RENTON, Wash. -- They were selected 73 picks apart in the 2012 NFL Draft, but Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks have amassed surprisingly similar statistics in their rookie campaigns. Griffin, the second overall pick, and Wilson, taken 75th overall in the third round, have maximized their potential in run-heavy zone offenses with multiple formations and pre-snap approaches. When the two teams face off in the wild-card round Sunday afternoon at Washington D.C.'s FedEx Field, the mirror images at the quarterback position might be startling.
Griffin broke Ben Roethlisberger's rookie passer rating mark with a 102.4 metric, but Wilson did the same at 100.0. Wilson was responsible for 30 touchdowns in the 2012 regular season (26 passing, four rushing), while Griffin put up 27 (20 passing, and seven on the ground). Both quarterbacks attempted 393 passes this season, and Griffin completed 258 to Wilson's 252. Griffin threw for 3,200 yards to Wilson's 3,118, and threw five picks to Wilson's 10. In Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics, Wilson finished eighth among qualifying quarterbacks in cumulative efficiency to Griffin's ranking of 11th, and Wilson topped RG3 in per-play efficiency -- but just barely.
Clearly, both players are on fast tracks, and the road maps look very much the same. Where Griffin has far outpaced Wilson is in the run game -- the former Olympic-level sprinter gained 815 yards on the ground to Wilson's 489. Griffin operates out of more formation diversity -- the Redskins unleashed an entirely new offensive system for their new guy -- while Wilson had the Seahawks adapting and implementing similar zone-read, read option, and Pistol formation packages over time.
Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan have had a unique understanding from the start. (AP)
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has a long history of evaluating quarterbacks in the NFL, and it wasn't out of the question that the Redskins could have grabbed both Griffin and Wilson in their draft. Instead, Shanahan got a very effective backup in the fourth round in the person of ex-Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, while Wilson went to the "other" Washington and stole the starting job with an amazing training camp and preseason.
"Yeah, I really liked him," Shanahan told me on Wednesday, when I asked him how much the Redskins took a look at Wilson pre-draft. "Not only thought that he was a great football player, but he also had the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback. Just a class act, who can make plays with his legs as well as his arm. I just liked the way he handled himself, and the way that he played."
Instead, Shanahan pulled the trigger on a trade that sent multiple high picks to the St. Louis Rams for the right to draft the former Baylor quarterback, who has completely transformed Washington's offense to the point that it barely resembles anything the coach has ever put together. With son Kyle in tow as offensive coordinator, the Shanahans immediately set about the task of creating an offense that would befuddle the NFL, and play best to Griffin's obvious strengths.
"Once we drafted Robert, you could see what he could do in college -- running the zone read and all those things, and we talked about it at the time. We felt that he had the other things you look for in a quarterback -- arm strength and all the intangibles. He could make any throw; great vision and accuracy. Great speed, and he had a lot of success running the football as well as throwing it."
For Griffin, the process was as much about learning what the NFL had to offer as it was about letting his coaches know what might work on the field.
"We felt like it clicked from the first game," Griffin told me about the adjustments to be made. "We had to do some adjustments after the bye week, and it really paid off for us. Early on in the process, I was the student, and they were the teachers, and they were teaching me their offense and how to run it. I don't take credit for it -- those guys did a great job putting together the plays and the schemes we're running right now."
Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who has practiced against Griffin all season and would seem to have a better bead than some on Wilson's game, told D.C. radio station 106.7 The Fan on Wednesday that there are subtle differences between the two.
"I haven’t really gotten a chance to critique their offense, but Russell is a little bit different kind of athlete than Robert," Hall said. "Robert is a little more straight-line fast, where [Wilson] has a little more juke than actual speed. But he has good pocket awareness, and [I] haven’t really seen how they’ve been putting their points up, but they’ve been putting up a lot of points these last three weeks. We’re going to have our hands full as a defense keeping those guys out of the end zone, and our offense is definitely going to have their hands full with that defense they’ve got.”
Again, the similarities. Both Shanahan and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll balanced the abilities of their first-year field generals with the need to ramp up the gameplans as quickly as the kids could digest them. As a result, both Griffin and Wilson are handling more from a schematic perspective -- and that seems to expand every week. But as Carroll noted on Weednesday, the difference between the two situations was that the Redskins knew they had their guy from the start, and adjusted their practice parameters accordingly. Wilson split time in threes through much of training camp as Carroll and his staff tried to make the call between Wilson, free-agent signing Matt Flynn, and veteran Tarvaris Jackson. The fact that Wilson was able to take so much on, Carroll said, was the real difference-maker.
When I asked Carroll how Wilson has changed Seattle's offense, the coach made it simple -- there's nothing the team wants to do, he said, that his rookie quarterback can't handle.
That's one more thing these teams, and coaches, and quarterbacks, seem to have in common.
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