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Padanilam: RG3 and the problem with young quarterbacks in the NFL

| Friday, September 4, 2015

When news of Robert Griffin III’s removal from the starting quarterback spot hit the wires four days ago, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. His story is emblematic of the unfair expectations and mismanagement that are far too prevalent in the NFL today, and it’s a shame the best player at the position for the Redskins is sitting on the bench because of it.

Drafted just four years ago, Griffin took the league by storm. He set rookie records for quarterback rating and touchdown-to-interception ratio. He won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, was named co-caption by the team midway through the season and led the team to its first playoff appearance in six seasons. His meteoric rise led to his being tabbed the “savior” of the Washington Redskins organization.

Then came the playoffs, when Griffin faced his first true obstacle: an ACL injury. Despite having not been cleared to return to game action following a previous knee sprain, Griffin was put back on the field by then-Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan in the NFC wild card game. This decision only exacerbated the injury and, ultimately, started Griffin’s downfall.

Throughout the offseason, Griffin made immense strides to get back on the field by Week 1 of the 2013 season. However, the rust and lack of a full recovery were evident in his play, as the superstar that had blossomed just the year before failed to make an appearance. Soon, tension between Griffin and Shanahan became public, and Shanahan effectively gave up on Griffin and benched him for the last three games of the season.

Then, at the start of the 2014 season, the Redskins hired Jay Gruden to replace Shanahan as head coach. Yet nothing changed, as Gruden soon made it clear that he was far from a fan of Griffin’s, calling him out through the media and benching him for several games in what became a season-long mess at the quarterback position for the Redskins. And now, before this season has even begun, he has been benched yet again for a quarterback in Kirk Cousins he has proven to be better than.

The evidence speaks for itself. All three seasons he has been in the league, his quarterback rating has been higher than Cousins. In the two seasons he was benched for Cousins, he had a higher completion percentage. And by the way, his career 40-23 touchdown-to-interception ratio is vastly superior to Cousins’ 18-19 mark. This doesn’t even account for the mobility Griffin has — albeit limited since his injury — and Cousins simply does not.

While Griffin’s story is certainly paramount in the mismanagement of young quarterbacks in the NFL, it is far from the only one. Look at Johnny Manziel, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy or any one of the 20 quarterbacks the Browns have started since 1999. What about Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville or Jake Locker in Tennessee? They were first round picks by bad teams who failed to improve at other positions. Then, failing to experience immediate turnaround, these teams made those young quarterbacks the scapegoats and immediately moved on.

Undoubtedly, the immediate success of Griffin played a significant role in the unfair expectations that resulted in his mismanagement. In addition, the success of young quarterbacks like Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson have created a perception around the NFL that success comes immediately and, if it does not, then it is time to move on. They fail to realize these players are either once-in-a-generation talents (Luck) or very good players finding themselves on an already very good team (Wilson). They have all but forgotten that elite players at the position such as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers did not even start in their first seasons, let alone shine. Peyton Manning’s Colts went 3-13 his rookie season.

Quarterback is the toughest position to play in all of sports. You receive the credit for the wins and bear the blame for the losses. Yet expectations continue to bury young quarterbacks in a hole that they are never even given the chance to recover from. Robert Griffin III has shown fans and opposing defenses that he can be a star in the NFL. It’s a shame Jay Gruden and the Redskins won’t give him a fair chance to prove it to them too.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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