Robert Griffin III has been the best thing to come to the Washington Redskins in a long time. But as we watch the second half of his rookie campaign, we must be careful not to give him too many accolades too quickly.
We won't know until this time next year whether the Redskins coaches have done a great job protecting him from the complexity of NFL defensive schemes, or if their control-based, limited offense is holding back the best weapon in Washington sports history. But in the doubt comes a lesson: if Griffin is expected to deliver too much too soon, that the warning signs of an impending collapse are already there.
It's entirely on Mike Shanahan to get this one right: it will be the only thing that determines if he has a job with the Redskins next year. If Griffin is being held back, he has to cut him loose. If he's protected him to this point, then he has to stay the course and handle the criticisms of his coaching methods in stride.
Because the facts about Griffin's statistical performance to date paint a very mixed picture. Griffin ranks sixth in the league according to the Pro Football Focus Grades, and tenth according to game film-adjusted Total QBR. But the further you get away from comprehensive grades that take the whole operation into account and into raw statistics, Griffin's performance begins to look a little rocky (albeit still fantastic for a rookie). His completion percentage and yards per attempt, which both led the NFL three weeks ago, have fallen back to earth. Griffin isn't quite even average (0.0%) in passing DVOA this season, a mark which Jason Campbell achieved three separate times in his career. Griffin's sack rate on the season still sits above 7.0%.
In the context of grading a rookie, none of this should raise red flags. But it's worth pointing out that in a lot of passing metrics (and some rushing metrics), Griffin is performing closer to the level of Russell Wilson, who was picked two and a half rounds later, than he is to Andrew Luck, who went with the top overall pick. Griffin's season has still been exceptional in so many ways, if not "three first round picks" exceptionial.
Furthermore, in future seasons, the shift in the complexity of the college game is creating a world where highly drafted quarterbacks come to the league with NFL-ready skill sets. This obviously benefitted Griffin and Luck a lot, as it did for Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, and Matt Ryan before them. But it will also benefit the rookies that come after Griffin and Luck to a much greater degree. And when you look at the careers of those rookie sensations, it's been a mixed bag, at best.
If the last three games end up being the weakest three games of Robert Griffin's Redskins career, he'll end the season as an ROY candidate, and his career as a hall of famer. But if they become a trend in his production, the Redskins are going to need to improve the team considerably in order to win with him.