Commentary

Doubters drove RG3 to elevate game

Once-overlooked QB improved across the board during stellar senior season

Originally Published: April 19, 2012
By Sharon Katz and Adam Grigely | ESPN Stats & Information

Entering the 2011 college football season, draft analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. each had three quarterbacks projected as first-round picks in the 2012 NFL draft: Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Landry Jones.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/LM OteroRobert Griffin III's big senior season put him on track to become a top-two pick.

Robert Griffin III was on the outside looking in. Projected as a wide receiver prospect by many, including McShay, Griffin was criticized for his inaccurate deep ball and run-first mentality.

In response to McShay's preseason analysis, Griffin said in a radio interview after winning the Heisman Trophy: "You never want to be looked at as a sure thing in life because it can rob you of your motivation. The guys that did have me, like you said, as a wide receiver, like Mr. Todd McShay before the season, that just motivates me to continue to go out there to be the best."

Motivated by his doubters, Griffin had an impressive final season at Baylor that catapulted him to the second overall quarterback prospect in the draft. But is Griffin's draft position simply a supply-and-demand situation, or did Griffin show the skills pro personnel departments crave?

The supply of top quarterbacks for the 2012 draft is certainly limited after Barkley and Jones decided to return for their senior seasons. Other top prospects struggled with injuries, age questions and inexperience throughout the draft process. But Griffin separated himself in his final season at Baylor, improving upon his weaknesses and proving his doubters wrong.

Griffin's greatest improvement was his accuracy throwing deep. In his final five games of 2010, Griffin was 1-of-22 with a touchdown and three interceptions on throws of 25-plus yards. In 2011, Griffin was the most accurate deep passer in the nation, completing more than half of his passes and throwing an FBS-best 20 touchdowns on passes thrown this distance.

Similarly, Griffin's accuracy improved versus added pressure, a trait that pro scouts desire. Versus five or more pass-rushers in conference play, Griffin's completion percentage jumped from 64.2 in 2010 to 70.0 in 2011.

When Griffin did not find open receivers versus pressure, he used his athleticism to get out of the pocket and make plays. Griffin averaged 8.4 yards per scramble, and in a league in which rushes, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns by quarterbacks have increased every year since 2009, his dual-threat capabilities are valuable.

Nonetheless, Griffin insists he is a throw-first quarterback: "I think it's just a misconception that comes with being a dual-threat quarterback: You're run first, throw second. I think I've proven I'm throw first, then run if I need to."

Because of his dual-threat capabilities, Griffin has often been compared to Cam Newton, but Griffin's college offense focused more on passing than Newton's. In Griffin's final season at Baylor, he attempted 110 fewer designed rushes than Newton did in his 2010 season at Auburn.

Additionally, Griffin passed on more than 84 percent of his drop-backs, which was a slightly higher percentage than Newton's at Auburn. Eighty-three percent of those passes came from inside the pocket, where Griffin completed more than three-quarters of his attempts.

As with Newton, scouts have questioned whether Griffin can make the transition from a spread offense to a pro-style system in which he would have to take snaps from under center. Newton took 95.7 percent of his snaps from the shotgun in Auburn's spread offense but was able to adapt fairly easily to a pro-style system in his first year in the NFL, completing a similar percentage of passes in shotgun and under center.

Last season, Griffin took 88 percent of his pass attempts from the shotgun, but his numbers from under center were actually better than his numbers from the shotgun.

Griffin's emergence has come at a time when selecting a quarterback at the top of the draft is perhaps at its most valuable. The new CBA makes it cheaper to pick a quarterback high in the draft than to sign a marquee free agent. Additionally, the league has become so pass-heavy that it is now imperative to have a franchise quarterback in order to succeed. Over the past five seasons, every quarterback who started in the Super Bowl was a potential Hall of Famer.

In that same time period, the Washington Redskins, who traded up to acquire the second overall pick, have had five different starting quarterbacks; only Todd Collins, who went 3-0 in 2007, won at least half of his games.

Griffin could bring consistency to a team that needs it at the position. Since 2008, the Redskins have ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in Total QBR (46.8), and they really struggled throwing deep last season, an area that Griffin excelled at in his final year at Baylor.

The demand is high for starting NFL quarterbacks, and the supply of top QBs entering the draft is low, but Griffin has shown that he has improved in the areas necessary to be considered among the top QB prospects in the past few years. If the Washington Redskins select Griffin with the No. 2 overall pick, they could be changing the direction of the franchise for the next decade.