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Robert Griffin III Finishes Regular Season As Best Rookie QB Ever

 

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

  1. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, 2004 — 136
  2. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins, 2012 — 120
  3. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons, 2008 — 119
  4. Dennis Shaw, Buffalo Bills, 1970 — 118
  5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, 2012 — 116
  6. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, 2011 — 115
  7. Jake Plummer, Arizona Cardinals, 1997 — 113
  8. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills, 1986 — 111
  9. Steve Grogan, New England Patriots, 1975 — 109
  10. 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.

Completion Percentage

  1. Roethlisberger — 123
  2. Griffin — 117
  3. Kelly — 116
  4. Dieter Brock, Los Angeles Rams, 1985 — 115
  5. Shaw — 112
  6. Wilson — 112
  7. Jeff Garcia — 110
  8. Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins, 1983 — 106
  9. Warren Moon, Houston Oilers, 1984 — 105
  10. 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.

Passing TD%

  1. Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins, 1983 — 127
  2. Russell Wilson — 127
  3. Roethlisberger — 120
  4. Jim Plunkett, New England Patriots, 1971 — 115
  5. Plummer — 111
  6. Jeff George, Indianapolis Colts, 1990 — 110
  7. Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta Falcons, 1975 — 109
  8. Griffin — 109
  9. Phil Simms, New York Giants, 1979 — 109
  10. 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.

Interception Percentage

  1. Marino — 128
  2. Griffin — 126
  3. Batch — 117
  4. Bernie Kosar, Cleveland Browns, 1985 — 117
  5. Neil O'Donnell, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1991 — 117
  6. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles, 2012 — 115
  7. Moon — 114
  8. Brock — 107
  9. Kelly — 107
  10. 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.

Passer Rating

  1. Marino — 125
  2. Griffin — 122
  3. Roethlisberger — 122
  4. Wilson — 119
  5. Kelly — 112
  6. Brock — 110
  7. Batch — 107
  8. Ryan — 106
  9. Plunkett — 104
  10. 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.

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