Spurned early in the Peyton Manning Sweepstakes, the Washington Redskins made a franchise-defining move Friday night, trading the farm for the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. Barring a surprise selection by the Indianapolis Colts, they have moved into position to take the man many are starting to believe could be one of the best prospects in NFL history: Robert Griffin III.
If reports on the bounty are correct — after swapping 1st round picks, they will also owe St. Louis a 2nd round pick in 2012, a 1st round pick in 2013, and a 1st round pick in 2014 — then significant criticism is likely to follow even though this was undoubtedly the right decision by Washington’s aggressive front office.
Landing in Washington is clearly the best spot for Griffin’s immediate fantasy impact. As Mike Clay pointed out last summer, Mike Shanahan is the most pass-oriented head coach in the NFL. Don’t expect that offense to be scaled back for the rookie after Cam Newton led the Panthers to the No. 5 scoring offense in the league – and without the benefit of an offseason.
Unlike in Miami or Cleveland, Griffin figures to be surrounded by an explosive cast at the skill positions. Let’s take a quick look:
Helu tore up the 2011 Combine, posting an excellent Agility Score in addition to an impressive 40 at his size. Even before the RGIII trade, Helu was set to be featured in Part II of my Contrarian article about Breakout RBs. Helu is the perfect back for Washington’s zone blocking scheme, and excelled out of the backfield as a rookie with 49 receptions. It may be a fluke, but consider the jump LeSean McCoy took when paired with Michael Vick, and the dominance Chris Johnson showed with Vince Young. Explosive backs like Helu are often unstoppable when the defense is having to spy on the QB.
Or insert Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, or Mario Manningham, if you prefer, but Washington has made it clear they plan to sign a premier WR in free agency. Washington finally has salary cap space, and Daniel Snyder rarely gets outbid in that situation. Jackson is probably a little overrated — he ranked 28th in PFF’s WR pass ratings — but he’s a true vertical threat. V-Jax finished 10th in the NFL last year with 464 yards coming on passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. With 9 TDs in each of his last two full seasons, Jackson will provide the rookie an elite scoring threat from anywhere on the field.
Hankerson struggled last year in training camp but emerged with a vengeance in Week 10 going off for 8 catches and 106 yards. In a small sample, Hankerson led the Redskins WRs in yards per pass route run. His 1.79 yprr was the same number posted by Dez Bryant and better than big names like DeSean Jackson and Sidney Rice. Hankerson possesses a better size/speed combination than his 3rd Round draft selection suggests, and he instantly becomes a top sleeper for 2012 now that he has a legitimate QB.
If he can avoid further suspension, the Washington TE could be one of the biggest steals of next year’s draft. In 2011 Fred Davis averaged more yards per route than Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, and Jermichael Finley. Even if Vincent Jackson is added and Leonard Hankerson emerges, Davis should see enough snaps and targets to finish as a Top 5 TE.
Santana Moss/Jabar Gaffney
Both veterans should be forced from the starting lineup, and one may be released, but they each graded out positively a year ago. Moss saw 31% of his snaps out of the slot, and his target percentage jumped 10 points in that capacity. Gaffney recorded five games where he was +1.0 or better according to PFF charters and could emerge as an effective security blanket.
If Cam Newton — a less polished passer with an inferior supporting cast — can average 7.8 yards per attempt as a rookie, then the sky’s the limit for RGIII. Washington passers dropped back 643 times in 2012 and attempted 590 passes. If we assume a slower pace and a handful of passes becoming designed QB runs, we should still see 550 attempts. If Griffin averages a more conservative 7.2 ypa, that leaves him with 3,960 yards.
In their first full seasons, Vick and Newton both went over 700 yards rushing. Though arguably a better athlete than either, Griffin didn’t demonstrate quite that level of rushing prowess in college. As a much more advanced passer, he also won’t need to run as much. 500 yards rushing seems like a safer estimate.
The Grossman/Beck combo notched 18 TDs a season ago. Griffin should reach 25 with a few of those potentially coming as a rusher. Add all of that together, and Griffin averages 24.9 ppg, which would have left him 7th at the position a season ago. He won’t go that high in 2012 drafts. Assuming Peyton Manning lands in Arizona (or Miami), there are nine locks to go ahead of him. Considering how Matt Ryan’s career has stalled and the ongoing exodus of talent from San Diego, you have to consider RGIII at QB10 next year. There are plenty of scenarios in which Griffin is a fantasy bust next season, but young, mid-round QBs are great picks from a risk/reward standpoint. Just ask Stafford and Newton owners.
Enthusiasm for RGIII runs rampant at PFF Fantasy, managing editor Mike Clay ranks Griffin 11th in his preliminary rankings (behind Big Ben).