Heading into his junior season at Stanford, it was already a foregone conclusion that Andrew Luck would be the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. In fact, he would've been the likely top pick had he elected to declare for the draft following his redshirt sophomore season. Several NFL evaluators were calling Luck the most "pro ready" quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning and it appeared he was going to face incredibly unrealistic expectations upon his arrival in the NFL.
Then something happened that changed everything.
During a nationally televised game on the opening weekend of the 2011 college football season, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III captured everyone's attention, torching No. 14 TCU for 359 yards passing and five touchdowns in a thrilling 50-48 win. That was the first of many remarkable moments for Griffin during his junior campaign. His rare combination of arm strength, accuracy and athleticism took Baylor football to new heights and earned him the 2011 Heisman Trophy.
When the 2012 draft rolled around, there was actually some talk that Griffin could replace Luck as the No. 1 pick. While that didn't come to fruition, Griffin did end up going second to the Washington Redskins. So, as we head into the 2012 NFL season, all eyes will be on two rookie quarterbacks instead of one.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at both of their situations and determine which of them would be under more pressure in 2012. In most years, it's a slam dunk that the top pick will face more scrutiny. I don't believe that to be the case this year.
1. Griffin will be expected to lead his team to more victories.
Despite only winning three more games that the Indianapolis Colts last season, the Redskins are perceived as a far superior team heading into the 2012 campaign. Washington defeated the Super Bowl champion New York Giants in both of their meetings last year. The 'Skins finished the season with the NFL's No. 16 offense and No. 13 ranked defense. Five of their losses came by seven points or less. On the other hand, the Colts finished the 2011 season with the NFL's No. 30 offense and No. 25 defense. They lost their first 13 games of the season and had many declaring they were even worse than the Detroit Lions team that went winless in 2008.
Among Redskins fans, RG3 is viewed as the missing piece, while Andrew Luck is viewed as the first piece to Colts fans. Washington is entering its third season under two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Shanahan. This is must-win time. The Colts are entering their first season under first-time head coach Chuck Pagano. Pagano has zero career wins as a head coach. Shanahan has 276. After the decision was made to cut ties with Peyton Manning, the Colts weren't shy in proclaiming this season the start of a rebuilding effort.
2. The NFC East is far tougher than the AFC South.
Griffin is expected to lead his team to greater heights than Luck this season while competing in a much tougher division. In 2011, the Redskins were the only team in the NFC East to have a losing record. The Giants enter the 2012 season as the defending Super Bowl champs, while the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys are both legitimate title contenders.
Luck and the Colts face an easier road in the AFC South. The Houston Texans are the only team in the division capable of making a deep playoff run. The Tennessee Titans are a physical, well-coached bunch that won nine games last season, but they are likely to break in a new quarterback (Jake Locker) at some point this year. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be hard-pressed to win more than 5-6 games.
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There's a big difference between playing in Washington D.C. and Indianapolis. The media attention and fan intensity is far greater in the nation's capital. Last year, while heading to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, I was on the same flight as Luck. When we landed, he grabbed his bag from the overhead compartment and pulled out a baseball cap. As he walked toward the baggage claim area, he pulled his hat down very low, seemingly trying to hide his identity from an awaiting throng of fans or local media. After a few minutes waiting for his bag, he realized there wasn't a single person who recognized him. I took this opportunity to go up to Luck and crack a joke about all the attention he was getting after arriving in town to replace one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.
Such is life in Indy.
Statistical expectations for Luck and RG3
In my opinion, Robert Griffin III is the best thing that ever happened to Andrew Luck. Just nine months ago, it was widely thought that Luck would enter the NFL with more hype than any player in the last decade. Now, it's likely that he won't even receive the same attention in his rookie season as another quarterback in his own draft class. Sharing the spotlight with another player will help ease the pressure on Luck and allow him to focus on simply improving day by day.
While Griffin and the Redskins face more pressure to pile up wins this year, I believe Griffin and Luck face the same statistical expectations. What are those expectations? Neither player is likely to duplicate Cam Newton's incredible rookie season. (Newton completed 60 percent of his passes for 4,051 yards, 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, while rushing for an additional 706 yards and 14 scores.) Realistically, I expect both players to put up numbers similar to recent top-three selections Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan. I anticipate them to complete around 60 percent of their passes for 3,400 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. I'll be disappointed if either of them fails to post numbers in that range.