- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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I do not think Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was trying to insult Carolina's Cam Newton on Wednesday when he told reporters he'd "rather be compared to an Aaron Rodgers or a guy like that, someone who has won Super Bowls." But if he ended up insulting those who have been trying since the spring to force the too-easy comparison between him and Newton, then good. They deserve it.
I understand why it happens. Griffin and Newton are the past two Heisman Trophy winners. They both came into the league running option offenses that look more college than pro and stand out as odd and difficult -- at first sight -- to stop. And, I think, their skin color unfortunately leads a lot of people who aren't looking closely enough to group them together. After all, the Colts' Andrew Luck is much closer in size to Newton and was, like Newton, picked No. 1 overall. Why is no one in a hurry to compare those two? Maybe for the same reason that everyone last year wanted to compare Newton to Michael Vick, when the better comparison would have been Ben Roethlisberger?
For a variety of reasons, it's Griffin and Newton -- who face each other Sunday for the first time -- who seem to beg the comparisons. When I saw what Griffin had to say about those comparisons this week, my first thought was, "Good for him."
Newton's accomplishments as a rookie were tremendous -- statistical brilliance to which every rookie quarterback from this day forward will justifiably aspire. There's little doubt that Griffin would be happy ending the season with numbers comparable to Newton's rookie season: 4,051 passing yards, 706 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns. Newton was a breathtaking force in 2011, close to unstoppable some weeks and setting the bar very high for Griffin, Luck and any other rookie who follows him.
But Griffin's point is that he expects to be more than just the next dazzling rookie. Griffin wants everyone to know he's thinking beyond 2012 and beyond the numbers. The stat from Newton's rookie season he'd most like to beat is the six victories, and he'd like to beat it by quite a bit. Presented with a chance to play along with the idea that he and Newton are similar, Griffin swatted away the very premise. He wants to make it clear that he intends to be his own man, with his own accomplishments.
The two are not, after all, that similar. Yes, they both can run the ball, but the way Newton ran the ball last year is completely different from the way Griffin runs it this year. Newton is much larger and can be used near the goal line as a power running back who finishes off drives by punching the ball into the end zone. Far away from the goal line, even last year, he was less inclined to scramble out of the pocket and more inclined to stay put until Steve Smith could get open downfield.
Griffin, whose smaller frame probably couldn't take the beating Newton did as a goal-line runner in 2011, operates much differently. He's a lot more inclined to scramble out of the pocket, either to extend the play and give his downfield options more time to get open, to gain yards with his legs or to stretch out an option play. Defenses in 2011 had to fear Newton as a runner specifically in short-yardage situations or as an alternative to early-down run plays with the backs. Defenses in 2012 have to fear Griffin as a lightning-quick outside runner who can take off at any time, from anywhere on the field, and potentially hit a big play.
Some will raise personality contrasts as well, and although each of these quarterbacks is obviously a different person, I hesitate to jump in that boat. Newton is making news this year for his surly, pouty demeanor on the sideline and in news conferences, and Griffin is drawing raves for his perpetually upbeat and uplifting persona. But a lot of last year's Newton stories were of his broad, winning smile and youthful energy. We haven't seen Griffin handle adversity yet, and we can't know what he'll be like once he does. So we can give Newton a break from that part of the comparison even as we continue to admire the way Griffin has carried himself so far.
But there is much to like about Griffin, and there would be even if he hadn't come into the league one year after Newton did. Griffin is a phenomenon impressive enough to stand on its own -- to wow us all, even out of context. He is strong and capable enough to forge his own rookie season, his own career and his own legacy without forced, simplistic comparisons to others. The fact that he stood up for himself and that concept when first presented other people's efforts to compare him to Newton tells you all you need to know about his intention to do just that.