Andrew Luck vs. RGIII: Three Years Later
Oh, what time can tell.
Remember with me, for a moment, the mindset of fans around the NFL right before the 2012 NFL Draft. Indianapolis had the first pick of the draft after a dismal 2-14 record in the 2011 season, and the Washington Redskins had second pick, which they acquired after a major trade with the Rams. The nation was ablaze with debate about who should get drafted with the top pick, but the main question on everybody's mind was this: Do you take Griffin or Luck?
Both quarterbacks lit the NCAA world on fire with their entirely unique, and polar-opposite playing styles. Andrew Luck, the star of Stanford's squad, led them to an 11-2 season, capping it off with a win in the BCS Fiesta Bowl. Robert Griffin III, the stud from Baylor, won the Heisman Trophy, led his team to a 10-3 record, and came away with a win at the Alamo Bowl. Though Luck came in second for the Heisman voting, making him only the fourth player to do so twice in history, many still had him as their top pick to go in the draft. He was sturdy, cerebral, and brilliant in the pocket, all traits an NFL team would look for in a franchise-worthy quarterback. Griffin, on the other hand, was dynamic, athletic, and exciting to watch. His style of play was gung-ho, and his personality was enough to reinvigorate any team.
Draft Day came around, and Indianapolis went with Andrew Luck as the first overall selection. Washington quickly picked up RGIII with their own slot, setting up a head-to-head competition in one of the largest classes of rookie quarterbacks ever seen. For the first time since the 1970 league merger, five rookie quarterbacks started on Opening Day: Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, RGIII, and Andrew Luck. Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, and Ryan Lindley would join the list of starting rookies later in the season. Many of them had impressive first years, but quickly it became clear that one was rising above the rest. RGIII won the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award for his performance in Washington, and many mocked Indianapolis' front office for their failure to draft the best prospect available. Yet they ignored this, biding their time, and continued to build around Luck, putting faith in his ability to be the face of their new program.
And how right they were.
Flash forward three years to the present. Here we are, in the NFL offseason, talking about stuff that has already happened. Without the constant stream of game results and stats to break down, writers have turned their attention to predictions, models, and comparisons of the previous year's action. Andrew Luck just finished the best year of his career, taking his team to the AFC Championship Game, and completing the regular season with a record of 11-5. In a recent poll, Luck was ranked the third best active quarterback, behind only Rodgers and Brady, and ahead of his Colts predecessor Peyton Manning. There's no question about it -- Luck has proven himself to be an elite quarterback who will be a major threat for years to come.
Robert Griffin III, on the other hand, had a less than sparkling 2014 season. Plagued with injury after Week Two when he was carted off the field with a dislocated left ankle, he finished the season with a 2-5 record as a starter, and amassed five total touchdowns. Though there were glimmers of his previous rookie form in games against the Cowboys (336 yards, two touchdowns) and the Eagles (220 yards passing, 1 interception), he was a shadow of his former self. RGIII's incredible ability to talk his way into anything has gotten him the starting job next year, but if he turns in another season like the last two, one can only imagine that his time in Washington as a starter may be terminated. Ouch.
There are a few key issues with the notion of what makes an "elite" quarterback, and these issues have only been highlighted by the Luck v. Griffin case study. Looking at lists of top-ranked quarterbacks, consistently over the last few years names such as Rodgers, Manning, and Brady have circled the top spot. There's a lot of similarities between these men, and what they are able to accomplish. Firstly, they are able to cover holes in their teams, and make the rest of their offense look good, even without the star power that other teams have. Luck did just that when he lost Reggie Wayne to a torn ACL, a blow that would've knocked many other teams out of playoff contention. Secondly, they take care of their own health, and know when a play has to end. Anyone who watched Michael Vick play for their team knows the joy/hatred of watching him perilously extend a play well beyond the point at which he should just accept a sack or incomplete pass. Sometimes he would complete an amazing deep bomb to DeSean Jackson, but more often, he would receive a huge hit and get knocked out for three games. With the exception of the 2011 season, Manning has never missed a game. Tom Brady hasn't missed a game since 2008.
Robert Griffin III, however, hasn't been able to escape injuries, whether you blame it on his play or not. He started less than half of Washington's games last year, and only brought home two wins for his team. Even when back on the field, he seemed hampered by his ailments, and obviously wasn't playing completely healthy. This is not to say that he can't ever be an incredible quarterback, or that he doesn't have raw amazing talent. But so far, things have not gone the way Griffin and Washington planned.
The landscape of the 2015 season is certainly an interesting one. Andrew Luck is poised to lead his team to the best record in the AFC. He's been training in the offseason with his receiving crew on Stanford's campus, and he's working harder than any man out there to build team camaraderie. Luck stands a legitimate chance at winning the MVP award, and his Colts team is my pick to make it to the Super Bowl. The Washington Redskins' fate hinges solely on how well RGIII will be able to do. With a new front office and a revamped team, as well as a full fifth year commitment to Griffin, they have bought into him as the future yet again.
Round 1 went to Griffin. Rounds 2 and 3 went to Luck. And I'm certainly excited to see what happens in Round 4.