Is Robert Griffin III the best rookie QB ever? Getty Images
After Sunday's loss to the New York Giants -- one of those infuriating, remote-smashing, I'm NEVER watching this team again (until next week) defeats -- replete with injuries to key players and failures of weak units that EVERYONE knew was weak at the end of last season, I've decided to focus on the positive: Robert Griffin III.
When the Skins paid the price to move up and select Griffin, it was a desperate gamble. The team needed competent, professional play at the position, and while it was a costly move, it's paying off with a guy who has the ability to be one of the best quarterbacks in history. Is he there yet? Of course not, but the start of his career is in rare air in many ways.
The raw numbers are good: he's on pace for nearly 3,700 pass yards, a 70.4% completion percentage, and a 2/1 TD/interception ratio. The QB stat most related to winning is adjusted passing yards per attempt -- Griffin leads the league this season. Not among rookies. Not among young quarterbacks. The entire league.
Let's take a quick look at how Griffin's numbers stack up against other rookies through the years. First up, completion percentage. Now, completion percentages have risen through the years, so it doesn't make much sense to directly compare Griffin's 70% (so far) to say Dan Marion's 58%. So, what I'll do (with some help from Pro Football Reference is compare rookie seasons within the context of their own time.
PFR has a handy "index" for a number of categories. In each category, 100 = league average. A score above 100 is above average a score below 100 is below average. Simple, right?
Here's the rookie Completion Percentage index since 1970 (minimum 250 attempts):
Robert Griffin III, WAS -- 130
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT -- 123
Dennis Shaw, BUF -- 112
Dan Marino, MIA -- 106
Peyton Manning, IND; Matt Ryan, ATL -- 100
Cam Newton, CAR; Sam Bradford, STL; Steve Fuller, KAN -- 98
Joe Flacco, BAL -- 97
David Woodley, MIA -- 96
Steve Grogan, NWE; Rick Mirer, SEA -- 95
Tim Couch, CLE -- 97
Remember, this is comparing rookies to the league average, not just to other rookies.
Next, let's look at Adjusted Yards per Passing Attempt:
Roethlisberger -- 126
Griffin, Marino -- 123
Ryan -- 114
Batch -- 110
Newton -- 107
Jim Plunkett, NWE, Shaw -- 104
Jake Plummer, ARI -- 101
Steve Grogan, NWE; Flacco -- 99
Steve Bartkowski, ATL -- 98.
Tony Banks, STL -- 97
A key attribute for quarterbacks is the ability to avoid turnovers. Research by Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats, indicates that QBs control interceptions -- not defenses. In other words, QBs throw picks, defenses don't "take them" from the QBs with any consistency. Thus far, Griffin has done an admirable job of avoiding those mistakes.
Here's a list of rookie QB Interception Rates, again indexed to league average. Here again, 100 = average and a higher score is better:
Marino -- 128
Griffin -- 119
Ryan -- 107
Andy Dalton, CIN; Bradford; Bruce Gradkowski, TAM -- 106
Plunkett -- 105
Flacco -- 103
Blaine Gabbert, JAX -- 103
Trent Edwards, BUF; Andrew Luck -- 101
Tim Couch, CLE -- 100
Matt Leinart, ARI -- 99
One area where Griffin is lagging a bit is throwing for touchdowns. This may be in part because he's such an effective runner. Some possible TD throws may be reflected in his 6 rushing scores.
Still, here's the TD rate index for rookies:
Marino -- 127
Roethlisberger -- 120
Plunkett -- 115
Plummer -- 111
Jeff George, IND -- 110
Bartkowski -- 109
P. Manning -- 105
Banks; Christian Ponder, MIN -- 102
Woodley -- 101
Heath Shuler, WAS -- 100
For TD rate, Griffin's score is 94 -- a shade below the league average, but still among the top 20 rates for a rookie QB. Rookie QBs with a comparable TD rate include Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, and Vince Young, and ranks ahead of players like Stafford, Flacco, Troy Aikman and John Elway.
Finally, let's look at Passer Rating, again indexed to league average:
Marino -- 125
Griffin, Roethlisberger -- 122
Batch -- 107
Ryan -- 106
Plunkett -- 104
Newton; Shaw -- 100
Flacco -- 97
George -- 96
Plummer, Grogan, Couch, Dalton -- 95
Bartkowski -- 94
Impressive, no? And let's keep in mind that these numbers look solely at passing -- Griffin isn't getting a bump because of his running ability. Now consider that Griffin is averaging 67 yards rushing per game -- tops among all rookie QBs since 1970. His 7.3 yards per rushing attempt are also near the top for rookies. Only Cam Newton and Vince Young have more rushing TDs than Griffin -- and Griffin has 9 more games this season.
So, the offensive line might be is weak. The defensive backfield is atrocious. The Skins can't generate much pass rush with Brian Orakpo sidelined. But they've found a major talent in Griffin. It's going to be fun watching him for the next 10-15 years in burgundy and gold.