays with his legs. Remember, Griffin is faster than just about anyone on the field. He MAY not be as fast as Michael Vick was coming out of Virginia Tech, but he's faster than Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, young quarterbacks that have put up huge rushing totals.

    There's a long history of athletic, dual-purpose quarterbacks relying on their legs early in their careers, even if they eventually become proficient passers. Here are a number of young, mobile quarterbacks and how they fared in their first seasons as full-time starters (not necessarily rookies):

    Quarterback
    Year
    PassYds
    PassTDs
    INTs
    RushYds
    RushTDs
    FtsyRnk
    Steve Grogan
    1976
    1,903
    18
    20
    397
    12
    2nd
    Randall Cunningham
    1987
    2,786
    23
    12
    505
    3
    2nd
    Steve McNair
    1997
    2,665
    14
    13
    674
    8
    6th
    Daunte Culpepper
    2000
    3,937
    33
    16
    470
    7
    1st
    Donovan McNabb
    2000
    3,365
    21
    13
    629
    6
    5th
    Michael Vick
    2002
    2,936
    16
    8
    777
    8
    3rd
    Vince Young
    2006
    2,199
    12
    13
    552
    7
    12th
    Cam Newton
    2011
    4,051
    21
    17
    706
    14
    5th

    Positives

  • Griffin has elite athleticism, with a mobility profile that has almost always translated into instant fantasy relevance

  • The Redskins have improved the receiving corps, including the additions of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan

  • He has the maturity, focus and intelligence to ascend the steep NFL learning curve faster than a typical young quarterback
  • Negatives

  • The Redskins offensive line is a major question mark, as one of 2011's worst units returns intact

  • Even the best rookie quarterbacks struggle with inconsistency and turn the ball over a lot

  • Cam Newton's historic success a year ago may push Griffin's draft stock too high to justify the risk as fantasy owners draw parallels
  • Final Thoughts

    Robert Griffin III is one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in years. He checks all the boxes a franchise looks for in a quarterback: athleticism, mechanics, maturity, intelligence, and work ethic. There's no question Griffin will start from day one, and the coaches have no plans on paring back the playbook - he'll be asked to do everything in Mike Shanahan's West Coast offensive arsenal. There are enough receiving options to know that Griffin won't struggle to complete passes, but it's important to understand that he'll have ups and downs and will likely throw more interceptions than touchdowns. But Griffin only needs to put up moderate passing numbers to be a worthy fantasy option - because his mobility and instinctiveness will be immediately evident. As we've shown, mobile quarterbacks can put up elite fantasy numbers even when they don't throw for a ton of yards. The offensive line is admittedly a risk, but Griffin's mobility should keep him upright more than a pure pocket passer. If you're comfortable with the offensive line situation, Griffin is a great high upside quarterback to target as your fantasy No. 2. Just be careful not to fall prey to the hype cycle. Right now, Griffin is being drafted as the 15th quarterback - which is a perfect spot given the risk and reward. But if his average draft position rises as people compare Griffin's upside to Cam Newton's, it's probably better to let someone else take him early.

    Jason Wood's Projections for Robert Griffin III

  • 300 completions
  • 535 attempts
  • 3,455 passing yards
  • 17 touchdown passes
  • 24 interceptions
  • 85 rushing attempts
  • 500 rushing yards
  • 5 rushing TDs
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