Why Robert Griffin III is better than we all think

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Yesterday, our own Marc Rutledge wrote a column asking whether or not Robert Griffin III is an elite quarterback. His answer was an unequivocal yes, and I couldn’t agree more.

In this twitter society, our attention spans have been reduced to nanoseconds. Every opinion we have is based off of what we’ve heard or seen in the last five minutes. Did RGIII have a bad year last season? Well, if you’re only looking at the Redskins’ record or RGIII’s statistics, absolutely. But if you take into account the entirety of the situation, absolutely not.

Until Adrian Petersen returned from his ACL tear in less than a year, that kind of recovery was unheard of. I understand that medical advances have severely shortened the timetable for ACL recovery, but come on, it’s not like that type of injury won’t affect you for some time, especially if your entire game is based around being one of the fastest, most athletic and most elusive players in league history.

There is no doubt that RGIII’s injury—more importantly, the knee brace it forced him to wear—had a huge impact on his athleticism. One of the best parts of his game was essentially taken away for an entire season. He didn’t run nearly as often, whether it be from a called play or a scramble, and that affected how defenses played the Redskins’ offense.

Still, though, RGIII was able to perform. His numbers don’t look great, but you have to remember that he only played in 13 games.

Here’s a blind look at the sophomore season of three “running quarterbacks” (extrapolated for 16 games).

Player A: Passing – 485 Att/57.7 Cmp%/3,869 Yds/19 TD/12 Int
Rushing – 127 Att/741 Yds/5.8 Avg/ 8 TD

Player B: Passing – 561 Att/60.1 Cmp%/3,942 Yds/20 TD/15 Int
Rushing – 106 Att/602 Yds/5.7 Avg/ 0 TD

Player C: Passing – 449 Att/54.9 Cmp%/3,132 Yds/17 TD/9 Int
Rushing – 121 Att/829 Yds/6.9 Avg/ 9 TD

Just looking at those three seasons, there isn’t all that much that stands out to me. Sure, each player did something a little worse or a little better, but on the whole, each season is fairly comparable.

So who are they? Player A is Cam Newton, Player B is RGIII and Player C is Michael Vick.

My point is that if we are to classify RGIII as a “running quarterback”, which is fair evaluation at this point in his career, than even in his worst season—coming off of an ACL tear, where he was left hobbled and in a clunky brace—he still put up numbers close to that of two of the best “running quarterbacks” ever.

Now, is the term “running quarterback” a slight at RGIII? No, not at all. He is a quarterback who’s greatness stems from his ability to use his legs. That doesn’t mean he can’t drop back and pass; it just means that it’s not the best part of his game.

That said, I, along with everyone else, may be underestimating RGIII’s ability to sling the ball from the pocket. Maybe we should really be comparing him to “pass-first quarterbacks.”

Here’s one more player comparison.

RGIII: Passing – 561 Att/60.1 Cmp%/3,942 Yds/20 TD/15 Int
Rushing – 106 Att/602 Yds/5.7 Avg/ 0 TD

Player X: Passing – 570 Att/60.2 Cmp%/3,822 Yds/23 TD/9 Int
Rushing – 63 Att/377 Yds/6.0 Avg/ 4 TD

So who is Player X? It’s the one and only Andrew Luck. The quarterback taken one spot ahead of RGIII in the 2012 draft, and the quarterback everyone has begun elevating into the top-tier of elite NFL quarterbacks.

Now, I’m not saying Luck is being overrated. He’s amazing. But so is RGIII.

Look at those numbers. The differences are minute. These are both two fantastic, young quarterbacks who will be the faces of the league before too long.

It is imperative that we remember that RGIII is only entering his third year in the NFL. There’s still plenty of time for him to grow and improve. Last year was an ugly year in many respects, but it definitely wasn’t a throwaway.

RGIII’s rushing attempts dropped by 34 and his average fell by over one yard per carry. At the same time, because he wasn’t rushing as often, he was afforded the ability to develop his skills as a passer. If extrapolated across a full 16 games, he would have attempted almost 200 more passes than his rookie year. At times it was definitely rocky; his 12 interceptions were too much, but the experience gained will only help him in the future.

This season, RGIII will be fully healthy for the first time in over a year, and while he may not be “elite” yet, he will be by the end of this season.

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