Can RG3 Salvage an NFL Career in Baltimore?

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutApril 6, 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 24:  Robert Griffin III #10 of the Cleveland Browns is helped off the field by medical staff after being sacked in the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they agreed to sign former Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III to a one-year deal, presumably for the veteran minimum and presumably as a backup for Joe Flacco.

"We're excited about it," Harbaugh said of the Griffin signing at a Wednesday press conference, via the Ravens' media department. "We felt like we needed a No. 2 quarterback. We needed a guy. You look at the veteran quarterbacks out there, I mean, where we're at right now, I'm pretty excited about this player. I'm really feeling like we got a steal."

Last July, I wrote a piece in which I broke down Griffin's tape and listed a few of his most appealing landing spots.

In that piece, I outlined examples of several things that can still get in Griffin's way—his inability to throw consistently with anticipation, his need for clear openings and windows to make things happen and his tendency to telegraph throws. It's a dangerous combination, and Griffin's lack of playing time in 2017 doesn't speak to any tangible improvements we can see on tape.

Rewatching Griffin's Cleveland tape from 2016 brought up another clear issue that he'll have to clean up before he can be even a good backup. Based on his injury history, this may be the issue that ends his career: Griffin's pocket presence needs a ton of work.

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Griffin attempted 147 passes and took 22 sacks in 2016. If you prorate that into a 500-attempt season, it's 75 sacks, which would fall just short of David Carr's NFL-record 76 sacks with the Houston Texans in 2002. If the Ravens want Griffin to do anything on the field in 2018, they'll have to work around the fact that their new backup quarterback works himself into pressures and sacks far too often.

This is one of four sacks Griffin suffered in his final game with the Browns, a Week 17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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At the snap, Griffin has to diagnose a zone drop from linebackers Lawrence Timmons (No. 94) and Bud Dupree (No. 48) as his four receivers run vertical routes.

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Griffin eventually gets taken down by linebacker Jarvis Jones (No. 95) as Jones gets past left tackle Joe Thomas (No. 73) on an inside rush from the back of the pocket, but this isn't Thomas' fault. Griffin has more than enough time to diagnose the pass rush and find an ideal open receiver.

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As you can see, Griffin has several options downfield if he's able to go through his reads, make a quick decision and throw with anticipation to his ideal target.

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Griffin was sacked seven times against the Chargers in Week 16. This sack from linebacker Denzel Perryman showed how a quarterback can take too long in the pocket and run himself into a sack in the same play.

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As Griffin drops back in the pocket, he has receiver Terrelle Pryor (No. 11) running an intermediate comeback route to Griffin's backside, giving him a quick open read.

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However, that backside read is complicated by Chargers safety Jahleel Addae (No. 37), who jumps into Griffin's line of sight on a blitz.

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Since Griffin didn't hit a quick read, he's now forced to move out of the pocket. He still has open targets, but again, he waits too long to pull the trigger, and Perryman (No. 52) catches up to him.

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Despite the clear uphill battle to be a credible NFL quarterback again, Griffin sounds excited about this chance with a third team.

"The Ravens have blessed me with an opportunity; it's an opportunity to get back in the game, so I'm excited about that," Griffin told Jason Reid of The Undefeated. "It's an opportunity to be a part of a great organization, grow with the team and learn from Joe."

That's another potential schism in this signing: Griffin requires a certain kind of offense to be successful. When he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012 with the Redskins, he excelled in a zone-blocking scheme in which he frequently rolled to one side of the field and made his reads and throws off motion. Throwing the ball off designed rollouts gave Griffin the advantage of a run threat, which affected coverage. It also cut the field in half and made his reads simpler and easier to react to.

Flacco is nobody's definition of a thrower on the move, but if offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wants to make the most of his backup quarterback, this touchdown against the Steelers in Week 16 is an optimal example of how Griffin can still get things done.

The Browns are at the Pittsburgh 12-yard line, and pre-snap, Griffin sends tight end Seth DeValve (No. 87) in motion. This gives Griffin a better sense of what defense the Steelers are running; as no defender moves specifically with DeValve's motion, it's likely a zone concept he's facing.

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At the snap, Griffin fakes a handoff to running back Isaiah Crowell (No. 34) and starts to roll right. At the same time, DeValve looks to be run-blocking linebacker Bud Dupree (No. 48).

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When DeValve releases from that block to become a receiver, Griffin has rolled to his right, and he has a clear view of DeValve's release.

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At the same time, intelligent play design gives Griffin an advantage. Tight end Gary Barnidge (No. 82) runs a deeper crossing route from left to right, forcing cornerback Ross Cockrell (No. 31) to focus on either DeValve or Barnidge in his coverage, with Griffin able to pick the open receiver.

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From there, it's up to DeValve to rumble into the end zone.

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Intelligent play design and easy openings: These are the keys to any Robert Griffin revival.

The Ravens offense currently features a lot of short, low-risk passes combined with the occasional deep shot. Flacco has been crushingly average over the last three seasons, which coincides with a three-season playoff drought for his team. He's thrown 52 touchdowns to 40 interceptions and has been inconsistent with his deep ball. What Griffin can learn from that is debatable; the Ravens would need to design new concepts that best feature his abilities.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Griffin's offensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013 when he was tearing up the league, spoke to this in May 2017 on The Rich Eisen Show.

"You've got to make sure you tailor an offense that fits his skill set," Shanahan said of Griffin. "I look into all of that and I think one thing that's tough when a guy's not your for-sure starter, you need to put in a certain offense to give this guy a chance to be successful."

As my colleague Mike Freeman recently pointed out, NFL teams signed Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel before Griffin found any takers. And Griffin's 2016 tape presents several issues that would prevent teams from taking a chance on him. Without the introduction of an offense that is tailored to what he can still do, Griffin's future prospects look dim.

These are the facts on their surface.

But as novelist Norman Mailer once said, "Facts are nothing without their nuance."

For the nuance, you need look no further than the Pro Football Talk report indicating that one day after the Griffin signing, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh were to testify at the team facility in a hearing tied to the collusion grievance of Colin Kaepernick, the most prominent unsigned quarterback in NFL history.

Hopefully, this opportunity was given to Griffin for football reasons and not in an attempt to shield one franchise from the potential odor of collusion.