Since Robert Griffin III won the Heisman in December, he has skyrocketed up draft boards and impressed nearly every single analyst, scout or executive associated with the NFL.
The assumed No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s NFL draft looks physically and mentally ready to have a hugely successful NFL career, and could be the type of player that dominates the league for the next decade.
But when the Washington Redskins traded the house to place themselves in a position to draft Griffin, they only added to the hype and expectations that RGIII will have to live up to next season.
Consider the pressure that Griffin will face in Washington.
The Skins traded the sixth and 39th picks in this year’s draft, as well as first-rounders in 2013 and 2014, to move up and take Griffin. For that unbelievably high price, fans will expect a franchise quarterback right out of the gate, even if the pieces around Griffin are not there.
RGIII will also be asked to start in Week 1, after only one training camp to spend learning the playbook, getting comfortable with the offense and establishing timing with the receivers. That is a lot to expect from any rookie.
Also, thanks to Cam Newton, every city that drafts a quarterback early will have to face comparisons to the terrific rookie season that Newton had. This comparison will be even worse for a mobile quarterback like RGIII, who on paper is actually faster and a more accurate passer than Newton.
Most comparisons, of course, will be drawn between Griffin and Stanford QB Andrew Luck, who will hear his name called just before Griffin’s on Thursday night. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay" target="_blank" href="http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/draft2012/story/_/id/7795172/2012-nfl-mock-draft-breaking-first-round-scenarios">Todd McShay has routinely called Luck a “once-in-a-generation prospect” and, despite his high opinion of Griffin, rates Luck clearly ahead of RGIII in value.
So now, Griffin will be constantly compared to one of the best rookie quarterbacks ever, as well as the best quarterback prospect in this generation. Those are some pretty serious rivals.
One comparison that Griffin can be thankful for is the comparison to recent Redskins quarterbacks, which is a depressing list of players. Skins fans should show patience and be grateful just to have a talent like Griffin at the position, but patience and gratefulness are not the traits of your average Skins fan.
Washington is a football town, but Redskins fans are understandably critical and frustrated after so much losing, and NFL fans in general will not waste their time comparing Griffin to John Beck when they could compare him to Luck or Newton.
It’s not that Griffin does not possess the talent to perform at a high level even in his first season—he absolutely does. But even if he has a good year by rookie standards, will that be enough to appease Redskins fans?
Let’s say that RGIII has a season equivalent to the one Newton just had in Carolina. Taking into account RGIII’s accuracy and ability to read defenses and Newton’s skills as big runner in the red zone, his season could like something like this: 62 percent completion, 4,200 yards, 25 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and an added 500 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
That would be an outstanding projection for a rookie quarterback, and would absolutely be one of the best rookie seasons of all time. That being said, Newton and the Panthers went 6-10 last year—could the Redskins really expect to do much better?
Even improving the team’s record by three wins would put the Skins at 8-8, and fans would likely still be disappointed with the state of the team—remember, no first-round picks for two more years.
So, to make the fans feel like the Redskins got their picks’ worth, RGIII will have to have the best rookie season ever and finish above .500. That is a best-case scenario, and one that is unlikely.
Now imagine if Griffin got off to a slow start, throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns or struggling at times to complete passes. These are mistakes that every rookie quarterback should be granted, but ones that will only be given to RGIII in small doses.
Taking this hypothetical even further, think about the effect Griffin’s poor performance would have on Mike Shanahan and his coaching staff. Nobody will look worse than Shanahan if RGIII does not turn out to be amazing, and if they cannot start winning more games soon, Shanahan will be out of a job.
Whether this would be warranted is not the point—the issue is the increasing pressure on RGIII to truly save this franchise, the head coach and the fans from any more suffering.
If there is a player out there who can defy the odds and achieve greatness in Washington, it is undoubtedly Griffin. Hopefully he can prove that he has the mental toughness that everyone believes he does, and shrug off the pressures on the way to a strong rookie campaign.