Should Colts have drafted Robert Griffin III?
Monday, September 10, 2012 at 5:22 PM
Apparently NFL “experts” do not watch much college football because if they did, Robert Griffin III’s
scintillating debut performance in a 40-32 win over the New Orleans Saints would not come as such a surprise. Then again I shouldn’t be too harsh, since I might have been the only person outside of Waco to watch Baylor football games the last few years. I guess living in Big 12 country did have a few perks.
While #2 pick RG III (19-26, 320 yards, 2 touchdowns, 42 rushing yards) was outdueling Drew Brees in The Big Easy, #1 pick Andrew Luck
struggled to fulfill the promise of ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., IndyStar’s Bob Kravitz, and so many others as the most polished/ NFL-ready quarterback in years. The rookie out of Stanford finished 23-45 for 309 yards, 1 TD, 3 interceptions, and a lost fumble in the 41-21 loss at Chicago. For what it’s worth, Peyton Manning
was 21-37 for 302 yards, 1 TD and 3 interceptions in a 24-15 loss to the Dolphins in his 1998 debut.
To be frank, the Indianapolis Colts offensive line sucks, but this is pro football, where decisions must be quick and precise. Luck missed several open receivers high when Bears defenders were in his grill and two of his interceptions were on underthrown balls which lacked the necessary zip to reach the intended target in stride.
A few hours later Manning made his Denver Broncos debut, where he bludgeoned the Pittsburgh Steelers to death with completions inside 20 yards. In a play eerily similar to last year's Playoff overtime game winner against the Steelers, Demaryius Thomas took a six yard pass from Manning (instead of Tim Tebow) an additional 65 yards for a touchdown. The NFL's only four time MVP finished 19-26 for 253 yards and 2 TDs in his first game in twenty months.
It remains to be seen if Manning can still throw the deep ball with accuracy, but even if he can't, I have a feeling he'll be the Eddie Vedder of quarterbacks. The Pearl Jam lead singer used to climb concert sets 50 feet above the stage and dive into crowds, but he's changed his demeanor and sound as time has caught up with him. Manning will know his limitations and do the same, even if he's no longer known as the "laser rocket arm" QB.
Sure enough talking heads like Jason Whitlock and Skip Bayless asked the inevitable dumb question, “If Manning is going to be Manning for 2 or 3 years, did the Colts make a mistake?”
Those who follow the franchise closely and understand the business aspect of football, as well as the game itself, would say owner Jim Irsay
made the right decision by cutting Manning. When the choice needed to be made, there were too many questions about whether the 36 year old would be cleared to play again after his four neck surgeries.
You can’t gamble on the future of your franchise from a financial or competitive standpoint with that much uncertainty. The year before Manning’s injury, the team finished 10-6 in the mediocre AFC South, and lost the opening home playoff game against the New York Jets. It was quite evident former team president Bill Polian’s
poor draft picks, roster additions, and contracts were too much even for Manning to conceal. Whitlock, Bayless, and certain fans will conveniently forget that.
As a Colts fan, I couldn’t be happier that Manning defied the odds in his significant recovery and is playing for the franchise he shredded several times in the Playoffs. I will be rooting for Denver in every game they aren’t playing Indianapolis, yet there’s not a doubt in my mind that Irsay made the correct “rebuilding” call with the information he had at hand. You build for the future, not for an 8-8 season with an aging/injured/overpaid quarterback. Can you imagine Manning playing behind the current Colts offensive line without upgrading his life insurance policy?
However, I question whether the Colts chose the right quarterback prospect in this year’s draft. No, I’m not talking about Brandon Weeden. Luck had been on scout’s radar for so long as a “can’t miss” player or "safe pick", that I wonder if Griffin III largely going unobserved at Baylor until half-way through his medical red shirt junior season caused him to be graded unfairly. Also, is there such a thing as a "safe pick"? Remember when scouts told us linebacker Aaron Curry
fit that description coming out of Wake Forest? Seattle gave up on him after 2 1/2 seasons.
Lazy scouting reports compared RG III to Michael Vick, overlooking just how gifted he was as a passer. Which isn't nearly as bad as ESPN's Todd McShay
projecting Griffin III as a wide receiver in the NFL. Perhaps someone sent him game tape of Denard Robinson instead. He completed 60% of his passes as a freshman, 67% as a sophomore, 72% as a junior, and threw 78 touchdowns to only 17 interceptions for his career.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner showed Brees-like passing ability in college, but also had NCAA track athlete speed to burn as a last resort. Honestly, there hasn’t been a player come out of college that had this much skill in every facet. Most scouts are just now realizing it, but Yahoo!'s Doug Farrar was on point six months ago
During the 2011 college football season, Griffin III completed 50.9% of his passes on throws 25+ yards downfield, while Luck only completed 31.6% on those throws. Baylor obviously had better wide receivers than Stanford, but the stat clearly illustrates how RG III's deep accuracy could translate to the NFL. Despite starting three years for the Cardinal, the offensive system and limitations in Luck's supporting cast left a lot of unanswered questions about his arm strength. I just didn't see Luck rip it in games like I saw with Griffin III.
The thing that most concerns me about Luck is that he’s a touch passer right now. Instead of flicking the ball like Rodgers and Brady, Luck tends to float the ball to receivers (see: Matt Cassel, Carson Palmer). Griffin III has been much more impressive in the fact that the ball gets to his teammates in a hurry, giving them time to get yards after the catch. Some scouts alluded to arm strength as a possible weakness for Luck, and after watching some of his downfield throws against Chicago, I’m equally alarmed.
Quarterbacks are now entering the NFL more prepared to succeed right away than players coming in the league ten years ago. So when people laugh at the similarities in Luck and Manning in their forgettable debuts, it isn’t quite funny or ironic. Obviously there's plenty of time for Luck to improve, and he's far from a finished product, but you hope Irsay and his staff didn't pick the wrong guy because of groupthink.
Today, fans are asking whether or not the Colts should have kept Manning. Today, fans are asking the wrong question.
Updated Stats for Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III
Luck- 22 of 44, 280 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, -1 yard rushing, 1 fumble lost, 51.3 QB rating, 35-9 loss @ Jets
Griffin III- 17 of 22, 182 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 138 yards rushing, 1 rushing TD, 97.2 QB rating, 38-26 win vs. Vikings
118 of 221 (53.4%), 1,488 yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs, 103 yards rushing, 1 TD, 2 fumbles lost, 72 QB rating (3rd worst in the NFL), 2-3 record
Griffin III- 113 of 161 (70.2%), 1,343 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs, 379 yards rushing, 6 TDs, 1 fumble lost, 100.5 QB rating (3rd in the NFL), 3-3 record