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Player Spotlight: Robert Griffin III

A detailed look at Robert Griffin III's fantasy prospects for 2013

In 2012 there wasn't a more electrifying player to watch than Robert Griffin III. He began his NFL career with three consecutive 30+ fantasy point games and wowed us all with his arm and his legs. Unlike many "running" quarterbacks of the past, Griffin seemingly came into the league as a great runner and a great passer. Through twelve weeks he led all quarterbacks in fantasy points and looked like the second coming of...well, to be honest we'd never seen anything like him.

Of course, Griffin's final few games were less than spectacular, then he suffered a knee sprain, and then he blew out his ACL. The biggest argument against running quarterbacks had once again reared its ugly head and Griffin suddenly looked very mortal again. He's spent the entire offseason rehabbing and plans to be ready for week one, though he reportedly won't play a snap in the preseason. So how do you project a player with this much proven upside, and such a huge risk of injury?

For starters, I put Griffin is a very select group of quarterbacks that could finish the season #1 in fantasy points. He did it for 12 weeks last year and there's no reason to think he couldn't do it for an entire season. Of course, there are several hurdles in his way. For one, even if he's 100% for week one I can't imagine a scenario in which Mike Shanahan doesn't discourage him from running as much as he did in 2012. A full 33% of the quarterback's fantasy production came on the ground last season (more on this later) and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he lost nearly half of that. He's a good enough passer to make up for it, if he has someone to catch the ball.

Pierre Garcon is far and away the most talented receiver on the roster, but he's battling injuries of his own. Garcon has been cleared to practice, but as our Jene Bramel wrote about in June, his foot injury may still be lingering in the preseason. Fred Davis is the team's most talented tight end, but he too has battled extensive injuries. If Garcon and Davis can both stay healthy, the Redskins should be able to piece together the rest of the receiving corps. If not, Griffin will face more pressure to be a threat on the ground. There's another concern and it has nothing to do with injuries.

The sophomore slump is a real thing for many quarterbacks, especially those that rely on running the ball. Before 2012, 17 rookie quarterbacks had scored at least 200 fantasy points in their rookie season. I mentioned above how much Griffin ran the ball his rookie season, well five of those rookie quarterbacks relied on the running game for at least 20% of their fantasy production. Those "running" quarterbacks saw a much different fate than their pocket passer counterparts.

  Rookie FPs Running % of FPs Sophomore FPs FP Diff
Runners 265.8 30% 211.4 -19%
Pocket Passers 230.6 9% 240.2 +4%

All but one of the running quarterbacks saw a decrease in fantasy points in their sophomore season, and three of the five saw a decrease of 20% or more. The pocket passers were more split with 50% increasing and 50% decreasing in fantasy points, but only 3 out of 12 saw a decrease of more than 20%. Is this to say the Griffin is definitely going to be worse in 2013? Not necessarily, but a few of the factors that cause running quarterbacks to regress do apply to him. Quarterbacks generally stop running as much or get injured. Griffin's already been hurt and as I mentioned above it's very likely he runs less.

What shouldn't get lost in these statistics is that Griffin is not your typical running quarterback. A lot of quarterbacks from the past that would fall into this designation did so because they simply weren't good enough to be true pocket passers. Griffin has the arm strength and the accuracy to excel as a pocket passer, so if Shanahan reins him in as expected, the transition should be a smooth one. Still, I think it's appropriate to question if he can make up that production in the air in year two, with the weapons he'll have at his disposal.

POSITIVES

  • Robert Griffin III is an elite athlete and has elite potential as a quarterback. He's one of only a handful of quarterbacks that could lead the league in fantasy points.
  • Griffin has the ability to move the chains with his arm or his legs, and is very good at both.
  • Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis have both been cleared for camp so it's conceivable that Griffin could have more help than he had in 2012.

NEGATIVES

  • Griffin is less than nine months removed from a very bad injury. His faith in that knee and the team's reaction to that injury could change the way he plays.
  • Griffin falls into a group of quarterbacks that are more susceptible to a sophomore slump.
  • Griffin's two best weapons have more injury concerns than he does.

PROJECTIONS

  CMP ATT PYD PTD INT RYD RTD
Heath Cummings Projections 288 450 3375 24 10 400 6
David Dodds Projections 274 452 3318 21 11 604 6

FINAL THOUGHTS

Assuming Garcon and Davis can play a majority of the season Griffin has a good chance to replace a large part of his lost rushing production in the air. I expect a big increase in passing attempts and a significant reduction in rushing attempts for Griffin in 2013. While I don't think he matches his elite production from the first 12 games of 2012, I do think he'll be a solid QB1. He's currently being drafted as the ninth QB off the board and that's just about right with the caveat that he has more potential than anyone being drafted in that range.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Christopher Harris at ESPN wrote:

It sounds more and more like RGIII will play Week 1, despite tearing his right ACL on Jan. 6. If he's free and clear of all knee woes and allowed to play instinctively, I've got him ranked way too low at No. 9 among fantasy QBs. Heck, his 815 rushing yards last year were fifth-most in a single season by a signal-caller.

Read more here.

Chase Stuart at Football Perspective wrote:

The Washington Redskins were powered by a pair of rookie stars in 2012.  We all know about Robert  Griffin  III, but sixth round pick Alfred  Morris finished second in the league in rushing.  Griffin’s efficiency numbers were unmatched — he led the NFL in both yards per pass and yards per run — en route to 3200 passing yards and 815 rushing yards.

Read more here.

Will Brinson at CBS Sportsline wrote:

And speaking of efficiency, let's not act like Griffin is some one-trick pony who can only run the ball. The sight of him limping to the sideline against the Seahawks during the playoffs was brutal, but he still throws one of the prettiest and most accurate deep balls in all of the NFL.

Read more here.


More from Heath Cummings:

Player Spotlight: Arian Foster - July 30
Player Spotlight: Alex Smith - July 28
Player Spotlight: Torrey Smith - July 16
Player Spotlight: Julian Edelman - July 10
Player Spotlight: Martellus Bennett - July 10
Player Spotlight: Colin Kaepernick - July 2
What Went Wrong With C.J. Spiller - April 19
What Went Wrong With Marques Colston? - April 17
Lessons From NBA DFS - April 5
What Went Wrong With Eli Manning? - March 26