Robert Griffin: Bust Out, or Just Bust?

Griffin Knocked off the 40 in 4.41 at the Combine.

Little less combine buzz this year?  I didn’t see one shot of an overweight offensive lineman jiggling his way through the 40.  I don’t know what Rich Eisen’s time was.  I didn’t hear of anyone “listed” at 6’3″ who measured out at 5’11”.  Has Andrew Luck as consensus #1 taken a little bit of luster off the combine, or are people still recovering from the NFL season?  For me, the most interesting player in the draft is R0bert Griffin III.  We could be on the verge of a great philosophical shift in the type of athletes that are drafted to play quarterback.  There may come a time when if a QB like Griffin and a QB like Luck are both available that the Griffin-mold will go 1st every time.  But, we aren’t there yet, and Griffin’s performance in the NFL will go a long way to determining the trend.

I think before Cam Newton came out last year I was probably less impressed with him than I should I have been.  I don’t think I declared “bust,” but I didn’t see a runaway rookie of the year coming.  Did anyone?  As a fan you pick up all this secondary information about Newton’s intelligence, his priorities, work-ethic–things of that nature, and you make an initial judgement.  Mine stuck with me until I read some quotes from Newton himself partway through last season.  He went out of his way to rip JaMarcus Russell, maybe rip isn’t the right word, but he mentioned specifically how Russell’s colossal failure impacted people’s perception of him.  He still went #1, but he had to deal with a lot of negativity and I guarantee you, if Luck was in the draft, he wouldn’t have gone any higher than #2.

Newton said he was motivated to succeed, in part, because he didn’t want his legacy to taint the future of the QBs that followed him.  Players like RG3.  The “athlete” QB.  The “running” QB.  If you want to throw African-American in there, you can certainly do that as well, they all come with stigmas.  For QBs like Newton, or like Griffin there is going to be a bigger obstacle than usual to overcome.  You’ve got decades of history on the side of the “pocket-passer,” it’s going to take more than one Cam Newton to change the thinking.

There’s no doubt that Newton’s success last season has helped Griffin’s draft status.  That Griffin comes without any of the character question marks that surrounded Newton is also a bonus.  His blistering display of speed at the Combine might be moment that he clinched being the #2 pick.  Griffin put up mind-boggling stats at Baylor.   4,293 yards passing.  72.4% completions.  700 yards rushing.  His accuracy is what stands out, but you must consider Baylor’s offense and their conference–a league where gaudy numbers are the norm.  I don’t think Cam Newton ever got enough credit for his accuracy and arm (he certainly didn’t from me), and Griffin could be an even more accomplished passer.  To me it looks like the players that were once classified as athletes playing QB are becoming better and better throwers.  We might eventually come to the point where that distinction is not even discussed, but we’re not there yet.

The other issue surrounding Griffin is his status as the 1-A QB in the draft.  Does the 2nd-best QB in the draft get over-valued because of the importance of the position?  It now seems likely that the Rams might end up with a blockbuster deal, a bidding war if they sell off that #2 pick.  Is Griffin worth that?  Or is the combination of his skills and the huge drop-off to the #3 QB making people want to overpay?  The history of the 2nd guy taken after a perceived franchise guy was taken #1 overall is mixed.

NFL DRAFT RECENT HISTORY, QB Taken 1st Overall and 2nd QB Taken:

  1. 2011:  Cam Newton #1, Jake Locker #9
  2. 2010: Sam Bradford #1, Tim Tebow #25
  3. 2009: Matt Stafford #1, Mark Sanchez #5
  4. 2007: JaMarcus Russell #1, Brady Quinn #22
  5. 2005: Alex Smith #1, Aaron Rodgers #24
  6. 2004: Eli Manning #1, Philip Rivers #4
  7. 2003: Carson Palmer #1, Byron Leftwich #7
  8. 2002: David Carr #1, Joey Harrington #3
  9. 2001:  Michael Vick #1, Drew Brees #32
  10. 1999:  Tim Couch #1, Donovan McNabb #2

As you can see, if Griffin goes #2, it’ll be a pretty rare occurrence.  You have to go all the way back to 1999 to find a Draft where QBs went 1 & 2.  Oddly enough, there as well you had a prototypical pocket passer at number #1 and the guy looked at more as an athlete at #2.  It’s important to note that not a player on this list has anything to do with RG3 (it’s more to see if you think the 2nd guy taken was overvalued), but that 1999 comparison might be the best one you can make.  If you go back further you have the Bledsoe/Mirer and Manning/Leaf debacles for the teams drafting #2, but that is now ancient history.

I don’t see a definitive conclusion or trend in this list.  I’ve seen some people limit it to QBs taken in the top-5 after a QB was #1 overall and then you get Sanchez, Rivers, McNabb, Akili Smith, Leaf and Mirer.  That’s a far uglier list than the one above, but I think that’s fixing the data a bit in favor of a negative Griffin outlook.  There are, though, certainly examples of teams reaching for a QB.  I think Sanchez is obvious.  I think Jake Locker last year was a reach.  Tim Tebow as well.

I don’t think we’re going to be adding Robert Griffin to that list.  Especially with the restructured rookie salaries, I think he’s definitely worth a chance at #2, and that might be bumping his stock up as well.  This is no longer a 45-50 million dollar commitment.  It’s typical that there is really no bust talk surrounding Luck.  It seems the pocket QBs are still immune to those assumptions.  I don’t really see any “traditional” passer above that was subjected to a lot of scrutiny over their ability to play the position.

I’m in need of a conclusion here.  I think the point is, it’s possible we’re in a state of transition in the NFL.  It might not look it when guys like Aaron Rodgers, Brady, Brees and Eli are the ones piling up Super Bowl wins, but it’s got to start somewhere, right?  And, maybe it started with Cam Newton.  Maybe 10 years from now, the evolution of the league will have diminished Andrew Luck’s skill set and turned an “athlete QB” like RG3 into the best player on the planet.  Is it possible?  I think it is, but it’s unlikely if Griffin can’t make the NFL grade.

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2 thoughts on “Robert Griffin: Bust Out, or Just Bust?

  1. I think you won’t see the eventual transition to the “athlete qb” mainly b/c that combination is rare. Additionally, it just seems that with all the athletes on the field already, the goal is becoming getting the ball to players in space, which with an athletic qb you’re limiting him and really wasting his and other talents. For all the highlights they produce, athletic qb’s tend to be sort of ball hogs, and that will limit your opportunities to get a guy like D-jax or Nicks in space to create bigger gains.

  2. Interesting point.

    I wonder if the athletes might eventually get so talented that we don’t really make a distinction.

    I mean, you hear a lot about how Luck’s athleticism is undersold, simply because he’s a pocket passer. I guess he had like a 36 inch vert, ran a 4.6 and out-jumped Griffin in the broad jump. That sounds pretty athletic to me. And, this is the guy that is supposed to be the prototype. Or even a guy like Aaron Rodgers runs better than most people give him credit for.

    Of course, most everyone still underrates a white guy’s athleticism and underrates the black guy’s pocket passing. I hope everyone knows that’s what is going on here with Griffin and Luck. Has Griffin been compared to a QB aside from Vick or Newton yet?

    I’m really warming up to RG3. I’m intrigued and I don’t have to tell anyone here how I get irrationally high on prospects in all sports.

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