Geno Smith vs. RGIII: Where Are Dynamic QBs Alike, Different?
The most discussed quarterback in college football this year has been Geno Smith. The most discussed quarterback in pro football this year has been Robert Griffin III.
Smith put his name on the national scene with a ridiculous 45-of-51 performance for 656 yards and eight touchdowns in a 70-63 win over Griffin's alma mater, Baylor.
Griffin looks like a savior for the Redskins franchise, and at least a few franchises hope they will get the chance to make Smith their savior next April.
So what exactly are the main ways that Smith and Griffin are very similar, and in what ways are they very different?
Both quarterbacks are very accurate.
Smith was a 65.8-percent passer last year, and he's already completing passes at an astounding 74.8-percent clip this season. Griffin finished out his collegiate career at 67.1 percent, with a 72.4-percent completion rate in his junior year. He has carried that over to the pros, where he is once again over 70 percent.
Both quarterbacks function mainly out of the pistol formation. The pistol has the quarterback line up 3.5-yards deep in the backfield:
The pistol has many advantages, including allowing the quarterback to get a better pre-snap read, as they do in the shotgun, but the running back also lines up seven-yards deep to get their normal head of steam on a carry. In this case, Geno Smith uses that to his advantage to freeze the safety for a moment on a play-action fake:
Smith throws a laser into the belly of Stedman Bailey for what would end up being a touchdown as the safety arrives a moment too late:
Griffin has also been running plays mainly out of the pistol, and you can bet that Smith's first NFL offensive coordinator will be looking to Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense for guidance. Shanahan has shown that transplanting large elements of a college offense in the pro game can work, at least in the short-term, to make a quarterback comfortable as a rookie and to build his confidence with success and familiarity.
Both quarterbacks also have keen pocket presence and awareness of pressure. Griffin is known as an escape artist in the pocket, but Smith is also very difficult to corral.
Here, two Texas Longhorns appear to have Smith dead-to-rights at the top of his dropback. Notice Smith is actually still scanning downfield for an open receiver at this moment:
At the last possible second, Smith takes off away from the pressure:
Smith and Griffin both frustrate opponents because you can't just let them sit back in the pocket. Their passing acumen will kill a defense.
However, if you rush them too aggressively, they will elude the pressure and make things happen by extending the play. They are both accurate passers who are comfortable in the pocket, but they can also sense and escape pressure. That allows them to make throws on the move outside of the pocket, the kind we see break the backs of NFL defenses every Sunday.
Two big areas stand out that separate these two quarterbacks, and they point to Smith being an inferior prospect to Griffin, even though he could go first overall, where Griffin went second.
The deep ball is the first one.
Geno Smith does his damage with mostly quick, pinpoint throws that give his speedy, quick receivers chances to make things happen after the catch. Smith can throw downfield accurately, but you rarely see him test a defense deep. The West Virginia offensive scheme just doesn't call for it. Smith might end up being an outstanding deep passer, but it's hard to determine if he is one right now.
Griffin, on the other hand, has eerie deep accuracy and is perhaps already one of the best deep passers in the NFL. The quality of the Redskins running game allowed him to clear a big area by going to the play-action fake here:
Leonard Hankerson has huge separation from Janoris Jenkins:
We often see this scene play-out on Saturdays and Sundays. Usually, the receiver slows down a little or veers some to the inside or outside to track the ball, or perhaps the ball falls harmlessly to the turf when the pass is under- or overthrown.
Not on Griffin's deep ball.
This one falls into Hankerson's hands in-stride. Griffin couldn't have placed it better if he ran down the field and handed it to Hankerson:
It's unfair to expect this from Smith, but it's also unfair to expect it from at least half of the quarterbacks in the NFL. Griffin's deep ball is one that few NFL quarterback can match.
Even fewer can match Griffin's lethal running ability. Heck, few NFL running backs can. Only 11 running backs have had more yards than him entering Week 8, and only one (Arian Foster) had more rushing touchdowns.
Smith and Griffin are both elusive in the pocket, but Griffin also has moves outside of the pocket. Notice the pistol formation on this goal-to-go play versus the Rams:
After a quick play-action fake, Griffin sprints to the edge with a cornerback between him and the end zone:
He sticks his foot in the ground to cut inside:
And scores an easy touchdown:
As NFL teams are finding out every week, Griffin is a weapon that must be accounted for as a runner and a passer in the red zone. In addition to having moves in the open field, Griffin also possesses world-class 4.4 speed. The Vikings found this out when he ripped off a 76-yard touchdown run to ice the game in Week 6:
Geno Smith running by design is a rare sight indeed, but Griffin running is a crucial element of the Redskins offense. That advantage is one of the main reasons that Griffin has been an instant hit in the NFL, and it's one of the main reasons why it's unfair to compare Smith (or any quarterback) to Griffin, even at this early juncture of his career.
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