Few players in football, both in real life football and in fantasy football, are as polarizing as Robert Griffin III. The 2nd overall pick of the 2012 draft out of Baylor was supposed to be the next breakout star at the quarterback position and for one single season, he lived up to all the hype and more. He started 15 games for the Redskins, throwing for 3,200 yards, while rushing for another 815 and accounting for 27 total touchdowns, which ultimately garnered him rookie of the year honors.
Unfortunately, an injury in the playoffs derailed his progression during his first offseason, but of his 13 starts in 2013 he passed for over 3,200 yards, although his rushing total dipped to 489 yards. By seasons end, he had only accounted for 16 total touchdowns – none of which were on the ground after accounting for 7 the previous year- and was sacked 38 times, clearly he wasn’t the same dynamic player we saw his rookie year. To make things worse, in 2014, a coaching change in Washington only stunted his growth further. Playing in only 7 games and eventually losing his starting job to Kirk Cousins, which kept him benched through the entire 2015 season.
Enough with the RG3 history lesson. This off-season Griffin signed with the annually awful Cleveland Browns. The Browns overhauled their front office and coaching staff after the 2015 season by bringing in lawyers and baseball guys to run the team (of course they did!) and former Raiders head coach and Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to lead them on the field. I can’t think of a coach/quarterback duo that will be more closely linked together in 2016 than these two, so let’s look at Jackson a bit more then we might be able to see what we can possibly expect from the 2011 Heisman winner turned reclamation project.
The Jackson Effect
Since 1996 Jackson has either been a quarterback coach, offensive coordinator (OC) or a head coach at the NCAA or NFL level. Looking at only his 8 seasons as a head coach or OC in the NFL, you’ll see that he managed to get great production from his “good” quarterbacks, but was never able to extract anything fantasy relevant from his lesser talented signal callers. Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton put up solid QB1 numbers under Jackson’s watch, but others like Jason Campbell, Bruce Gradkowski, Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and even Carson Palmer did essentially nothing with Jackson at the helm. Collectively, the 11 quarterbacks that have been coached by Jackson have been marginally productive at best. So, it basically boils down to this: If you think Jackson is a guy who can motivate and extract the most out of talented players, and seeing how RG3 has arguably the most talent out of any QB that Jackson has coached then he may just do well. On the other hand, if you think RG3 was overrated coming out of college and just had a single, magical season-and-a-half, it might be a really long year for the Baylor product and his new coach.
The RGIII Experiment
Alright, let’s get back to the terrible 2016 Browns and Robert Griffin’s chances at success this season and going forward. Thus far, the Brown’s have said that Griffin will not be handed the job and that he’ll have to compete with Josh McCown in camp to determine their 2016 starter. Although, the Browns haven’t publicly stated by “want” Griffin to take the job and run with it (literally and figuratively). In fact, if you dig around enough various websites and sift through twitter accounts, you’ll see words like “underwhelming” and “inconsistent” or phrases like “working on mechanics”, which are not what you want to hear regarding a 5th year player that’s supposed to be running your offense.
The Supporting Cast
The supporting cast in Cleveland might be what determines if RG3 can resurrect his career or not. Cleveland’s backfield is currently led by a combo of Isiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. Both are more than capable NFL backs and should be enough of a presence that teams won’t be able to focus exclusively on stopping the quarterback. Journeyman tight end Gary Barnridge emerged last season after 7 years in the NFL doing less than nothing, so if he regresses back to old form it could hinder whoever the Browns cart out as their quarterback.
Addressing their wide receiver corps, this is an awfully young, extremely inexperienced collection of pass catchers albeit with a few pieces possessing a lot of upside. Further microscoping their pass catchers, of the 11 wide receivers currently on their roster they have a total of 22 years in the NFL- read that again if you have to- and that includes the 3 years as that Terrell Pryor was officially a quarterback himself. Some guy named Marlon Moore leads the experience train with 7 years and Andrew Hawkins has 6 years in. Taylor Gabriel is the only other player with 3 or more years as a NFL wide receiver. On the plus side, the Browns 1st round pick, rookie Corey Coleman, is a dynamic play maker who can stretch the field and has great hands and body control and likely a day 1 starter for this team. Among the other 3 rookie receivers taken by the Browns, Rashad “Hollywood” Higgins was one of the best pure route runners in the class, but fell due to lackluster athletic performances leading up to the draft.
*Edited Note: Josh Gordon has been re-instated since this was written. He only brings 3 years of experience to the table as well, but who knows if he’ll be ever be able duplicate his past successes after almost 2 full seasons out of football. I imagine he’ll return to the lineup in week 5 after serving a 4 game suspension to start the year.
What to make of it?
So, what to do with all this information? If you believe in RG3’s talent, then he is in a perfect situation to succeed in Cleveland. He’s surrounded by a core of young players, some more talented than others, and they all can grow together under Hue Jackson and develop under his offensive prowess. This has got to be the last chance RG3 gets to become a starting NFL quarterback and you’ll never be able to get him any cheaper than you can right now. If everything comes together, 3,200 + yards passing is certainly achievable once again. I don’t think he’ll ever approach 800 yards rushing again if the team has any interest in keeping him healthy, but somewhere between 300 and 400 yards on the ground would seem reasonable for a player with his skillset. He’ll also need to play smarter to reduce the number of hits and sacks he takes if he wants to stay on the field. Additionally, he’s going to need to dramatically increase his ability to secure the football.
An interesting side note…RGIII has 32 fumbles in 35 games, while amazingly only losing 10 of them. I don’t care how well he plays, few coaches at the NFL level will tolerate that level of fumblitis. The potential to once again become a QB1 in fantasy is there, but the tremendous downside is also looming. If McCown were to win and keep the starting gig in training camp, RG3 is nothing more than another footnote in NFL history, but if he can get his career back on track and resurrect what was one of the more promising starts to a career in the NFL, we could be looking at one of the best comeback stories in the history of football.
Thanks for reading! You can interact with me on Twitter @dibari22.