Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III? The NFL draft is less than two weeks away and the buzz around the league is the possibility that Griffin might be the better choice as the number one pick in the draft for the Indianapolis Colts.
Griffin is undoubtedly the superior athlete of the two with some fans in Indianapolis frothing at the mouth at the possibility of another Michael Vick or Cam Newton taking over the reins of the Colts offense. They’ll point out the college stats of both players noting that Griffin is slightly ahead of Luck in most categories though it should be noted Griffin’s stats are compiled over a 4 year period while Luck accomplished his stats in three years. For the most part statistically, both quarterbacks are fairly even with the exception of rushing yards and rushing TD’s where Griffin’s athletic ability clearly puts him ahead. However, Luck’s passing ability has him way out in front in passing TD’s.
Both quarterbacks will have fine careers in the NFL…in the right setups. For the Colts, that means taking Luck. The comparisons to Vick, Newton and half a dozen other “running” quarterbacks may not even be fair to Griffin but the one fact that can’t be ignored is that there has not been a team that started a “running” quarterback since arguably the 1999 Denver Broncos and John Elway (and I wouldn’t consider him a “running” quarterback…he just had unparalled escapability) that has won the Super Bowl. The last nine Super Bowls have been won by quarterbacks that will likely never be classified as the most athletic quarterbacks to play the game. But Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Aaron Rogers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger all had more than enough athletic ability to lead their teams to championships. What all those quarterbacks did have (with Big Ben being at the bottom of my list) is the athletic ability that resides from the neck up. The athletic IQ, which while not sexy in terms of generating fan excitement, is the skill that many coaches and GM’s feel is almost uncoachable. It’s the instinctual ability to look over a situation and know exactly what to do and recognize that in just a few seconds.
Given time and experience, some quarterbacks are able to learn this ability. But to come straight out of college already possessing a feel for this is something that the Colts can ill afford to pass up. The last time a quarterback was available with similar attributes? 1998 when it was the Indianapolis Colts faced with the same scenario. Choose the very athletic, big armed, huge upside potential quarterback out of Washington State in Ryan Leaf or go for the highly cerebral, well prepared, slower of foot and adequate armed Volunteer passer in Peyton Manning? History deems that Indianapolis made the right pick that April 18th in 1998.
Make no mistake, it would be no small miracle to have Luck start for the Colts this season and lead this team to an 8-8 or even a 7-9 record. While Luck’s athletic IQ is generally agreed upon as being unmatched in this year’s draft class, he will still need a season or perhaps even two to acclimate himself to the pro game. The different defensive schemes, the constant adjustments done during a game and of course the speed of the game itself will take some time to adjust to, even for someone with Luck’s mental ability. But as Peyton Manning proved, once adjusted to the speed of the game, the brain is faster than any defensive scheme and when something is recognized at the line of scrimmage the results can be deadly.
It’s now a cliché to hear NFL rookies exclaim how much faster the pro game is compared to college. A fact that many seemingly overlook when looking at college talent and their athletic ability. Those same players that were out-running, breaking tackles and out-jumping seemingly everybody at the college level finds that at the pro level they are playing against players with the same ability. The quarterback, running back, wide receiver…etc, that outran defensive backs at the college level for long touchdown runs now may find themselves dropped for two-yard losses.
Shed no tears for Griffin falling to number two. Unlike that 1998 draft where Ryan Leaf ended up as the number two pick and that became the highlight of his pro career, Griffin’s head seems to be screwed on much straighter. Griffin will likely have better stats and results than Luck will in his first two seasons simply because the Redskins can surround him with better talent initially than can the Colts and that his athletic ability will allow him to make some plays in situations that other quarterbacks would not be able to. Should he be able to recognize the defenses that he will be shown and adjust accordingly, then we can enjoy this debate for many years to come. But teams will be coming after Griffin the same way they have for Vick and Newton. They will try to get him to run first and then apply a free hit hoping to either knock him out of the game or make an ill-advised play.
The Manning’s, Brady, Brees and the like all understood that their longevity in the NFL is tied to being able to avoid such hits. It’s what keeps them on the field to set up the next play and possibly torch the defense. That all comes back to athletic IQ.
When a player has the necessary athletic ability to play AND the athletic IQ to play the game at an above average level, then the IQ of the front office has to be at a level to recognize this and make the right decision.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has already hinted as much in his tweets (by the way if you want some of the most entertaining, enlightening and controversial tweets out there follow Irsay @JimIrsay) that he favors Luck. Will the choice be left up to new Colts GM Ryan Grigson and new head coach Chuck Pagano or will Irsay make the decision himself? We’ll probably never know. But all signs point to Luck becoming the new Colts QB and whoever is credited for making the decision will also be credited for making the right decision and long after the draft is over we’ll also likely find out that as far as the Colts were concerned, there never was a debate in the first place.