The Washington Redskins, after a season that stared with such fanfare, are coming off of another apocalyptic failure of a season. True, the team started off as hot as they ever have, going 3-1 in their first four games. Then, after the bye week, things, once again, fell to pieces. The Skins’ defense looked much improved in the pre-season, they drafted well, got rid of Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth. Above all, though, they had two quarterbacks in Rex Grossman and John Beck who looked to be, at the very least, capable. So where did it all go wrong and how can it be fixed in the future?
The defense was generally solid all year long but, for the most part, the offense was simply awful. After a hot start, it became apparent that, “Sexy Rexy,” Grossman (16 TD, 20 Int, 57.9 comp %) wasn’t getting the job done. When the unproven John Beck was pressed into service, he was, if possible, even worse, completing 60.6 percent of his passes and tossing just two touchdowns against four interceptions.
The running game was devastated by injuries but, particularly toward the end of the season, improved significantly. Tim Hightower, despite averaging only 3.8 yards per carry, provided a steady ground presence that helped Grossman and the passing game significantly. After Hightower went down with a torn ACL and his backup Ryan Torain (released Dec. 27) proved ineffective, rookies Roy Helu Jr. (Nebraska) and Evan Royster (Penn State) both stepped up in a big way.
Helu Jr. would finish the season with 640 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The job looked to be his to lose until, in week 17, Evan Royster exploded against the Vikings for 132 yards on 19 carries. As it stands now, he and Helu Jr. will be in a full on competition for the starting roll next season. That should be fun to watch.
So if the main problem wasn’t the defense, the offensive line, or the running game, it had to be the quarterbacks…
And indeed it was. As stated before, Grossman and Beck were ineffective, even pathetic at times and are clearly not the men to lead a team to the championship. Just look at all of the Super Bowl winners since 2000. Aside from the 2000 Ravens (Trent Dilfer) and the 2002 Buccaneers (Brad Johnson), each of whom had one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen, all of the winners had a clear cut franchise quarterback. So it seems very much as if the formula to win in the NFL is to have a top level signal caller leading the team. A good, not great, defense and poor quarterback play is far from the way to go.
Enter Robert Griffin III...
The Redskins, though they may be forced to trade up (not a bad idea, in my opinion), currently hold the sixth pick in the upcoming draft. Assuming that Stanford’s Andrew Luck will be the first player off the board and end up in Indianapolis, Baylor’s “RG3” is the next best quarterback available, and he’s a darn good one. Griffin III completed 72.4 percent of his passes, threw for 4239 yards, 37 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions in this, his redshirt junior season. As if that were not enough, he added 644 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Stats, especially for college players, are far from everything, but those are impressive. The NFL, usually so skeptical of running quarterbacks, was forced to rethink its stance on the issue with the historical rookie season of the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton.
The difference between Griffin and Newton, however, is that, at least in college, Newton was more of a run first quarterback who, while possessing elite talent, ran a simplistic offense. RG3, on the other hand, ran only when he needed to, preferring to use his exceptional athleticism and 4.41 speed to make plays from the pocket. Also, he was a far more accurate passer, particularly on short to intermediate throws than Newton was at Auburn. But don’t let that fool you, Griffin can nickel and dime a defense with the best of them but he also possesses one of the most accurate deep balls around. This is not to say that Cam Newton is in any way bad, just that, entering the draft, he was far less polished than Griffin is now. In short, all of that which bothered NFL scouts about Cam Newton is what they should love about RG3.
As far as his conduct off of the field goes, Griffin appears to be a bright young man of unquestionable character, having already received a Bachelors Degree in political science. Any inexplicably remaining character or doubts were dashed upon his stellar press conference and interviews at the NFL Combine. He was so good, in fact, that ESPN's John Clayon wrote, "Griffin won the news conference by stringing together 15 minutes of answers that, in my opinion, surpassed any combine interview I've witnessed in 24 years of covering this event."
Perhaps the chief example of Griffin’s dedication and discipline is the refinement of his passing game. As we have seen with Tim Tebow, fixing a quarterback’s throwing motion and mechanics is a tremendously difficult feat. The fact that Griffin came to Baylor an under-recruited athlete posing as a quarterback and, just four years later, is leaving as one of the best passers in the nation is testament to both Baylor’s coaching staff and to Griffin’s work ethic and desire to succeed.
So he’s spectacular on the field and squeaky clean off of it? Why then would the Skins not take him? Well, there’s only one reason: the Cleveland Browns. Sitting pretty with the fourth spot in the draft, the Browns are all that stand between the Skins and a potential franchise quarterback. While many mock drafts have Cleveland selecting Alabama running back, Trent Richardson, there have been enough NFL insiders buzzing about how they’ve lost faith in current quarterback, Colt McCoy, to make the Washington front office nervous. Hence all of that talk about trading up. However, trading up to the second pick (currently held by the St. Louis Rams) would come with a hefty price tag, probably containing, at the very least, multiple high round picks. Some say that the Redskins should pass on Griffin, select LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and take a quarterback in a later round (Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden or Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, perhaps). This certainly isn’t a bad idea. Claiborne is a fabulous player and both Weeden and Cousins are shaping up to be good prospects.
So why not do the safe thing? Why not pass on Griffin and address more needs? To answer those questions, simply look at the Miami Dolphins. In 2008, they held the top pick and selected Jake Long, passing, amidst questions concerning his accuracy, on Matt Ryan. Now, Long has developed into one of the best left tackles in the league but Ryan has transformed the Falcons into a perennial contender, leaving Dolphins fans wondering, what if? The Redskins, both their fans and organization cannot afford to be in the same boat. At the very least, trading up and taking RG3 will make it look as if Daniel Snyder and co. are still trying to win.