Robert Griffin III will not be on any of my fantasy football teams in 2014. But that's mostly because I'm a sweaty-palmed, risk-averse wimp.
It's a strategy I've ridden throughout my decade or so playing the sport: Always take the sure thing over the unknown. Back-to-back 1,200-yard, eight-touchdown seasons hold more sway than a 2,000-yard rusher who followed it up with an injury-riddled, 400-yard campaign.
Rookies are almost complete nonstarters. Players with more hype than on-field production—e.g. a longtime backup running back ascending to the starting job—rarely find their way to my roster.
Frankly, the strategy is one I'd advise most managers to follow. Last season was the first since my junior year in high school that I did not come out ahead by the end of the season. (In terms of bragging rights of course.) Filling a team with high-variance talent is the easiest way for an owner to find himself/herself out of playoff contention by Week 5.
Of course, there is also a downside to that strategy.
Rarely am I the first to pile into an ascending player's bandwagon.
It would have helped to buy the Eddie Lacy hype last season as I was trotting out Ray Rice every week. My rejection of a preseason Josh Gordon for Steve Smith offer in a long-term dynasty league might go down as my worst decision since I tried vodka at age 16. The team that once looked like a dynasty with Peyton Manning, Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Calvin Johnson and Smith lugging the load is now in a full-scale rebuild.
That is to say: Griffin might not be on my fantasy team this season, but you may want him on yours.
The Washington Redskins quarterback enters 2014 as one of the most polarizing players in real-life football and the virtual stuff we obviously care more about.
His miserable sophomore season saw him regress in nearly every category, feud with his head coach and be benched right as fantasy playoffs hit. Drafted in the seventh round despite his ACL reconstruction, Griffin finished with fewer fantasy points than Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco.
The 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year also saw his contemporaries ascend while his career was in peril.
Andrew Luck picked up another terrible Indianapolis Colts supporting cast by its bootstraps, in the AFC South, and led one of the most improbable playoff comebacks in history. Colin Kaepernick came within a win of his second straight Super Bowl. Russell Wilson knocked out Kaepernick before hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
While they jettisoned Mike and Kyle Shanahan, the Redskins' replacements haven't engendered much faith. New head coach Jay Gruden is coming off a middling stint as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator in which he and Andy Dalton were a tag team of calamities in the postseason. Gruden continues play-calling duties, while offensive coordinator Sean McVay works with the quarterbacks.
Otherwise, the staff largely stays intact.
Here is where the pessimism seeps in. Griffin showed hesitation all last season using his legs and failed to rush for a touchdown after accounting for seven his rookie season. He couldn't complete a deep pass to save his life after ranking among the league's best as a rookie. His carelessness with the ball resulted in turnovers and halted drives.
And to solve this, the Redskins hired the dude responsible for Andy Dalton's development? I'll take a pass. After all, Griffin is going right about where he was last season in drafts—late in the seventh round, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. If you take him, he has to be your No. 1 option. Using another mid-round pick on a safety-valve quarterback is a waste of draft equity.
So why would anyone take the plunge? Because Griffin is the best bounce-back candidate in football this season.
Gruden is going to be a better coach than Shanahan by pure osmosis. The toxicity between Shanahan and Griffin was obvious from the beginning ofthe last training camp. Griffin blamed Shanahan for keeping him in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks when he was obviously hurt. Shanahan resented his quarterback's relationship with owner Dan Snyder, among many other things.
Keeping the rest of the coaching staff isn't an issue because they weren't the problem. Gruden will get close scrutiny, but he's had an entire offseason to work with a healthy Griffin and develop a good working relationship.
“We’ve had a lot of time to work together and get to know each other,’’ Gruden recently told reporters, per David Steele of Sporting News. “I think we’re both happy with how we’re communicating, and what we’re implementing is not something he’s totally unfamiliar with—the things we’re doing are things he’s comfortable with and complement his strengths.’’
The Redskins have also quietly amassed a solid supporting cast.
DeSean Jackson came to Washington this offseason on a team-friendly contract and will create the NFC East's best one-two receiving punch with Pierre Garcon. Jackson led the NFL last season with 16 receptions on passes traveling 20 or more yards in the air, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Garcon stealthily led the NFL in receptions last season and should have more room to work underneath with Jackson stretching the defense downfield. The tight end also emerged as an excellent pass-catching option before injuries cut his season short.
Griffin was the best value in fantasy football two years ago, despite Garcon missing almost half the season and veteran Santana Moss being his most reliable receiver. Having Jackson, Garcon and Jordan Reid to catch passes and available in the backfield gives Griffin an enviable arsenal of weapons.
Should everyone stay healthy, Washington should slot in among the NFL's 10 best offenses. Health, however, is the key. No one knows whether Griffin can withstand a full 16-game commitment. We forget sometimes that he missed a game as a rookie and sat out most of another.
Protecting Griffin is the responsibility of the offensive line, a unit still facing plenty of questions. Left tackle Trent Williams is a Pro Bowl-caliber star, but the rest of the line is filled with component parts that top out around average. Shawn Lauvao came over from the Cleveland Browns and helped facilitate Kory Lichtensteiger's move to center, while Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus occupy the right side.
The Redskins have done as poor a job of protecting Griffin the last two years as he has himself.
But fantasy owners know they're taking a health risk with Griffin. They know they're taking a performance risk. These are the reasons it'll take one or six too many adult beverages for his name to come out of my mouth on draft/auction night. The variance is too high.
Just don't be surprised if I'm bemoaning my decision when previewing the 2015 fantasy football slate.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.
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