Yesterday we highlighted Robert Griffin III’s tape against Texas A&M from the weekend. Overall I found it to be an impressive performance, strangely more impressive than Griffin’s highlight reel display against TCU in week one. The game with the Horned Frogs was a bit of a freak show – repetitive long bombs that made for great viewing but provided more questions than answers. Was this something the Bears had worked on during a long off-season to surprise TCU given Baylor’s strict screen game? Was it just a rank bad performance by a secondary that had previously impressed? Was it a one-off spectacular?
I was leaning more towards scepticism than excitement after watching Griffin’s tape against Rice. The screen game was back and some of the old flaws were still screaming out. There’s no getting around the basic footwork issues that require major work at the next level. For starters, Griffin needs to get rid of the dance moves in the pocket – he often takes two steps without advancing or retreating, before needing to re-set to release.
It’s like watching Justin Timberlake trying to lead a Big 12 offense and it’ll cause problems at the next level because it adds wasted time to the complete motion of delivering the football. In the NFL Griffin may only get a small window of opportunity to find an open receiver, he needs to quicken up the time it takes to drop back and release to give himself the best possible opportunity to hit the target. Secondly, pass rushers at the next level don’t need very long to get free and even if they’re not getting the sack there’s always the chance they’ll force a splash via a deflected pass or by taking away one side of the field.
Griffin being such a good athlete compensates for this wasted time and often he’s able to move out of the pocket to extend plays either by running or throwing. The potential is there to become an even more spectacular player with proper pro-coaching on his footwork, but it’s one of the hardest things a young quarterback has to embrace. Neither is it an unusual thing – Joe Flacco had to learn every basic fundamental of becoming a pro-passer when he was drafted by Baltimore and he still had an impact as a rookie starter. It helps that Flacco’s deep ball was such a threat from day one, but Griffin similarly is a gifted downfield passer.
Bringing it back to the Texas A&M game to talk about the positives, I was surprised at how rounded Griffin looked as a passing quarterback. There were several instances where he visibly went from one target to another and wasn’t afraid to attempt a difficult throw rather than look for checkdowns. The Baylor offense doesn’t use a lot of checkdown stuff, it really is screen-heavy with downfield passing and some intermediate routes. Even so, the big issue I have with quarterbacks like Kevin Kolb is the frequency they play safe to checkdown. Griffin is almost the anti-Kolb but not in a bad way – he’s pretty accurate on downfieldthrows and he’s got a good feel for the football, knowing when to take something off the ball or to go high/low to avoid coverage. I don’t anticipate he’ll change much at the next level, taking what he’s given downfield if possible, but being wise enough to know when to checkdown.
If you look at yesterday’s video and the touchdown pass at 3:47 – that’s a brilliant play. It’s only a short completion, but Griffin disects two defenders and recognises he needs to throw low to avoid them. There’s a greater risk that the pass will be incomplete, but there’s virtually zero chances of a turnover. It’s that kind of execution and quick thinking that will impress NFL scouts.
The athletic side of Griffin’s game speaks for itself – he will run a good forty yard dash at the combine and he’s got the double positive of being elusive in the pocket to extend plays and a threat running the ball if he finds a lane.
I find it hard to find a par comparison for the player Griffin could be in the NFL. He’s not Michael Vick. At Virginia Tech Vick had 636 yards from 113 attempts with nine touchdowns the year before he turned pro. Vick actually only threw 179 passes that year for 1439 yards and a mediocre 9-7 touchdown-turnover ratio. Griffin works in a completely different offense and has been a much more productive passer throughout his career (3501 yards last season) but less of an explosive rusher (635 yards in 2010 from 149 carries). Essentially it took Vick 46 less carries to reach the same yardage as Griffin managed in 2010. Vick is such a phenomena that we may never see a player with his physical potential again. It’s not just on a production basis that the two differ, there are also physical and athletic differences. Griffin is a brilliant athlete, but he isn’t Mike Vick.
I’ve also seen comparisons to Cam Newton, but again I think they are wide of the mark. I cannot stress enough how impressive Newton was/is. Despite a lot of negative press last year at Auburn, he carried that team through his own sheer brilliance. I suspect in a few years time we may well talk about Newton in the same way we talk about Vick – this is a rare breed of player that will bring his own unique twist to the NFL. Griffin is a safer pair of hands than Newton when it comes to decision making, character and controlling an offense, but Newton is just a complete superstar. He’s harder to control and manage, but you don’t want to control or manage him. You let the guy loose, you let him make big plays using his own talent and instinct. Griffin is much more of a project than Vick or Newton and can’t be expected to have the same impact early in his NFL career.
According to my sources Seattle didn’t grade Newton particularly highly. I suspect this is because they’re looking for a quarterback who can fit into a scheme and help control a possession offense and help win a turnover battle (whether that’s the correct way of viewing Seattle’s needs at QB is another debate completely). Newton would never fit into that way of life - he’s someone who won’t be controlled on the field and will have turnovers in his career. However, he’ll also keep you competitive in most games because of his pure individual talent. If Newton finds a level of consistency he could become a NFL great. That will be his greatest battle though, and I suspect he’ll always be somewhat unpredictable. That may not be what Pete Carroll wants for his offense.
Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, and Andy Dalton were all listed above Newton on Seattle’s board. Jake Locker – another precocious but unpredictable talent – was ranked at #6. I suspect someone like Griffin may interest the Seahawks given his low number of turnovers (13 in four years compared to 61 touchdowns), his impressive on and off field intelligence, decision making and ability to extend plays. I can’t stress enough how impressive Griffin the individual is. The players at Baylor see him as a leader and put their necks on the line for him. His interviews are always conducted with respect and without attitude. He has a high level of book smarts and a work rate that is clear given his continued progress. This brings me onto my final point…
The one thing teams love to see more than anything is progress. Matt Barkley has made progress every year at USC – whether it’s technique, production or decision making. Andrew Luck – despite setting high bars in 2010 – has actually managed to continue to progress. Yet both players entered college as talented, natural quarterbacks. Griffin’s progress is maybe more impressive because he was an athlete who has transformed into a passing quarterback. Go back and find tape of Griffin’s freshman year and tell me that’s a guy with any NFL quarterback potential. Even last year I watched Baylor and wondered if I could muster a late round grade for the guy. Now? We’re talking about him in a whole new light.
He has worked at his craft and it shows. Griffin doesn’t just deserve immense credit, he’ll be making people sit up and take notice. He may not declare for the 2012 draft and he’s looked at the possibility of attending law school if he stays at Baylor for a 5th year (he was granted a medical redshirt in 2009). If he does declare, he’ll star at the combine in work outs and in the meeting rooms. Teams are going to fall in love with this guy – from an athletic, academic and personal perspective.
For those reasons, there’s every chance he could end up being a very high pick indeed. Would I pull the trigger? I’m still not convinced, because he is a long term project and there are lingering issues that would concern me enough to put me off investing a high pick. Someone will be convinced though when it’s time to make the decision and that’s the crucial thing when trying to project where he’ll go in the draft. I wouldn’t completely rule out that someone being Pete Carroll or John Schneider.
To learn more about Robert Griffin III, check out this USA Today article by Kelly Whiteside.