When I wrote on this topic earlier in the season, it was still projection. IF Robert Griffin III continued performing at the same level, he would go down as the best rookie QB in league history. Now the regular season is complete, the Redskins are (improbably) in the playoffs as NFC East champs, and their future is brighter than ever because of the transcendent rookie Robert Griffin III.
The numbers below compare rookie QBs to the league average QB. The league average in each category is set at 100 season-by-season. Higher is better. This allows us to compare players from different eras by measuring their performance relative to their contemporaries.
These numbers are for rookie QBs since 1970 — the year of the NFL-AFL merger — with at least 240 pass attempts (15 per game). I've run the numbers going back to the beginning of pro football history, and while the names change a bit, Griffin's position on these lists is basically the same. Plus, the post-merger names are more familiar to football fans.
Yards Per Passing Attempt
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, 2004 — 136
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins, 2012 — 120
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons, 2008 — 119
Dennis Shaw, Buffalo Bills, 1970 — 118
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, 2012 — 116
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, 2011 — 115
Jake Plummer, Arizona Cardinals, 1997 — 113
Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills, 1986 — 111
Steve Grogan, New England Patriots, 1975 — 109
Charlie Batch, Detroit Lions, 1998 — 108
I start with this stat because it's the one that's most closely linked to winning. There are several iterations of this number, and Griffin ranks highly in all of them. In case you're wondering, Andrew Luck stands 22nd on this list with 97 — tied with Jim Plunkett, and a hair ahead of Peyton Manning. Dan Marino ranks 11th.
Roethlisberger — 123
Griffin — 117
Kelly — 116
Dieter Brock, Los Angeles Rams, 1985 — 115
Shaw — 112
Wilson — 112
Jeff Garcia — 110
Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins, 1983 — 106
Warren Moon, Houston Oilers, 1984 — 105
Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals, 2004 — 105
Among the top 10 are several older rookies including Brock (34), Kelly (26 — with USFL experience), Garcia (29), and Moon (28 with extensive CFL experience). Luck lands 44th in this category with a 78. That means he's solidly below league average in completion percentage.
Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins, 1983 — 127
Russell Wilson — 127
Roethlisberger — 120
Jim Plunkett, New England Patriots, 1971 — 115
Plummer — 111
Jeff George, Indianapolis Colts, 1990 — 110
Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta Falcons, 1975 — 109
Griffin — 109
Phil Simms, New York Giants, 1979 — 109
Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, 1998 — 105
Simple measure: passing TDs divided by pass attempts. Griffin started the season slowly in this category, and cannibalized some passing TDs from himself with his running ability. Even so, his TD% was solidly better than the average NFL quarterback this season. Luck wound up 26th on this list with a 94 — the same score as Vince Young, and just ahead of guys like Josh Freeman, Matt Stafford, Kerry Collins and Joe Flacco.
Marino — 128
Griffin — 126
Batch — 117
Bernie Kosar, Cleveland Browns, 1985 — 117
Neil O'Donnell, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1991 — 117
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles, 2012 — 115
Moon — 114
Brock — 107
Kelly — 107
Ryan — 107
Another simple measure: interceptions divided by pass attempts. Avoiding turnovers is a critical skill for QBs, and Griffin was among the best rookies ever at doing it. Wilson, who Griffin will face in the playoffs Sunday, was 16th in this category with a 104; Luck was 26th with a 98.
Marino — 125
Griffin — 122
Roethlisberger — 122
Wilson — 119
Kelly — 112
Brock — 110
Batch — 107
Ryan — 106
Plunkett — 104
O'Donnell — 103
The long-used overall measure of passer effectiveness. Here again we see Griffin near the top of the list — well above the league average QB. Once again, Wilson ranks high as well. Luck stands 31st with an 89.
By now you're probably noticing that all of the above numbers are about passing. Griffin, of course, adds a running dimension that has left opposing defenses befuddled. In addition to being the best rookie passer of all time, Griffin's also the best runner. This season, he ran for 815 yards — an all-time high for a rookie QB (breaking Cam Newton's record). His 6.8 yards per carry ranks third among rookie QBs (behind Troy Aikman and Christian Ponder — both of whom were purely scramblers). He had 7 rushing TDs — tied for 2nd all time behind Newton (14) and tied with Vince Young. Griffin was also first in rushing yards per game.
Also not included specifically in these numbers are his sublime ball skills. Griffin's play fakes freeze opposing linebackers, which help Redskins receivers get free, help the offensive line in pass protection, and help Alfred Morris find room to run.
A great rookie season doesn't necessarily mean Griffin will have a great career. But it's a good sign. He's in a rare class of rookie performance, and odds are he's on his way to a successful career.