Special contributions from Jay Beck of turfbuner.com
The stage is set for the 2012 NFL Draft and with it the Washington Redskins making Robert Griffin III the second overall pick. The Heisman winning quarterback from Baylor is the player head coach Mike Shanahan traded up from the sixth spot to get in an attempt to secure a potential franchise QB of the beleaguered team. But will the cost of mortgaging the future for one player prove to be a worthy investment or will the move result in Shanahan joining an expanding list of coaches who have failed in Washington?
Though it’s difficult to predict if college talent will translate into professional success, the following examines why there are more than a few reasons to believe that the Redskins’ future will not be so bright with Griffin on the roster and Shanahan on the sidelines.
The Cam Newton Effect
Let’s start off with the obvious first…if Cam Newton hadn’t had the astounding success he did during his rookie year, would Griffin even be considered a Top 5 pick in the upcoming draft? Probably not. So immediately the Redskins are overpaying by selecting RGIII with the second pick.
However, trends are always big in the NFL and Newton’s rookie campaign opened the eyes of the league to the what could happen with a young athletic, scrambling, big armed quarterback. The logical conclusion is if it worked in Carolina, then it could work in Washington.
The reason that it’s unlikely Griffin will have any degree of immediate success that Newton had is simply that the Redskins’ roster doesn’t possess the same personnel to allow RGIII to succeed.
Prior to drafting Newton, the Panthers ensured that they had a foundation in place that would allow the quarterback to flourish: a solid offensive line, a potential Hall of Fame wide receiver in Steve Smith, the dual threat of two thousand yard rushers in Jonathan Stewart & DeAngelo Williams the backfield, and two proven veterans tight-ends in Greg Olsen & Jeremy Shockey. These players all contributed to the success of Newton’s rookie campaign, one that had the defense been healthier might have resulted in at least a .500 record for Carolina.
Unfortunately for Griffin, Washington’s roster as it currently stands is not stacked with the same talent. The Redskins offensive line is adequate at best. The running game lacks none of the potency that Mike Shanahan offensives are known for, ranking 27th and 25th in rushing over the past two season and currently possess no legitimate threat in the backfield. Despite the addition of Pierre Garcon, the Skins wide receiving corps is littered with more question marks then reliable commodities. The one bright spot on offense just might be tight-end Fred Davis who led the team with 59 receptions last season and racked up 796 yards and 3 touchdowns. Then again Davis was suspending for four games at the end of last season because of failed drug tests.
So if Griffin has half the success of Newton’s rookie year then it should be considered a win for the Skins.
History of Taking the Second Best Quarterback in the Top 5
Since 1967 selecting the second best quarterback in the draft with a Top 5 pick has missed about 45% of the time. Worse for the Redskins, since 1998 teams have had better chance of finding success with a quarterback drafted outside of the Top 5. Names like Hasselbeck, Brady, Bulger, Brees, Schaub, Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Flacco all speak to this point, while names like Russell, Young, Smith (x2), Carr, Harrington, Couch, and Leaf remind us why the draft can be a crap shoot.
This is not to say that there aren’t more misses in the higher rounds, but it speaks to the point that with a quality system in place, along with a strong supporting cast and patience, franchise quarterbacks are just as likely to be found later in the draft as they are early. More importantly imputing an unpolished and talented early draft pick onto a team with serious flaws is historically a recipe for averageness and/or failure, not Lombardi trophies.
To this point, look at all the quarterbacks taken in the Top 5 since the Manning draft of 1998 and the reasons they’ve had success in the NFL. Newton, Stafford, Ryan, Rivers, Palmer, McNabb, and the Manning brothers all had a strong supporting cast on offense and/or good to great defensive units to bolster them. The only exception to the rule has been Michael Vick, though the elusively skilled quarterback has only final begun to reach his potential since become a part of the Philadelphia Eagles and having better players around him.
Nonetheless, in making the move to draft Griffin, Shanahan has effectively rolled the dice and is hoping that the Heisman winner becomes the next Phillip Rivers or Bob Greise and not the next Joey Harrington or Rick Mirer.
The Curse of Heisman Quarterback Winners Past
While Cam Newton apparently seems to be the real deal and the jury may still out on whether or not Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow are legitimate pro quarterbacks, the numbers say that Heisman winners won’t have success in the NFL. Of the 26 other previous quarterbacks who received the award only four have gone on to have success at the position in the NFL (Carson Palmer, Vinny Testaverde, Jim Plunkett, and Roger Staubach). Meaning recipients of the Heisman trophy have about a 15% chance of success as a professional. In fact, only two Heisman winners have lead their teams to a Super Bowl Championships at quarterback (Roger Staubach and Jim Plunkett). Additionally, Staubach is the only quarterback to have won the Heisman, played quarterback in the NFL, and be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
In a league where winning championships is the bottom line, the odds say that Griffin is not the answer to ending the Redskins Super Bowl drought.
Big 12 Quarterbacks in the NFL
Though it might not be exactly fair to compare RGIII to other former Big 12 quarterbacks drafted, it’s not as if the conference has produced a plethora of successful or viable NFL quarterbacks as of late. Since 1998 there have been 14 quarterbacks from the Big 12 drafted and not one has to date had a successful career (though the jury is jury is still out on Josh Freeman, Colt McCoy, and Sam Bradford). Whether this speaks to the spread offenses run in the conference or the less than stellar defenses faced, the fact remains that success in the Big 12 has not translated into success in the NFL. Bradford, Freeman, Griffin, and McCoy could change this fact over the next few years, but the legacies of quarterbacks like Vince Young and Chris Simms will continue to hang a dark cloud over the conference until they do so.
The Shanahan Myth
The one thing that can never be taken away from Mike Shanahan is that he is a multiple Super Bowl winning coach and someone who was once considered an offensive guru. However, since winning Super Bowl XXXIII and losing John Elway to retirement, Shanahan’s success hasn’t been the same. Over the course of his last 12 seasons in Denver and Washington, Shanahan’s teams have a combined winning percentage of .531, with only four playoff appearances and one victory.
Having revived the career of Jake “The Snake” Plummer, Shanahan might have the label of a great quarterback’s coach. However, the fact is every successful year either Plummer or Shanahan’s other quarterback success in Denver Brian Griese, had under the coach was due in large part to a lethal rushing attack that ranked no worse that 4th in the league with an average of 153.3 yards per game (remember that the head coach has been unable to bring a dominating rushing attack to Washington).
The main problem with Shanahan is he hasn’t shown the ability to diagnose talent or create a Super Bowl winning quarterback since John Elway. The coach missed with Griese, Plummer, and Cutler in Denver, followed by a demonstration of complete ineptness by bring in Donovan McNabb into Washington and believing the Rex Grossman or John Beck were viable options as starting quarterbacks.
So why should anyone think that Shanahan can turn Robert Griffin III into an All-Pro, Championship winning quarterback, especially given the fact that the Redskins lack a #1 receiver, possess an average offensive line and rushing attack? Or that Shanahan and his son Kyle will have success with a quarterback of Griffin’s skill set that they’ve never had in their offensive system before?
In spite of these odds does RGIII posses the ability to make the players around him better, lead an NFL team to a championship, and save Mike Shanahan’s reputation and career? Perhaps. Griffin has already had experience in assisting in the turning around of a bad football team.
In three years as the full-time starter at Baylor, Griffin won 12 Big 12 games, one more than the university had won in the previous 12 seasons. Baylor went to a bowl game two out of those three seasons, the university beat Texas twice in a row, and Oklahoma for the first time ever. And of course Griffin brought a Heisman trophy to Waco, something many thought would never be possible. Baylor football is now on the map and largely because of one guy.
Though Griffin is thought of mainly as a huge running threat- which he is – RGIII has improved immensely as a passer during his college career. He completed 59.9% of his passes his freshman season and improved each year to where he completed 72.4% of passes last season. In just over three years, Griffin threw only 17 interceptions while throwing 78 touchdown passes. The quarterback seldom makes bad decisions with the football and is particularly accurate on deep routes.
Overall, RGII could very well be an NFL scout’s dream prospect. His athletic ability is off the charts, he’s an accurate passer, he’s coachable and willing to learn, he works his tail off, and he’s highly unlikely to create any off the field problems for whatever team drafts him. However, Griffin’s success at the NFL level will most likely come down to the Shanahan’s willingness to adjust their offense -at least in the early stages- to play to the quarterback’s strengths.
After years of failed personnel moves and coaches in Washington it’s easy to have a cynical view of anything the Redskins front office does. Unfortunately, history shows that mortgaging the future to select a quarterback in the Top 5 of the draft and placing him on a team that is lacking a solid supporting cast of players and posses a questionable coaching staff is a recipe for failure not success. Throw in the fact that Griffin is a Heisman winner and from the Big 12, and the outlook in Washington is absolutely dismal.
And though there is little doubt that RGII possesses the all the potential to have success as a professional, but why would anyone believe that Mike Shanahan or his son Kyle have the ability to show patience, adjust their playbook (remember how well that worked with McNabb), and groom Griffin to be Super Bowl winning quarterback?
So after years of ineptness at the quarterback position, including Shanahan’s own bumblings over the past two seasons, the drafting of RGIII is unlikely to change the downtrodden mood that people in the DC Area have grown accustom to on the days after Redskins games.
That said if Griffin’s presence on the field does resurrect the one proud franchise and the quarterback leads the Redskins to even one championship, RGIII will be immortalized forever. If not he will join the ranks of other 1st round draft busts and Mike Shanahan will have proven once and for all that his success had more to do with John Elway and Terrel Davis than his coaching abilities.
Many thanks to Jay Beck for his contributions and input about Robert Griffin III. Please take a moment to visit and bookmark his great site turfburner.com, which is my go to source for information on the Big 12 Conference.
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