Washington Football

How Does Robert Griffin III Compare to Other Young QBs?

griffin sacked

In what has become an annual event, the Washington Slurs have ended the competitive portion of their season. Sure, there’s another games to go, but with a 3-7 record, there’s no realistic scenario that gets the Slurs into the playoffs. So, the Washington coaching staff and front office will surely go into player evaluation mode to see what they have to build upon.

Their most important evaluation will be at quarterback. Three years ago, the franchise paid a heavy price to acquire Robert Griffin III, and even the most ardent of Griffin supporters would have to agree that major improvement is necessary.

While the knee-jerk reaction from fans (judging by Twitter commentary, office chit-chat, and sports radio callers) is that Washington should move on from Griffin. The verdict: he’s shown he’s not an NFL-caliber QB. He doesn’t read defenses well enough, and when he does try to run, he seems to be missing that world-class sprinter speed he exhibited before the wrecked knee and the dislocated ankle.

To me, what makes the most sense is to ride out the season with Griffin and see if he’s able to learn and improve. While Griffin had a tough game against the pitiful Buccaneers, backups Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins each performed worse when given extended chances to play. McCoy did have a good game a few weeks ago, but was dismal as the starter in Cleveland. Cousins may have potential, but had a tendency to throw the ball to the other team.

I don’t see a ton of reason to play McCoy or Cousins, barring an injury or a catastrophic meltdown. Griffin looks like a guy who needs experience, which he won’t get by standing on the sideline. If he doesn’t show improvement, I’d lean toward picking up that fifth year option, and then holding an open competition for the QB job.

But, before diving headfirst into the wreckage of the future, it’s worth a look at how Griffin compares to other QBs at a similar point in their respective careers. In his third season, and with 32 starts, Griffin is obviously struggling. My search through the historical record suggests that’s actually pretty normal for young QBs.

To find similar players, I used Pro Football Reference’s database to find QBs with at least 20 starts in their first three seasons (since 1995). Using PFR’s passer rating index (Rate+) (where average = 100 and higher is better), Griffin is tied for 14th with Jay Cutler. A total of 63 QBs made the list. Here’s the top 20:

  1. Kurt Warner — 132
  2. Jeff Garcia — 119
  3. Daunte Culpepper — 118
  4. Carson Palmer — 114
  5. Russell Wilson — 114
  6. Marc Bulger — 113
  7. Brian Griese — 113
  8. Tom Brady — 110
  9. Peyton Manning — 110
  10. Nick Foles — 109
  11. Colin Kaepernick — 109
  12. Mark Brunell — 108
  13. Ben Roethlisberger — 108
  14. Jay Cutler — 106
  15. Robert Griffin III — 106
  16. Joe Flacco — 105
  17. Matt Ryan — 104
  18. Aaron Brooks — 101
  19. Cam Newton — 101
  20. Matthew Stafford — 101

Notable players falling just outside the top 20: Andy Dalton (21st), Donovan McNabb (23), Andrew Luck (26), Michael Vick (32), Drew Brees (38), Eli Manning (44), Vince Young (55), Trent Dilfer (58), and Alex Smith (60).

At least a few of those guys seemed to turn out okay in the long run.

However, recall that Griffin’s rookie season was one of the best ever. His Rate+ was 122, which tied with Roethlisberger for second best all-time behind Dan Marino’s 125. He obviously hasn’t performed to that level the past two seasons. The more “normal” progression is for young QBs to improve as they gain experience. Griffin was great immediately, but then played worse. It begs the question…What happens if we look ONLY at second and third seasons?

To answer that question, I pinged PFR’s database to find QBs who started at least 15 games in their second and third seasons (Griffin has 17 starts so far in his second and third seasons). As a rookie, Griffin’s Rate+ was 122, which is outstanding. For his full career, it’s 106 (a bit above average). But for the past two seasons, it’s 95, which is a little below average.

This suggests Griffin isn’t playing catastrophically bad (which he’s sometimes accused of doing), but it’s also clear he’s nowhere near the offensive force the Slurs need him to be.

Among the 67 QBs with at least 15 starts in their second and third seasons (since 1995), Griffin ranks 39th in Rate+. At the top of the list are a virtual who’s-who of good-to-great QBs. Kurt Warner tops the list. Peyton Manning landed fourth. Russell Wilson — selected 73 picks after Griffin — ranks 11th. Tom Brady is 12th.

Players in the “about the same” grouping with Griffin include names like: David Carr, Shaun King, Gus Frerotte, J.P. Losman, Kyle Orton, Derek Anderson, Eli Manning,and Patrick Ramsey.

Guys who rated worse, but became good QBs later include Drew Brees (51st), Alex Smith (63rd), Drew Bledsoe (65th) and (kinda-sorta) Trent Dilfer (67th).

Not very encouraging.

Probably the most hopeful scenario for Griffin is the Ben Roethlisberger story, but that narrative is different. Roethlisberger was terrific as a rookie, and followed it up with an outstanding second season. His third season was rough, but he bounced back in year four and has been a solid-to-excellent QB since.

Griffin, of course, had a great rookie season, a MAJOR drop-off in year two, and a modest recovery in year three (so far). Unless Griffin can find a way to improve, he’s far more likely to be someone’s backup in the near future than to be the franchise bedrock the Slurs were hoping he’d be.

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They Actually Kicked to Hester

Chicago Bears v Washington Redskins

Yesterday’s Chicago at Washington contest was on more or less as background noise in my house. I watched chunks here and there, but I was doing other things and not paying close attention until the third quarter. When I saw the game going to commercial with a highlight of Devin Hester running into the end zone, my initial thoughts went like this:

  • Was that footage from a previous game?
  • Why would they show footage from a previous game?
  • Washington kicked to him. To Hester. With their coverage unit?
  • Why would the hell would they kick to him?

Then I started wondering just how bad a decision it was to even kick the ball where Hester could catch it. The answer — about this stupid:

 

See, Washington has the NFL’s worst punt coverage unit this season, and Hester is the best punt returner EVER. At the risk of being repetitive, Washington is last in net punting average, last in yards allowed per return, and tied for most punts returns for a touchdown allowed. They’re facing the best return man in history. And they kicked the ball to him.

Okay, I’m not sure I’ve made my point yet. Since 1920, 167 players have had at least 100 punt returns. Former Washington standout Brian Mitchell is the all-time leader with a whopping 463 punt returns. Number two is Eric Metcalf with 351. It’s not exaggeration to say Mitchell is the Cal Ripken of NFL punt returners.

Back on topic, Hester ranks 16th on the total returns list, but ranks 9th in total punt return yards. All-time, Hester is 4th in yards per punt return — the guys ahead of him played in the 1940s and 1960s (George McAfee, 1940-50 (played in Chicago); Claude Gibson, 1961-65; and Bill Dudley, 1942-53).

But where Hester separates himself from the rest is in what he did to Washington yesterday — scoring. Hester is the all-time leader in punts returned for a TD with 13. Metcalf is second with 10, but that 3-score difference creates an illusion of closeness. Metcalf had 351 career returns — Hester has 255.

Just for the heck of it, I calculated the TD% for NFL players with at least 100 punts returned. Here’s the top 20:

Rk Player From To Ret TD TD%
1 Devin Hester 2006 2013 255 13 5.1%
2 Adam Jones 2005 2013 124 5 4.0%
3 Patrick Peterson 2011 2013 107 4 3.7%
4 Joey Galloway 1995 2010 141 5 3.5%
5 DeSean Jackson 2008 2013 117 4 3.4%
6 Rick Upchurch 1975 1983 248 8 3.2%
7 Desmond Howard 1992 2002 226 7 3.1%
8 Lemar Parrish 1970 1982 131 4 3.1%
9 Henry Ellard 1983 1997 135 4 3.0%
10 Steve Schubert 1974 1979 103 3 2.9%
11 Bob Hayes* 1965 1975 104 3 2.9%
12 Eddie Drummond 2002 2007 140 4 2.9%
13 Eric Metcalf 1989 2002 351 10 2.8%
14 Deion Sanders* 1989 2005 212 6 2.8%
15 Phillip Buchanon 2002 2011 106 3 2.8%
16 Dana McLemore 1982 1987 142 4 2.8%
17 Dante Hall 2000 2008 216 6 2.8%
18 Amani Toomer 1996 2008 109 3 2.8%
19 Claude Gibson 1961 1965 110 3 2.7%
20 LeRoy Irvin 1980 1990 147 4 2.7%

See Hester up there at the top? Roughly 5% of the time he returns a punt, he scores. He’s the best ever at it — and the contest isn’t even close. Indeed, if Hester fails to score on his next 68 punt returns, he’d STILL be the all-time leader in punt return TD%.

Yet, the geniuses running the Washington football team kicked to him. Three times. And, of course, Hester returned one for a touchdown. This is a thing that happened.

How to Reach A Bad Conclusion: Omit Relevant Facts

RG3

Writing for Yahoo! Finance, Tony Manfred proclaimed that the 2012 trade of Robert Griffin III has been bad for both Washington and St. Louis. It’s not like there’s no evidence to support this theory — and Manfred cites some good ones:

  • both teams have bad records
  • the Rams need a better QB, and
  • Washington has needs at multiple positions that could have been filled with draft picks.

The problem with Manfred’s analysis is that he left out some relevant details. First, the draft is not the only mechanism for NFL teams to acquire talent. And second, Washington was handicapped in its efforts to fill holes at other positions by a preposterous, unfair, and in all ways ridiculous $36 million salary cap penalty.

And let’s keep in mind that the salary cap penalty was announced on the eve of free agency — after Washington made the trade for Griffin. Had the penalty been assessed earlier in the off-season, the team’s draft strategy may well have been different.

Just theorizing here, but if Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen had that $36 million in cap space, they likely would have spent on it some of those problem areas like offensive line, cornerback and safety. You know, instead of bargain shopping for the likes of Will Montgomery, Tyler Polumbus, Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty.

It’s improbable to think they really thought that a sixth round pick (Baccari Rambo) would make for a competent starter. There’s just no way they’d be using a four-cornerback, one safety alignment if they had that cap space available.

All that said, Manfred may be correct when it comes to the Rams. I pay little attention to the team. That said, their reasoning in trading Griffin was clearly that they thought Sam Bradford would become a franchise quarterback.  That’s turned out to be an error.

From Washington’s side, I wouldn’t quibble too much if someone wanted to argue the team paid too high a price for Griffin — the price was steep. But for that argument to have merit, all the relevant facts need to be included.