Fantasy: Andrew Luck versus Robert Griffin III

| June 18, 2012

Andrew Luck, RG3. RG3, Andrew Luck. Everyone seems to have an opinion in the fantasy football realm. Two draft picks haven’t been compared head to head this much since Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. So who is the rookie quarterback to have on your team? Let’s take a closer look.

COACHING

Both coaching staffs are undergoing changes – as one would expect a poor offense transitioning to a new quarterback would. In the case of the Redskins, the change is minor with the difference being a new wide receivers coach. The team goes from one recently retired NFL wide receiver Keenan McCardell to another in Ike Hilliard, formerly an offensive assistant of the Miami Dolphins. With 9 different receivers seeing snaps for Washington last year the unit certainly could use some work.

In Indianapolis, the entire staff is newly assembled centering around former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Never really known for an offense that will run up the scoreboard, he will bring experience and a “blue collar approach” to the Colts. An added bit of irony is that Arians was the quarterbacks coach when Peyton Manning began his career in the NFL – yet another way that the two careers will be connected. That one went pretty well for Peyton one would say, though maybe not so much in his rookie year with the still rookie record 28 interceptions.

EDGE: Washington (Robert Griffin III)

This was a tough call but given we don’t really know what the Colts offensive attack will look like tilts the scale slightly into the favor of Washington. The fact that the Redskins somehow managed to pass for the 14th most yards (3773) in the NFL last season with Rex Grossman and John Beck at quarterback could be seen as a downright miracle. Of course, they did attempt the 5th most passes (591) so the number is a bit inflated. Still, Rex Grossman ranked as the 23rd (out of 24) quarterbacks as far as PFF’s QB rating goes. That’s not very good, even a rookie RG3 should be able to surpass that and thus produce to the point of relevancy.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

Neither team is particularly strong in this department. The Colts pass block rating for 2011 was 21st best in the NFL (-16.8) and the run block rating was worse at 31st in the NFL (-83.5). Washington wasn’t much better with the 26th (-36.5) and 30th (-80.8) ranked pass block and run block ratings. Much can change in these areas when your quarterback play is strong – which neither teams was last season.

With the poor performance up front, one would expect both teams to make some changes right? Not so much.  The Redskins went with the conservative approach this offseason, with the starting 5 expected to be similar to last season (barring injury) and the one main addition being a 3rd round guard who was seen by many as a reach. The 2011 “Hogs” featured a whopping 10 players who saw more than 180 snaps, with only two of them grading out positively (Trent Williams and Korey Lichtensteiger). Williams had a nice year before being suspended for a positive drug test but much will hinge on the health and performance of the other tackle, Jammal Brown. After a season where he singled-handedly allowed 9 sacks from the right side, Brown will need to do better in protecting the shiny new quarterback.

The Indianapolis Colts line loses their two most experienced players, Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem. Neither was really playing up to their names, but the leadership will be missed. The teams added Samson Satele, Winston Justice, and Mike McGlynn to the fold. None is particularly awe-inspiring but Satele should lock down the center position. Much of Luck’s fate depends on 2011 first round draft pick Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, who aside from performances against Pittsburgh, New England, Jacksonville, and Baltimore really wasn’t all that bad for a rookie.

EDGE: Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck)

Again, another tough decision but all things equal the fact that Andrew Luck has experience throwing in a conventional pocket for a pro-style offense at Stanford gives him an advantage. Many people agree that a quarterback can make an offensive line look better and Luck has actually done that before in his career.

 

WEAPONS

Both teams have a bit of turnover in terms of offense weapons. The Colts return Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie but that’s about all that they return for Luck to throw to. The return of Wayne was a surprise to many but don’t underestimate the effect that a proven commodity at the receiver position can have on a young quarterback. Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison to grow with, Brett Favre had Sterling Sharpe, Aaron Rodgers had Donald Driver, and Tom Brady had Troy Brown just to name a few cases. It also makes the evaluation of said young quarterback easier knowing that the receiver they’re throwing to isn’t a problem. Austin Collie has had flashes, he just needs to hope that the concussion issues are gone for good. Look for the team to utilize second and third round picks Coby Fleener (a tweener tight end who will likely get some time at slot) and Dwayne Allen (a conventional in-line tight end) often. Speedy rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton is a target to keep an eye on and he has the unique ability to make defenders miss.

In Washington, the quantity is certainly there but the quality of weapons is to be seen.  Tight end Fred Davis is the leading receiver coming back in 2012, with 59 receptions for 796 yards in just 12 games. Extrapolated to 16 games that is a 78 catch 1061 yard season – not too shabby considering the quarterback play. 33 year old Santana Moss is slated to be back and he will battle with a pair of free agents (Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan) and a sophomore coming off basically a redshirt rookie year (Leonard Hankerson). The offseason plan was clearly to stack up on speedsters to take advantage of the plus deep ball that Robert Griffin III possesses. Even though the opinion around the league is that the team overpayed for Garcon (-3.7 overall rating last season) he is still just 25 years old and with the amount of draft picks spent on RG3, Washington’s options were limited.

EDGE: Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck)

If not for the signing of Reggie Wayne, the edge may have gone to the Washington Redskins. But with the retaining of Wayne, every other offensive player has some weight taken from their shoulders. An added bonus for Andrew Luck is that he has variety to throw to – solid hands in Wayne, shifty route runner in Collie, matchup nightmare in Fleener, and a weapon in space Hilton. In other words, if Andrew Luck ends up being who people say he is, pick your poison.

 

TRANSITION

The transition from college system to their respective professional schemes will  factor in projecting their immediate production. Andrew Luck played in a pro style run-first offense that used multiple tight ends and rarely took shots deep. How would the Stanford offense look in the NFL? Look no farther than the San Francisco 49ers. Of all quarterbacks that played at least 25% of their teams offensive snaps, 49ers QB Alex Smith had the 28th lowest percentage of his passes attempted 20 or more yards downfield (9.7%). Bruce Arians, the new Colts offensive coordinator had his quarterback Ben Roethlisberger attempting 13.3% of his passes at least 20 yards downfield, 9th most often of any quarterback. It is worth pointing out that several variables come into play in determining deep pass percentage such as experience in the offense or weapons at one’s disposal. Andrew Luck likely won’t have an offense that averages 5.29 yards per carry (as his at Stanford did) to lean on and will probably be asked to take more shots downfield.

Robert Griffin III comes from a prolific offense at Baylor designed by Art Briles – a shotgun spread offense that causes headaches for defenses by stretching them out in all directions with quick screens, zone reads, pump fakes, and vertical routes when you begin to cheat towards the other gimmicks.  It is far from a pro style offense. Dropping back from under center and reading defenses are skills that Griffin may have but just hasn’t proven to possess due to the college system he came from. Cam Newton showed that the learning curve from spread to pro doesn’t have to be huge but it is worth monitoring. Washington’s quarterback last year Rex Grossman attempted 13.3% of his passes 20 or more yards downfield, a high number but one that will likely be at least matched by RG3 with his aggressive nature and touch on the deep ball.

EDGE: Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III)

I’m actually surprising myself on this one but it all boils down to how the coaching staffs will adapt their gameplans for the young quarterback. What I’ve explained in the previous paragraphs isn’t coming as a surprise to the offensive coordinators. Thus, I can see the Indianapolis Colts putting Andrew Luck out there to get his lumps whereas the Redskins will more likely keep the gameplanning as simple as he can handle. As mentioned before, under Bruce Arians Peyton Manning broke the NFL record for interceptions thrown by a rookie. What this tells me is that reading an NFL defense – something Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck (at Stanford) excel at – is something that one doesn’t just master instantly. It’s unlikely that Andrew Luck throws 28 interceptions, as he only threw 22 in 1064 attempts while at Stanford. Still, what he does well he won’t do so well in his rookie season whereas what RG3 does well (hit on the deep ball) should translate faster.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

There are a couple other factors to take into account when comparing the two rookies. One is the schedule. Griffin’s Redskins match up with the NFC East twice, the AFC North, the NFC South, and St. Louis/Minnesota. The NFC East is probably the best conference in football, but the AFC North is not much worse. More importantly, they have tough defenses. Between those two conferences RG3 will face the 2nd, 4th, 8th, 13th, 15th, 16th, and 17th best defenses in 10 of his 16 games according to PFF overall ratings. That is a difficult opening act. Lucky for him, he gets breathers against the Panthers, Bucs, and Saints (the 29th, 31st, and 32nd ranked defenses last year).

Andrew Luck’s schedule isn’t so tough on the defensive side of the ball, with the Colts matching up with the NFC North and AFC East, as well as games against Cleveland and Kansas City. Houston/Jacksonville twice, the Jets, and the Bears will be challenging defenses for Luck to face but based on last years performance the opposing defenses won’t be quite as hard as that which RG3 will face.

Something that I always keep in mind when looking at a quarterback is his own defense. The Redskins defense is far better than that of the Colts. What this means is that Griffin’s defense will likely keep his team in games, making the pass/run balance steady and the offense less predictable. For Andrew Luck, having a defense that played poorly last year, didn’t acquire any significant pieces in the offseason, and is undergoing a scheme change means that he will likely be playing from behind most of the time. What that would mean is more blitzes, less chance to lean on a running game, and defenses knowing what is coming (a passing play). Making things even more complicated is that if you want quarterback statistics, you actually do want his team to have a bad defense – making the yardage far more necessary and resulting in less running the ball and the clock out. But in this case, that’s not what you want with a young inexperienced quarterback.

 

BOTTOM LINE

Long story short, Andrew Luck has the edge in offensive line play and weapons whereas Robert Griffin III gets the nod for ease of transition and coaching. Luck does face an easier schedule his rookie year but also has a defense much worse than that of RG3’s Redskins and an offense that in all likelihood won’t air it out like Griffin’s will. Thus, if I had to choose which player has the superior rookie year in fantasy football, my vote would likely be Robert Griffin III. Ask me again in 5 minutes and I may tell you Andrew Luck. Still, if you want to know who I would rather have long-term (i.e. Dynasty leagues) my money is on Andrew Luck, one of the best quarterback prospects that I have ever seen and a very safe bet to succeed.

Follow Mike on Twitter, @MDaneshgar.

  • joe schmo

    In 2011, RG3 passed for 330 per game while Luck passed for 270 per game. Is this something I should worry about? Just a product of the offensive scheme?

  • Mike Daneshgar

    I wouldn’t pay much attention to college stats, too many meaningless variables to take into account.

  • joe schmo

    OK. You say you’d rather have Luck in dynasty. I’m guessing that would change in a big-play, mobile-QB-friendly dynasty league where 2010 Vick and 2011 Cam were the most valuable QBs?