With the 2011 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Right up to the draft, we'll be taking a closer look at the 50 players who may be the biggest NFL difference-makers when all is said and done.
We conclude this year's series with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Since you've heard quite a bit about this young man, we'll skip the "blah blah blah" and head straight to the tape.
Pros: Contrary to the assertions of some who believe that Griffin is just another spread offense "grip it and rip it" guy, he's actually very accurate, even and especially with the deep ball -- in 2011, he led the nation in yards per attempt (10.7) and completed 72.4 percent of his passes. Can make all the throws, but is especially accurate on all kinds of deep balls -- he and Kendall Wright developed into a devastating duo with seem and sideline patterns. Gets the ball downfield with a minimum of effort -- like Michael Vick, he can flick his wrist and the ball just hums.
Ran a more complex spread system at Baylor under Art Briles than people think. "No, it wouldn't," he said, when I asked him at the scouting combine if it would be a problem to run a pro-style offense with a larger playbook. "We usually had at least three options in our offense with a checkdown. Then the fourth or fifth option would be for me to make something happen. Sometimes it happens that way in games for quarterbacks. So it wouldn't be a huge leap. Plus I ran a pro-style offense in high school. Not that this is high school football ... just sayin'."
When Griffin does make something happen with his feet, things get exciting. He's an Olympic-level athlete who has been timed as low as 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, and he can make defenders miss as well as any speed receiver in the NFL. Very agile in and out of the pocket; he's used to making rollout throws work, and he adjusts well on the run while keeping his eyes downfield. Natural leader with the kind of mentality, attitude and charisma that has teammates following him -- of course, none of that stuff would mean a thing if he didn't do what he does on the field. Son of military parents; hard worker; seems to have everything it takes to develop as he needs to.
Cons: At times, Griffin will cork one loose and be wildly inaccurate, which comes with the package when you're making a lot of deep throws. Concern about his ability to hold up while taking repeated hits is legitimate -- though he's bigger than people might think, he will need to learn to get rid of the ball as he adjusts to Washington's West Coast offense. Operated primarily out of a shotgun offense, and though he's conversant with throws from under center, there are some of the same footwork issues we've seen from every transitional quarterback from Alex Smith to Cam Newton. Will need to develop better "eye discipline" -- he doesn't always look off his targets like he should. Most of Griffin's on-field dings are a function of the offense he ran at Baylor, and he'll work out what kinks he needs to.
As far as the allegations of "selfishness" that have come up in recent days ... while some of them have surfaced at Cam Newton level (and perhaps for the same obvious reasons), I have heard from sources who know Griffin that he has a "veneer." What that means and how it applies to football, I don't know. What I do know is that there are a number of Hall of Fame quarterbacks who are selfish jerks, and a higher number of washout quarterbacks who are very nice guys.
Conclusion: I struggled with the top of this year's Shutdown scouting series as I never have before. It's very clear that Andrew Luck is a miracle of a college quarterback -- never before have I seen someone so ready for the NFL without actually playing a down at that level. Luck does have some upside as well. However, I put Griffin on top because he's already got so much together, and over time, I believe that he has the potential to be the kind of quarterback we've never seen before -- at least, not before in anything but short sports. There was the Michael Vick who torched the bejeezus out of the Washington Redskins a couple years back, there was the Randall Cunningham who proved to be athletically unstoppable for a while, and there are elements of Aaron Rodgers' deep accuracy in what Griffin does. He's not where Luck is right now, but he's got a shot to go far beyond Luck (and just about everyone else) over time.
And that's what makes Griffin's pro comparison so difficult. Vick seems like a default and lazy choice -- better to compare him to Randall Cunningham at his best (which we didn't see quite enough) and wonder just how supernatural the upside can be. If you could somehow combine the 1990 Cunningham who rushed for 8 yards per carry, and the 1998 Cunningham who led the league in touchdown percentage with the NFL's most explosive offense until the 2007 Patriots ... well, that's what I see at times. Somewhere between Superman and Frankenstein.
Does RGIII have Frankenstein socks?
Pro Comparison: Randall Cunningham, Philadelphia Eagles/Minnesota Vikings
#2: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford | #3: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama | #4: Morris Claborne, CB, LSU | #5: Matt Kalil, OT, USC | #6: Melvin Ingram, OLB/DE, South Carolina | #7: Fletcher Cox, DL, Mississippi State| #8: Michael Brockers, DL, LSU | #9: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State | #10: David CeCastro, OG, Stanford | #11: Stephon Gilmore, OG, Stanford | #12: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor | #13: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama| #14: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina| #15: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A & M| #16: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College| #17: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame| #18: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama | #19: Mark Barron, S, Alabama | #20: Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia | #21: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa | #22: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford| #23: Devon Still, DT, Penn State| #24: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama| #25: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State| #26: Nick Perry, DE, USC| #27: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska| #28: Dontari Poe, DT/DE, Memphis | #29: Whitney Mercilus, OLB/DE, Illinois | #30: Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson| #31, Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson| #32: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford| #33: Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi| #34: Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson | #35: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama | #36: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse| #37: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech| #38: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall| #39: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State | #40 : Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers| #41: Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina| #42: Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska| #43: Jared Crick, DE/DT, Nebraska| #44: Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina | #45: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State| #46: Orson Charles, TE, Georgia| #47: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami| #48: Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State | #49: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU | #50: Jonathan Massaqoui,