My professors at Ball State warned me that my good looks, perfectly sculpted body and high intellect might impede my career as a journalist. They feared my seemingly endless physical and intellectual gifts would prevent me from developing a singular focus.
I have similar fears when assessing Robert Griffin III’s NFL prospects. Abundant talent can be a curse.
The biggest news of the NFL Combine was RG3’s blazing 40-yard dash time. He covered 40 yards like a shutdown corner, clocking a 4.41. The instant-Twitter analysis of NFL experts was that Griffin’s show of speed increased the value of the Rams’ pick, the one right after the pick the Colts are expected to use on Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
In my opinion, Griffin’s speed doesn’t enhance his draft stock. It damages it.
I am not a Robert Griffin hater. I love RG3. In all likelihood, he will be my favorite NFL player next season. He could quickly become my favorite active athlete, ahead of Tiger Woods, Ray Lewis and Jeff George (has yet to file his retirement paperwork).
But I’m worried about Griffin. He’s blessed with too many tools. Oftentimes, the greatest athletes are physically limited, which strengthens their focus. Bill Russell could never match Wilt Chamberlain’s size and limitless athleticism. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson weren’t the greatest leapers or the quickest on their feet.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are relatively immobile. They play from the pocket because they have no choice. They mastered the art of playing from the pocket because they had no other choice.
NFL games are won most consistently by quarterbacks who play from the pocket. If a quarterback leaves the pocket, he’s going to get hit. If a quarterback gets hit regularly, he’s going to get hurt. If a franchise quarterback gets injured, his team has little chance of winning the Super Bowl.
NFL teams are looking for the next Manning or Brady. Or the next Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. A little mobility is good, especially if the quarterback moves in the pocket in an effort to throw downfield. Rodgers and Big Ben are terrific at moving to throw. Is that how Griffin will use his athleticism?
Or does Griffin have so much speed that he’ll channel Michael Vick?
Vick had too much talent early in his career. The game was too easy. The temptation to fix problems with his feet was too great for him to master QB play from the pocket. He’s just now attempting to play the game from the pocket. Even now, he gives in to his blazing speed and exits the pocket prematurely.
OK, we know RG3 is vastly different from the young Michael Vick. But it took Donovan McNabb a few years to commit to pocket play. Steve Young had to sit behind Joe Montana in San Francisco to learn to fully appreciate the pocket.
NFL fans are going to want to see Griffin run. When you’re faster than everyone on the field, it makes sense to run. Griffin is going to be fighting common sense and his natural instincts.
And what if he gets paired with the wrong head coach, a coach who is looking for a quick-fix rather than Griffin’s long-term success?
There is talk that the Redskins might want to move up in the draft to get RG3. Mike Shanahan is under pressure in Washington. He needs to win right away to ease the public pressure and prevent Daniel Snyder from firing him. Shanahan could play Griffin as a rookie and allow him to run because his legs might produce eight or nine victories quicker than his arm.
All coaches prefer to win now. It’s the only way to guarantee another season. Is there a proven, confident coach in a stable organization willing to properly support Griffin’s development?
Environment and fit are the keys to Griffin’s success. That’s why Luck is the better prospect. Luck is extremely gifted, but he won’t be tempted to outrun James Harrison or Terrell Suggs. The only way for Luck to consistently avoid big hits will be with quick reads and a quicker release. He’ll be forced to play QB the “right” way.
That is not to say Luck will be a better NFL quarterback than Griffin. My money is on Griffin being the second coming of Steve Young. But I’m just a fan. It won’t be my job to teach him to shy away from his God-given talent.