Before his 25th birthday, RGIII has already earned a Pro Bowl berth and led the Redskins to the playoffs, but the correct formula is in place for the 2012 No. 2 overall pick to become a superstar pivot in 2014. Here's why.
We start with the obvious. This guy...
You could argue that with DeSean Jackson on board, the Redskins offense has become the fastest in the NFL. And with Jackson joining Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed, Griffin will now certainly benefit from one of the deepest groups of pass-catchers in the league.
Remember, when Griffin was a rookie, he was one of the most productive quarterbacks despite only having Garcon and go-to tight end Fred Davis for about half the season. And beyond that, it was an aging Santana Moss, an inconsistent and often invisible Josh Morgan and the unspectacular Leonard Hankerson.
Now take the 27-year-old Garcon, who is coming off a career year and is good enough to be a No. 1 receiver, and move him to the No. 2 spot. Insert Jackson, who is the same age and is also coming off the best year of his career, into the No. 1 spot. Throw in Reed, who was the best rookie tight end in football and one of Griffin's top targets before missing most of the second half of the year with a concussion, and you can see why opposing defenses are bound to be picking poison all year.
|DeSean Jackson||No. 1 WR||3-time Pro Bowler|
|Pierre Garcon||No. 2 WR||Led NFL in catches in 2013|
|Andre Roberts||No. 3 WR||759-yard season in 2012|
|Jordan Reed||No. 1 TE||499 yards in only 9 games in 2013|
|Alfred Morris||No. 1 RB||2,888 yards in first 2 seasons|
RGIII now has two receivers who finished in the top 10 in yardage last season, along with a tight end who might have made a run at 1,000 yards as a rookie had injuries not derailed his 2013 campaign.
In fact, 10 weeks into the 2013 season, the only players at that position with more yards than Reed were Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez. Not a bad group to be a part of.
Griffin will now have the ability to stretch the field by utilizing Jackson's speed, but he'll have plenty of safety valves as well. That should give him more room to breathe than he had in his first two seasons, which could also cut down on the number of precarious situations he finds himself in. Reducing injury risks might be the key to Griffin's short- and long-term future in this game.
But there's also that healthy right knee
The brace is gone and Griffin will enter 2014 a full 20 months removed from reconstructive surgery to fix his blown-up ACL and LCL. It's obvious at this point that something was off with Griffin and that knee for much of the 2013 season, but that shouldn't surprise anyone considering the limited time he had to turn everything around in the previous offseason.
The good news is that the second year back from a torn-up knee is often the big one, especially when we're talking about a player who relies so heavily on said joint. Adrian Peterson's remarkable recovery in 2012 might have gotten Redskins fans' hopes up, because the general belief among experts—including those we spoke to in September—is that said miracle recovery was an anomaly, not a new standard.
"This is kind of what I would expect," said Dr. David McAllister, an orthopedic surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center with special expertise in knee ligament injuries, in an interview with Bleacher Report last fall. "Will he get better and progress over the season? He might, but it might be another year before he looks more like himself."
The key could of course be that Griffin will benefit from an offseason this time. In fact, when you consider that he only joined the 'Skins midway through the 2012 offseason due to the fact that he, um, wasn't on the roster until then, this will be the first full offseason of RGIII's NFL career.
And it's off to a promising start, according to Terry Shea, the quarterback guru who worked with Griffin ahead of the 2012 combine and rejoined the 24-year-old signal caller for some training sessions last month in Arizona.
Here's what Shea told USA Today's Jim Corbett Friday:
He looked 100% healthy. I didn't let up on him and, boy, he kept coming — and he reminded me of the old Robert Griffin that I knew coming out of Baylor for those eight-10 weeks we worked together in 2012.
He could have very easily lost it given the year he had. I put him through a gauntlet of drills. And Robert made all the throws, showing great skills. It sure appeared to me that he took that next step as a pocket passer.
Tom Brady lost virtually his entire 2008 season due to a torn ACL. He was able to return the next year, bolstered by four more months of recovery time than Griffin had, but he still wasn't quite as spectacular in '09.
But in his second year back, Brady won the league's MVP award with a 111.0 passer rating and a ridiculous touchdown-to-interception ratio of 36-to-4.
In another Patriot comparison, Wes Welker wasn't quite himself in 2010 after tearing his ACL in the 2009 season finale. In 2011, about exactly as far removed from surgery as Griffin will be come September, Welker exploded again with 122 catches, 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns.
You see it all the time. Patience, guys.
And that new coaching staff
Jay Gruden's relationship with Griffin appears to be off to a strong start. And unlike Mike Shanahan, who never really worked with quarterbacks specifically, Gruden is considered to be somewhat of a quarterback guru. He'll have his eye on all of the factors that may have been overlooked by the scheme-obsessed former regime.
Embedded in Shea's comments from earlier was a fairly clear criticism of the way in which Shanahan and Co. addressed said factors. From Corbett:
"For some reason, they just dropped the ball on his footwork fundamentals,'' Shea said. "I'm convinced. You get so caught up on schemes and decisions and progressions and they forget that a quarterback needs just as much attention on his footwork and fundamentals as well.''
So [Shea] fixed what was broken.
"It was good to see him return to his fundamentals,'' Shea said. "That was my role, bringing him back to a grounded state about feeling good about his fundamentals and the way he was releasing the ball — putting that back foot in the ground and then transferring over the front.
"I liked everything I saw. When we finished, he was ready to play.''
Nobody with a working neocortex would argue that Andy Dalton is as talented as Robert Griffin III, but Gruden found a way to help Dalton put up borderline Pro Bowl-caliber numbers the last three years in Cincinnati.
Dalton threw for nearly 4,300 yards while posting the third-highest total touchdowns in the NFL in 2013. He, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw 80 touchdown passes before their fourth season.
Did Dalton receive more support from his defense in Cincinnati? Sure. But Griffin should have plenty of support from his running game, and that Washington receiving corps is definitely deeper than Cincinnati's. Supporting cast isn't a factor.
So while Shanahan came to D.C. a legend, and while Gruden comes to town without an NFL head-coaching track record, it's important to remember that Shanny was always about his zone-blocking, his scheme and his offensive lines. Gruden might actually be a much more suitable mentor for RGIII.
Plus, there's that improved offensive line
Griffin was left high and dry by the interior of that undersized line so often last season that big changes had to be in order as soon as Shanahan was given his walking papers. And while the 'Skins didn't make any monumental splashes in that area during free agency, they've clearly added some bulk to help shield RGIII up front.
Center Will Montgomery, who gave up too much pressure last year, has been released. The smallish Kory Lichtensteiger will presumably move inside, where he's a better fit. And veteran guards Shawn Lauvao and Mike McGlynn, both of whom are at least 6'3" and 315 pounds, have been added to the roster.
There's also a good chance the 'Skins invest more heavily in the line during next month's draft. Lauvao is getting starter money, but Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus should have to fight to retain starting jobs. The good news is this is a deep draft and rookie offensive linemen have been known to acclimate themselves as fast as any other position group. Just as Larry Warford and Travis Frederick did, both of whom were studs in 2013.
Finally, it's his third year
Nothing here is written in stone, and many quarterbacks have struggled just as much in Year 3 as they did in Year 2. That said, the third season is typically viewed as a prime year in which to break out. And the reality is that some great quarterbacks have experienced that third-year leap.
A few recent and/or notable examples...
|Notable third-year leaps|
|Quarterback||Second-year stats||Third-year stats|
|Sam Bradford||53.5%, 6.1 YPA, 70.5 rating||59.5%, 6.7 YPA, 82.6 rating|
|Matt Ryan||58.3%, 6.5 YPA, 80.9 rating||61.3%, 6.5 YPA, 91.0 rating|
|Cam Newton||57.7%, 8.0 YPA, 86.2 rating||61.7%, 7.1 YPA, 88.8 rating|
|Troy Aikman||56.6%, 6.5 YPA, 66.6 rating||65.3%, 7.6 YPA, 86.7 rating|
|Peyton Manning||62.1%, 7.8 YPA, 90.7 rating||62.6%, 7.7 YPA, 94.7 rating|
|Pro Football Reference|
Everything above notwithstanding, logic indicates that Griffin should improve in 2014, at least slightly.
We didn't even have the ability to expand much on why the running game should also help Griffin, simply because that was also the case in 2012 and 2013. Alfred Morris is the league's second-leading rusher since coming into the NFL alongside RGIII two years ago, and there's no reason to believe the big 25-year-old won't continue to excel in 2014.
This offense isn't perfect, and the jury is obviously still out on the new staff, but it certainly appears as though all of the key ingredients are there for a quarterback with unmatched talents to finally become an All-Pro-caliber player right here and right now.
Of course, Griffin still has to deliver, which is never a guarantee, regardless of how many pieces seem to be in place. There isn't much we can do now but sit back and see what the kid is made of.