No. 2: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Why he's here
RG3's game is filled with addictive contradictions. He specializes in taking the safe, fundamental throw, but he mixes in explosive plays you can't teach. Everything about his game is fast, from his feet to his decision-making. Yet he shows rare patience for a young player, letting the game come to him. More than any young quarterback, Griffin resembles a veteran because he so rarely makes a mental mistake.
The long runs and longer passes show up on the highlight reels. They are a big part of the package. But Griffin's defining trait as a rookie was the most old-school quarterback habit possible: accuracy. He so rarely misses or goes on cold streaks. Griffin doesn't just find his receivers; he leads them, creating yards after the catch. He hits the perfect shoulder.
In the above video, Griffin put the ball exactly where it had to be on the touchdown to Logan Paulsen, leading him into the end zone. The throw to Josh Morgan was rare in a few ways. Griffin usually doesn't force the ball into that tight a window. If that pass went one foot to the left or right, it would have been an interception. There was about one foot to work with, and Griffin found it.
Another contradiction: Griffin set the NFL on fire while playing in an efficient, conservative offense. The Redskins ran on third and long. They did not throw the ball too much. Griffin led the league in yards per attempt and fewest interceptions per throw, an ideal combination of big plays and careful play.
The Redskins were wildly efficient because Griffin usually made the right choice with where to throw the ball. This happens before the ball is even snapped. So much of what Griffin does is unseen, but of course there are days when Griffin performs feats for everyone to see. (Enter the RG3 Zone.) Thanksgiving was one of those days.
Why he's not higher
Well, only one player could be No. 1. There's not much more Griffin could have done as a rookie given his opportunities. He only averaged 26 throws per game, a tiny number in 2012's pass-wacky NFL. (For comparison, Andrew Luck averaged 39 throws per start.) I'm not holding that against Griffin, but the Redskins didn't ask him to do as much. Even Griffin admitted Thursday that when his injured leg slowed him down late in the year, he was forced to go through his reads more. That's an area of development to work on for Year 2.
Before Griffin's first injury in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens, he occasionally made poor decisions as a runner. When Griffin got in trouble, he left the pocket too quickly. His first read wasn't there and he ran, too often failing to avoid taking big hits. There are many examples in the plays to the right where he could have slid or gone out of bounds, but instead he took a beating.
Making smarter decisions as a runner will be an emphasis following Griffin's ACL surgery. The Redskins already were dialing back his exposure as a runner before he was hurt against the Ravens, and that trend should continue. He barely had any run-option or called run plays in the Ravens game; the injury came on a scramble. Griffin already showed, to a degree, what he'll look like without running so much. He still should be effective overall and make better decisions to avoid hits.
Griffin was one of the best quarterbacks in the league last season partly because defenses had no answer for Washington's bread-and-butter plays. The Redskins repeatedly ran play action in some form, causing opposing linebackers to step toward the line of scrimmage and allowing Griffin to throw darts to a receiver on a slant entering the vacated area.
It was almost comical to watch the Redskins handle NFL defenses in this manner. The first two plays above were both to tight end Fred Davis, just one minute apart. The next two plays were both to Josh Morgan in succession. The Redskins dressed up these plays with different formations or backfield action, but the principles remained the same. I could have chosen at least four more plays just like them from this game alone.
Defenses will catch up. As Griffin matures, he can't count on as many wide-open receivers as he saw in 2012. That's fine. Griffin was a master at taking what the defense gave him, and Mike Shanahan will find ways to give his quarterback good looks. Griffin is at his career floor. He's a Pro Bowl quarterback who is accurate and makes smart decisions. Those skills never go out of style. His "worst-case scenario" involves more knee injuries and less mobility, and that's just not something you can predict (or is particularly fun to think about).
Griffin had the best season of any rookie last year and was my choice for Rookie of the Year. He couldn't have done a lot more. I chose Andrew Luck as the No. 1 25-or-under QB whom I'd want leading my franchise for a few reasons, including Griffin's two ACL surgeries. Griffin should bounce back, but there's no reason to ignore that it happened. (If the injury had occurred during the regular season, rather than the playoffs, people would view the injury differently.)
"Griffin's ceiling" feels like a silly section heading because there isn't one at this point. Not after one year. Not after one of the greatest rookie seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. You could make an argument it was the best.
Shanahan loves to puff up his own players, but it wasn't hyperbole when he told NFL.com's Albert Breer that Griffin has a chance to be an all-time great. That's the expectation after the season we just witnessed. Griffin wouldn't have it any other way.