With two Shanahans, Mike and Kyle, at the helm, Robert Griffin III had a fantastic rookie season. If it weren’t for the injuries he picked up early in his career, there’s a good chance Washington would have had their franchise quarterback for the 2010s. I just want to get that out of the way before I really start stirring up the masses.
But with all the talk about a Possible return to the NFLwe need to take a closer look at this 2012 outbreak, warts and all.
Griffin’s 2012 season, in which the Baylor product threw for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns while scoring 815 and an additional seven points, is often cited as one of the best rookie seasons of all time. I can’t help but think that’s just not true. Griffin’s rookie season is often looked back on with rose-colored glasses because of the tremendous potential the fans saw as his injuries mounted later in his career. A closer look at his rookie season reveals that while Griffin is talented, he probably wouldn’t have reached the heights many assume he would have had he stayed healthy. Rather, Griffin would likely have remained a solid starter with some noticeable downsides.
let me explain.
When people talk about Griffin’s rookie season, it often revolves around his ability to make tight shots and deal damage with his legs. The latter is absolutely correct. There’s no denying that Griffin’s mobility was electric and groundbreaking, but when Griffin was forced to sit in the bag and make throws, Griffin wasn’t as great as our nostalgic minds make him out to be. Much of its success was due to play-action, and due to the proliferation of the read option in the early 2010s, it was incredibly effective. I’m not saying it’s not effective now, but teams aren’t doing game action nearly as often as they did in 2012.
For example, the Buffalo Bills made 196 play-action passes in 2021 — the most of any team in the NFL. 29.92 percent of their passes came from game actions. 2012 ran Washington Play action 42 percent of the time. FORTY-TWO PERCENT! That was seven percent more than the next closest teams (Seattle and Minnesota), and their odds (35 percent) were also the highest percentages since game action began tracking in 2005. In addition, Carolina also matched the previous high and chose game action on 33 percent of their passes in 2012.
Seattle had Russell Wilson. Carolina had Cam. Minnesota had…Christian Ponder, but the presence of Adrian Peterson in the backfield made game action that much more effective. Basically, if you had a mobile quarterback or generational halfback in the early 2010s, you were running game action at obscenely high rates.
I also don’t blame Washington for letting all this gameplay go. And they were incredibly effective. They led the league Defense-adjusted score above average (DVOA) at 66.7 percent on play-action in 2012. No other team was above 60 percent. However, Washington’s DVOA on regular passes was just five percent, one of the lowest in the NFL this year.
Now you might be thinking, “Who cares? As long as RG3 was in Mike Shanahan’s play-action-heavy system, he’d be great.” True, but in situations where his team was a point or two down late in games, how would he fare without play action? How did he act in situations where the defense knew a pass was coming?
Here were RG3’s stats during that 2012 season when they were trailing or tied in the fourth quarter:
56 out of 92 (60.9 percent)
6.0 meters per attempt
Rushing 165 yards
1 rushing TD
Good ball control but otherwise pretty mediocre numbers. The 6.0 meters per attempt is particularly scary when you consider that for all of 2021, only Trevor Lawrence recorded worse yards per attempt (5.9) when he was fourth among 2021 starters than 2012’s RG3. In fact, the next quarterback was in these situations Ryan Tannehill (6.5) and he averaging a full half yard more per attempt as Griffin did.
In addition, Griffin threw 13 passes for 30 yards in 2012. All but three were out of play action, and one of those three was a double pass, really, Griffin only made two big throws on regular dropbacks during his “legendary” rookie season. That’s not a good percentage. Eventually, the teams would figure out how to defend that game action in Washington. With more film on their Griffin-led offense, it was only a matter of time before opposing defenses knew when to bite the handoff and when not to. Griffin definitely had moments outside of play-action passing that showcased his potential and arm talent, but those moments didn’t occur consistently enough for me to believe he would have been an elite quarterback.
Was the potential there? Absolutely. Nobody denies his talent. His mobility would have made him relevant in the NFL for a long time, even if his passing game wasn’t great, and this was only his rookie season. He still had time to develop into a more versatile passer. That being said, he over-relyed on play-action for most of his explosiveness through the air. I know injuries played a big part in his downfall, but I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that Griffin’s career really took a turn for the worse in 2014, a year after offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left DC.
Griffin earned his 2012 Rookie of the Year award. His rookie season was fantastic but overrated. Both statements can be true. I just don’t think that if Griffin had stayed healthy he would have become a perennial MVP candidate like some people seem to think. fight me for it