Back in October, I took at look at the question of whether Robert Griffin III is the best rookie quarterback ever. After taking an in-depth look at the issue, I decided that the only two players with legit claims to being better than Griffin were possibly Dan Marino and Ben Roethlisberger. Not bad.
Since then, Griffin had the first sub-par games of his career (Pittsburgh and Carolina), which he followed up with sublime play the past couple weeks. Coming off the bye week, Griffin completed 14-15 passes (including 4 touchdown passes) in beating the Eagles, and then followed it up with another 4 TD throws against the Cowboys. In those two games, Griffin tossed 9 incompletions...and 8 TD passes.
More important than the gaudy passing numbers, Griffin has led the Skins from a 1% chance (approximately) of making the playoffs to about a one-in-three shot going into tomorrow night's contest against the Giants. If Washington can find a way to beat New York, their odds of reaching the playoffs will improve even further -- perhaps to coin flip status.
But that's a post for next week. The issue at hand is just how good Griffin is compared to other rookie QBs through league history. Thankfully, the guys at Pro-Football-Reference make it easy with their "league index" stats. What the "index" stats do is allow for easy comparison of players across eras by evaluating them within the context of their own time.
For example, let's say Johnny Oldguy completed 50% of his passes in 1950 and Lamar Youngster completed 65% of his throws in 2010. The conventional way of looking at these numbers would have us believe that Youngster is better: 65%>50%. But, what if the league completion percentage in 1950 was 45% and the percentage in 2010 was 70%? Oldguy looks better, right? He was more accurate than players of his era while Youngster was less accurate than his competitors.
Index resolves this in a simple way -- it sets league average each season at 100. Higher is better. Back to Oldguy and Youngster. The "index" stat for Oldguy would be 111; for Youngster it would be 93. Which tells us in one easy to understand number that Oldguy was the more impressive QB (at least in terms of accuracy) for his time.
So, let's take a look at Griffin compared to other rookies.
First, here's a look at the stat most correlated with winning -- adjusted net yards per passing attempt.
Marc Bulger, STL, 2002 -- 137
Dan Marino, MIA, 1983 -- 131
Robert Griffin III, WAS, 2012 -- 120
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT, 2004 -- 119
Mark Rypien, WAS, 1988 -- 116
Matt Ryan, ATL, 2008 -- 116
Jim Kelly, BUF, 1986 -- 109
Jay Schroeder, WAS, 1985 -- 107
Cam Newton, CAR, 2011 -- 105
Charlie Batch, DET, 1998 -- 105
Interesting to see three Redskins QBs in the top 10, no? Also interesting to see 5 in the past decade from the top 10 (with a chance that Russell Wilson could slip past Batch into the top 10). Clearly, rookie QBs have had more success in recent years than in the "olden days" of football. And by the way, this is a good group to be part of, right?
Next, here's a look at completion percentage index (and no more references to Oldguy and Youngster, promise):
Tom Flores, OAK, 1960 -- 124
Roethlisberger -- 123
Y.A.Tittle, BCL, 1948 -- 123
Griffin -- 122
Bulger -- 119
Parker Hall, RAM, 1939 -- 119
Kelly -- 116
Charlie Conerly, NYG, 1948 -- 116
Dieter Brock, RAM, 1988 -- 115
Davey O'Brien, PHI, 1939 -- 115
I know what you're thinking: Who are these guys? Parker Hall? Davey O'Brien? Dieter Brock? Yeah, that's kinda the point. What Griffin's doing in terms of completion percentage is something rookies haven't done with any regularity...well...ever. Not even in the past decade when rookie QBs have found more overall success. And, by the way -- Brock was a 34-year old rookie.
Next, here's TD passes index (keeping in mind that this is rookies being compared to the league average for ALL QBs, not just rookies):
Rypien -- 149
Bulger -- 138
Marino -- 127
Roethlisberger -- 120
George Ratterman, BUF, 1947 -- 120
Russell Wilson, SEA -- 2012 -- 119
Jim Plunkett, NWE, 1971 -- 115
Marlin Briscoe, DEN, 1968 -- 114
Conerly -- 112
Griffin -- 111
Once again, Griffin is above the league average. And to me, it's an impressive number considering that he's run for scores several times that would likely have been passing TDs for a less mobile QB.
Let's turn now to interception rate. Once again, 100 is average and higher is better:
Hall -- 142
Tittle -- 139
Marino -- 128
Griffin -- 125
Glenn Dobbs, BDA, 1946 -- 123
Schroeder -- 123
Conerly -- 122
Butch Songin, BOS, 1960 -- 121
Paul Christman, CRD, 1945 -- 118
Neil O'Donnell, PIT, 1991 -- 117
Here again, Griffin separates himself from the pack. He's the only rookie in the past 21 years to rank in the top 10 in this key area of ball control. With the numbers we've looked at thus far, we've seen that Griffin makes plays (yards per passing attempt and TD passes), is accurate (completion percentage) and that he avoids mistakes (interception percentage). This is a rare combination in a rookie -- in fact, he's the ONLY rookie to rank in the top 10 in each of these categories.
Last, let's look at a comprehensive measure: passer rating, again indexed to league average:
Bulger -- 134
Marino -- 125
Tittle -- 124
Griffin -- 124
Roethlisberger -- 122
Conerly -- 121
Hall -- 117
Rypien -- 113
Flores -- 112
Kelly -- 112
If you've stayed with me this long, you've surely noticed that I've paid scant attention to a way Griffin adds tremendous value to the Redskins: his running. Every stat I've looked at so far deals exclusively with passing the ball. As a runner, Griffin is nearing all-time rookie records for total rushing yards, carries and yards per game, and he's among the all-time leaders in yards per carry and rushing TDs.
Please use the comments or my Twitter @broom_kevin to tell me if I'm overlooking something, but unless Griffin has a complete meltdown over the last few games, I think we're seeing the finest rookie QB season in league history.
And if the Skins thread the needle and reach the playoffs, he has to be strongly considered for league MVP. Just sayin'.