Below you’ll find four videos featuring Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor). The first video is every snap Griffin impacted in last year’s Texas Bowl where Baylor were defeated convincingly by Illinois. The next three videos feature tape from 2011 – every snap Griffin took in the games against TCU, Texas A&M and most recently, Missouri. I’ll break down and analyse the Tigers game from last Saturday later in this piece as it’s the freshest example of what Griffin’s going to bring to the NFL if he chooses to declare as a fourth-year junior. However, before you read on I would urge you to watch tape of the Illinois game and then watch at least one of the 2011 videos. Compare and contrast what you see.
Thanks to JMPasq for supplying the game tape
Robert Griffin III provides one of the great mysteries of this year’s potential draft class. I’m struggling to grade Griffin, despite the fact I’ve watched more of his tape this year than the vast majority of players eligible for the 2012 draft.
If you took the opportunity to watch the Illinois tape, you’ll probably come to the same conclusion I did. I’d seen Baylor a few times in 2010 and never been particularly taken by their quarterback. It’s a heavy screen game – lot’s of passes into the flats, a high percentage for completions but not a lot of real productivity. Essentially, Baylor’s offense was built around getting the ball to track-star athletes playing receiver and trying to create outside space to use that electrifying speed. Griffin was the middle man and very rarely was he asked to make any passes you could grade down as evidence of next-level ability. His skills as an athlete to run with the ball offered a zone-read option – another feature that doesn’t translate to the NFL. Overall, it wasn’t very impressive if you’re a team looking for a franchise quarterback.
I came into the 2011 season wondering if Griffin was even draftable. Maybe someone would give him a try, but who? In fairness I suspect he had similar realistic ambitions which is why he talked during the summer about staying for a fifth year at Baylor and attending law school, having already completed his degree in political science. He’s an intelligent and personable individual and while football made him a star in college, it wouldn’t necessarily make him a star as a professional. Nobody was talking about Robert Griffin III as a pro-prospect, let alone someone that could potentially be a first round pick.
Now, everything has changed.
The reason I wanted to highlight that Illinois tape from the Texas Bowl is simply to emphasise the development Griffin has gone through. Look at any of the three subsequent videos and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching two completely different players. Suddenly he’s driving the ball downfield with great consistency, he’s making touch throws at every level (short range, intermediate, deep) and he’s progressing through a couple of good, quick reads. I’ve talked a lot about the footwork and mechanical improvements he’ll need to make, but this is just about as good as it gets in terms of a twelve-month improvement.
All kinds of questions eminate from that. Is it testament to a man who’s worked at his craft knowing he needed to make several improvements for a shot at the NFL? Do we credit the coaches? Ultimately this development will have needed some tuition. Is it simply down to experience? How much better can he get either with further playing time at Baylor or by moving to the NFL to work full-time on honing his skills?
It’s that final question that intrigues me the most and makes Griffin such an unknown. Right now he has some attractive pro-features and there are also some things to work on. However, if we can see this level of improvement as he grows at Baylor – what level could he achieve being managed in the NFL? Are we looking at a player with elite potential here? Are we looking at a player who just works harder than everyone else and has clicked for one great year and actually may struggle to make further gains? Is he maxed out?
The only time we’ll find the answer to that is the day Griffin is standing in a NFL stadium and he’s throwing the football. I suspect some teams will be enamoured by the potential, yet others will avoid the unknown. Someone will believe in this guy, probably enough to make him a relatively early pick. So that leads to two further obvious questions – will Pete Carroll be that man to believe in Robert Griffin III and just how high would a team be willing to draft him? Top ten? First round? Early second round similar to Colin Kaepernick?
We know the Seahawks had some interest in Kaepernick last year – enough to put him at #2 on their list of quarterbacks behind Blaine Gabbert and just above Andy Dalton. We also understand that had they been able to trade down into the early part of round two, they would’ve considered drafting Kaepernick who eventually went in that range to San Francisco.
Griffin has some similarities to the former Nevada passer – they’re both athletic player with running ability, both own strong arms but require mechanical tweaks to their technique, they’ll both enter the league considered longer term projects than some other quarterbacks but there’s also lot’s of physical potential and both are considered strong characters, good leaders and hard workers. There are, of course, strong differences between the two and I believe Griffin is a more polished overall passer, but he’s less of a threat as a runner. If the Seahawks rated Kaepernick as a potential early second round pick, would Griffin get a similar grade? Or is the mere interest in Kaepernick to begin with enough to suggest that maybe this team would possibly take Griffin earlier given the growing need to solve the quarterback dilemma?
I’m going to move on from Kaepernick for now and leave that comparison – mainly because he’s yet to even start a NFL game and there are differences between the two that I won’t go into here. I’ve not seen anyone in the NFL I can logically compare to Griffin. More on that in a moment, but for now let’s get into the Missouri tape…
The first play that stands out comes at exactly the 1:00 minute mark. It’s a 4WR set with two go routes on the outside. Griffin takes the snap in the shotgun before making an initial red to his left, then coming back to the right hand side to search for a second target. None of the receivers run a good route in fairness and the offensive line are unable to maintain a clean pocket for any suitable amount of time to let the play develop. Griffin detects the pressure after the second read and is able to step up into the pocket and scramble to the right hand side. He can run here but instinctively holds up at the LOS to make a pass, throwing back across his body. The throw is high and asks a lot of Kendall Wright, who jumps at full stretch but only manages to get a finger tip to the ball. If you were being kind to you could say he put the ball in an area only the receiver could get it, but ultimately the receiver doesn’t because it’s marginally inaccurate.
What I liked about this play though was the ability to feel the pressure without letting it impact the play. He still makes two reads and he doesn’t linger on a target when it’s time to move. Buying time for throw gives him the chance to make a completion and he doesn’t sell out on the play to make a run for it. The pass was difficult across his body, but almost completed. With a degree of better accuracy, that could’ve been a play scouts return to when trying to make a strong case for drafting Griffin. It may remain a good example anyway.
Running with the ball is a concern for me. In fact, I’d go as far to say Griffin is a bit of a liability here. Yes he’s an athlete who can get the first down when the pass breaks down and potentially even make the big unexpected play. However, ball security is a major problem and his lack of bulk and upright running style could make him an easy target. The Missouri game isn’t the first game he’s fumbled the ball carrying it in a bad position. If we’re going to talk about Griffin as a threat running in space, he has to avoid turnovers by doing a better job of protecting the ball. His running style involves a lot of arm movement, but he needs to tuck the ball closer to his chest and not leave it open to be punched out. I counted three fumbles in this game, two from running plays. It’s something I’ve noticed in other games this year and I suspect it’ll happen again.
He’s got excellent straight line speed and he’s definitely an athlete but whether he’s holding back due to his previous knee injury or whether he’s just not that elusive, Griffin never seems to break open the huge gain with his legs despite having the opportunity to run on a number of plays. That’s not a big deal, because you dont want the quarterback running too much at the next level anyway. However, I think it brings some reality to Griffin’s status because he’s not going to be an explosive Michael Vick-type runner. He may be a better passer than Vick though and his on-field IQ certainly matches the strong academic intelligence he’s shown with his studies.
What I really like about Griffin is the way he reacts to the environment around him and undoubtedly that’s one of the reasons he’s limited turnovers this year. When he needs to he can get out of a bad situation or play call. If a pass rusher gets in his face just as he’s ready to release, he won’t just jam it in there regardless. Instead, he’ll pull the ball down and look to extend the play for a better passing lane or a run. When he’s in the pocket and the protection fails, he won’t bail too soon and he keeps his eyes downfield. Griffin has consistently shown he understands when to move out of the pocket to buy extra time and when it makes sense to stand tall and deliver the football. When you’re constantly aware of what’s unfolding in front of you, a quarterback can make better decisions and he can improvise. I need to see a quarterback in college that’s able to make something from a broken play, or at least not be tied to the script. Griffin does that.
The evidence this season shows his placement is fantastic and he plays the percentages. He’s got a rare and under rated talent – which some would write off as conservative – and that’s to put the pass in a position where either his receiver is getting it or nobody is. He’s not ultra-cautious with this with constant check downs all the time (Kevin Kolb) or fearing any pass beyond 20-yards (Kevin Kolb). He’s prepared to take on a pass in a tight window. However, you notice in the red zone how he throws low and that’s a good skill to have. He limits the take away potential and although it demands more from the receiver, they have the opportunity to respond and make a play. It’s another reason why he has such a low number of turnovers.
One of my favorite plays from the Missouri game came at 4:25. He takes the snap in the gun and pumps with his shoulder to the outside right sideline before throwing a really difficult pass for a ten-yard gain to a receiver in single coverage. He actually throws over two defenders who both leap for the ball, but the pass is too good. That’s perfect placement and touch.
The announcer at 5:28 made a slight complaint with a pass featured, where Griffin is hammered by a defensive lineman but still gets the throw off with decent velocity. It’s high and misses the target, but I still think the receiver could do a better job at trying to catch that ball. If he makes that pass, it’d be twice as much of a positive than missing the target is a negative.
Footwork still a problem and I suspect this isn’t going to be something addressed in 2011. Griffin still dances in the pocket too much and it hurts his ability to get the quick release. I wouldn’t be surprised if he misses the occasional opportunity because he has to keep re-setting to deliver the football. If he drops back and the receiver gets instant separation, by the time he’s taken two steps and then needed to plant both feet the chance might have gone. It’s not just missing chances that will occur through this, the extra time wasted will give defensive lineman a chance to reach the quarterback. The constant re-setting also sometimes puts Griffin’s body shape into an awkward position and while I’ve not seen any instances where this has impacted a throw yet, it’s something I’ve started to look for in each new game.
This is a big issue, but not impossible to fix quickly. Joe Flacco basically had to learn to drop-back from scratch as a rookie. He also had to learn the whole concept of footwork and how it can help a quarterback, yet he still started as a rookie and has been a regular feature for the Baltimore Ravens ever since. Good coaching helped Flacco and there’s every chance it could help Griffin too. Most quarterbacks have some technical flaws to work on when they enter the NFL – thankfully footwork is easier to fix than a throwing motion or a weak arm. Griffin should be fine if he gets the right coaching, but eliminating the pressure to start quickly would help in the long term (as it would for most rookies).
The touchdown at 7:25 is a thing of beauty. Shotgun snap and Griffin doesn’t like his first read. He scrambles right to avoid an outside rush to the strong side before throwing a lazer to the receiver in the end zone. It’s a textbook throw on the run, mechanically very good with the exact necessary velocity with two defensive backs in the region. A lot of players can’t put that level of power into a throw while running, it’s often lofted into the end zone, broken up or intercepted. That’s a touchdown because Griffin can put the required zip on the ball in that situation. When you see the all-22 replay you realise what a special pass that is. It’s a tiny window to throw into, he’s made a split second decision to make the pass and he’s executed to perfection. That may be the second most impressive pass I’ve seen this season after Geno Smith’s impossibly brilliant pass against LSU.
His deep accuracy is very good and remains a positive overall but it’s not perfect. The pass at 8:06 should’ve been a touchdown and Griffin just misses by over shooting. He has to make that throw and it’s as poor as the touchdown mentioned above was exceptional.
They went back to this play at 10:57 and this time made the downfield completion for a big touchdown. I need to decide if this great deep accuracy translates to the NFL because Baylor’s receivers are all very quick. In the NFL, the cornerbacks are generally quick too and they’ll do a better job disrupting your route early in the play. He’s often throwing downfield to players who can create separation through pure speed. It’ll be harder at the next level, but not impossible. My assessment, having seen so many of Griffin’s deep completions now, is that this is a translatable skill but one that must be tempered. He’s not going to do this every week in the pro’s, but it’s good to know he can keep a defense honest with his deep ball and it’s not just a throw and hope either. There is some thought going into these long passes and it’ll be a weapon to take into the pro’s.
I’ve watched more Griffin tape than I usually need to see to make a judgement on a prospect and stick to my guns. Even now I’m still confused as to what’s holding me back from just saying, ‘you know what, this guy is a top pick after all’. Maybe it’s time to give him the high grade? Maybe it’s because there’s nobody quite like him already in the league? He’s not Cam Newton, he’s not Michael Vick. He’s Robert Griffin. The simple fact is we may never know whether a Robert Griffin type player will work until we see it with our own eyes on a Sunday. He is, quite simply, a unique football player. Aside from mechanical tweaks and footwork issues, I’m not sure there’s any reason not to take on the RG3 experiment.
So would the Seahawks be interested? Very possibly. Using what information we have (previously signed players, interviews, previous targets, declared philosophy) I think the Seahawks are looking for a quarterback who can lead a ball control offense. They’re not necessarily looking for a Cam Newton-type. I’m a big fan of Newton’s and was among the first to tout him as a probable #1 pick last year, but he’s the kind of player you cannot manage. He’ll go out to lead a drive and you won’t know what to expect – he’s unpredictable. By the end of this year most of his touchdowns could be on broken plays or improvised decisions. A lot of his turnovers may have happened when he’s stuck to the script and tried to force it. Newton is a rare talent with major potential, but he’s also someone who needs to do it his way.
The Seahawks may want a little more control over their quarterback. That’s not to say they don’t want someone who can improvise and make something out of nothing, but they proabably want to limit the risks a little more and make a concerted effort to restrict turnovers. They want someone who’s mobile enough to extend plays, but also someone who can sit in the pocket and take what a defense offers. The Seahawks want to utilise a deep ball, but there’s also a lot of orthodox WCO short passes and game management.
When you sit down and think about it, some of the best quarterbacks in the league fit that bill. Aaron Rodgers isn’t a big risk taker, but he manipulates a defense and can extend plays to improvise. He has an arm to drive the ball downfield. He limits turnovers. It’s not that the Seahawks are necessarily looking for a lesser player – they perhaps just don’t want the unpredictable loose cannon who makes it up as he goes along but is talented enough to thrive in that mould (which in fairness, also represents a portion of the NFL’s better QB’s).
Griffin fits into what I suspect the Seahawks want from their quarterback. The question that lingers is whether or not they’d see him as a top-ten pick type talent or someone they don’t trust enough to hand over the keys to future success. Pete Carroll may only get one shot at drafting a franchise quarterback, so he has to get it right. I suspect other teams could see Griffin as worthy of the high pick and waiting for him later on may lead to a dead end. Will he declare? If he gets a high grade from the draft committee I think he will and it’ll complete the transformation of a player who has grown significantly in the last twelve months. Whether he continues that development in Seattle remains to be seen.