Robert Griffin III Will Succeed Where Mike Trout Failed in Pursuit of NFL MVP

Geoff Ratliff@@geoffratliffContributor IIINovember 23, 2012

Robert Griffin III Will Succeed Where Mike Trout Failed in Pursuit of NFL MVP

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    Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is threatening to one-up MLB rookie phenom Mike Trout in his quest to win his league’s most valuable player award. If RGIII can lead the Redskins to the playoffs while continuing to put up spectacular numbers, it will be impossible for the voters to leave him off their ballots.

    Trout, the Los Angeles Angels’ spectacular center fielder, finished a distant second to Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera in the American League MVP voting. While the voting angered legions of sabermetricians, he was probably the right choice. 

    Trout’s candidacy was hurt by the fact that he cooled off over the season’s last two months while his team missed the playoffs. Griffin III, however, seems to be getting better every week, and the Redskins are making a late push to win the NFC East.  

    The thought of Griffin III being a viable MVP candidate was laughable as recently as Thanksgiving morning. But after another near-flawless performance in Washington’s 38-31 road win over the Dallas Cowboys, the rookie QB is playing his way into the discussion.

    Not convinced that a first-year quarterback on a 5-6 team deserves to be mentioned in the NFL’s MVP discussion? Here are three reasons why Robert Griffin III could change that thinking over the season’s final five weeks.

The Numbers Speak for Themselves

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    Like Trout, Robert Griffin III is putting up numbers that warrant MVP consideration. Through 11 games, he’s fourth in the NFL in passer rating and fifth in total QBR. His four interceptions are second only to Tom Brady’s three among quarterbacks who have started all of their team’s games this season.

    RGIII also has a chance to rush for 1,000 yards (needing 358 over the next five games) and break Cam Newton’s rookie record of 4,051 passing yards in a season. He would need to average 309.4 yards per game to eclipse Newton’s mark, but given the remaining defenses he will face, Griffin III could easily achieve the feat.

    The New York Giants (25th), Baltimore Ravens (22nd) and Cleveland Browns (21st) have three of the league’s worst pass defenses. The Philadelphia Eagles (ninth) are among the NFL’s better units, but RGIII proved what those stats were worth when he posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating in last Sunday’s 31-6 win over the Eagles.

Washington Can Win the NFC East

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    With back-to-back wins over NFC East opponents, Robert Griffin III has helped put the Redskins back in contention for the division crown. Washington has a chance to make it three in a row in two weeks when they face the Giants on Monday Night Football.

    If New York loses a tough home game this Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers—the NFL’s hottest team with five straight victories—the winner of the Monday night affair will find themselves in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. 

    Though both teams would be 6-6, the Redskins would hold the tiebreaker thanks to a better division record (3-1) than the Giants (2-3).

    Trout's MVP candidacy was largely hurt by the fact that the Angels failed to make the postseason, but a division crown would give RGIII the edge in that all-important category.

The Other Candidates All Have Flaws

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    By the beginning of September, Trout and Cabrera had turned the American League MVP discussion into a two-man race. This year’s NFL MVP discussion, however, is not nearly as clear-cut.

    If the voting were held today, Griffin III would have a hard time cracking the top five in a list that includes Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning. While each of those players has a worthy claim to the title, they all have flaws as well.

    Peterson has been simply spectacular, leading the NFL in rushing after returning from ACL surgery less than eight months after his injury. But the MVP award tends to favor quarterbacks—the past five winners have been QBs—and his Vikings will have a hard time staying in the playoff race.

    Brees is having another wonderful season, leading the NFL in passing touchdowns while bringing the New Orleans Saints back from the abyss following a 0-4 start. Like Peterson, though, Brees’ candidacy will likely be hurt by his team’s inability to make the playoffs with a very challenging closing schedule.

    In fact, RGIII could find himself in a situation similar to Miguel Cabrera's, playing on a division winner whose team has a worse record than one or more of his primary competitors for the MVP award.

    Ryan appeared to be the front-runner for the NFL’s highest individual honor while leading the Atlanta Falcons to an 8-0 start. But the team has looked shaky at best over the past few weeks, barely pulling out close home games over subpar teams like the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals

    Ryan’s play has been directly responsible for Atlanta’s poor play in those games, with Ryan throwing a combined eight interceptions in those two narrow victories. That’s not the type of play worthy of an MVP.

    Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a strong case for becoming the first back-to-back NFL MVP since Manning achieved the feat following the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He's led the Packers to the top of the NFC North despite major injuries on both sides of the ball.

    Like RGIII, Brees and Peterson, Rodger's candidacy will also likely come down to where his team falls in the playoff picture. Nothing is guaranteed for Green Bay competing in a tough NFC North with the Vikings and Chicago Bears.

    Brady and Manning are probably the two favorites at this point in the season. While neither of the two previous award winners (four for Manning and two for Brady) has an obvious case against him, RGIII has a clear edge in exceeding expectations.

    Brady’s Patriots are coming off a season in which they fell just short of winning the Super Bowl. He’s been impressive in leading New England to an 8-3 start, despite major injuries to tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. 

    Brady, however, has the benefit of a much-improved running game, and statistically this is his worst season in the last three years. The Patriots also entered the season with the NFL’s easiest schedule based on the 2011 records of their opponents.

    Manning will likely receive all of the sympathetic votes after his miraculous return from a neck injury that kept him sidelined for the entire 2011 season and precipitated his exit out of Indianapolis. His 106.2 passer rating—second only to Rodgers at 107.3—and 24 touchdown passes, and Denver’s 7-3 record are all clear signs that Manning’s days as an elite NFL QB are nowhere near finished.

    But if we’re looking at Manning’s value to the Broncos objectively, one can’t help but remember that Denver was a playoff team last year with the considerably less talented Tim Tebow under center. That has to factor into the equation. 

    Meanwhile, Griffin III played the role of Trout to Andrew Luck’s Bryce Harper in the 2012 NFL. Luck may have entered the league as the more highly touted prospect, but RGIII arguably came in with more pressure to perform immediately.

    After the Redskins mortgaged their future in a pre-draft trade with the St. Louis Rams to acquire the No. 3 overall pick, Griffin III was burdened with saving football in the nation’s capital. Luck had the luxury of time on his side, as no one expected the Colts to win many games this season, let alone contend for an AFC playoff spot.

    Some may point to Indianapolis’ 6-4 record as a reason why Luck, not RGIII, should be the rookie QB garnering MVP consideration. While the Colts have been a surprising and inspiring story, Luck is still 28th in the NFL in traditional passer rating, even if his 75.3 Total QBR exceeds Griffin III’s 72.1 mark.

    The win-loss records will ultimately play a huge role in the MVP race. I’m betting that RGIII and the Redskins will end up ahead of Luck and the Colts when the regular season has ended.

RGIII Shining on a Bigger Stage

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    Part of RGIII’s MVP candidacy could be fueled by something that he, nor Trout, has any control over. Griffin III happens to play in America’s most popular sport while Trout plied his trade in MLB’s relative anonymity.

    Despite playing in one of Major League Baseball’s largest markets, Trout rarely had the chance to impress baseball fans—or MVP voters—on the East Coast. We were largely reduced to judging his performance based on SportsCenter highlights.

    NFL fans who got their first look at Robert Griffin III during yesterday’s nationally televised win over the Cowboys were treated to a magnificent performance. We will all be waiting to see what he does for an encore when Washington hosts the Giants on Monday Night Football on December 3.

    The Redskins suffered a heartbreaking 27-23 loss at New York during Week 7. RGIII hit Santana Moss on a 30-yard pass play to give Washington a 23-20 lead with 1:32 left in the fourth quarter.  

    That was way too much time for Eli Manning to do what Eli Manning does, as he connected with Victor Cruz on a 77-yard game-winning bomb just 19 seconds later.

    A win over New York could put Washington in the driver's seat in the NFC East with four weeks to go. That could lead to another nationally televised showdown with the hated Cowboys in Week 17, a game that could decide the division winner. 

    If the season finale shapes up to have playoff implications and Griffin III leads the Redskins to a victory, start etching his name into the 2012 NFL MVP award. That game would provide the type of campaign platform for RGIII that Mike Trout never got.