Thirty five quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round since Peyton Manning was selected with the first pick in the 1998 draft.
It has universally accepted that Andrew Luck is the best quarterback prospect to come out since Manning, but is it possible Robert Griffin III is the second best?
Let's examine after the jump.
2011: Robert Griffin III : From 2010 to 2011 he increased his already impressive 67% completion rate to an amazing 72.4% (NCAA record is 76.7%) increased his passing yards from 3501 to 4293, and increased his passing TDs from 22 to 37.
Additionally, he decreased his interceptions from a minimal (eight) to a minuscule (six), in fact his 17 career interceptions (in 1,192 attempts) were 2 more than Matt Ryan had in just his senior year at Boston College.
Griffin most commonly is compared to Michael Vick (due height/weight/speed) but that's where the comparisons end. Playing in the conservative Virginia Tech "Beamer Ball" offense, Vick threw for only 3279 yards, and 21 TD during his college career, numbers Griffin surpassed in Baylor's first ten games this year.
Furthermore, there is no comparison between Cam Newton's 203 passing yards per game and RG3's 330.
An equal runner to Vick, Cam, and Vince Young, Griffin simply learned earlier to trust his arm: He has the NCAA record for the most consecutive pass attempts (209) without an interception at the start of an FBS career, and only threw 3 interceptions his freshman year. (843 yards and 13 TDs rushing as freshman were both career highs)
Griffin graduated from high school a semester early and began attending Baylor in the spring 2008 semester at 17 years old, then graduated from Baylor in three years (Dec. 2010) with a degree in political science. He has stated he wants to go to law school.
His time of 49.56 in the 400-meter hurdles ranks as the second-best ever by a high school runner, then as a true freshman he placed 11th in the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Lets examine the competition:
After Cam Newton's record breaking rookie year, it would be easy to forget all the reasons many not only thought he was undeserving of being the number one pick, but perhaps should not even be drafted in the first round. Despite being undefeated at three different colleges, having a rocket arm, and running for over 1400 yards during his Heisman-winning season, character concerns were so extreme that ProFootballWeekly's Nolan Nawrocki called Newton "Very disingenuous ... selfish, me-first makeup ... enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law...Only a one-year producer. Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness" in their draft preview guide. http://www.profootballweekly.com/2011/03/29/cam-newton-scouting-report
Additionally, he played in a simplified, run-first, dive-option read offense, and there were concerns about whether he could learn an NFL offense. Finally, he reportedly threw poorly at last years NFL combine. http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post?id=37939
Jake Locker: Once thought of as the favorite to be the top pick in the draft (due to his combination of a strong-arm along with a 4.59 40 time), however Locker completed only 53.9 percent of his passes, and threw only 53 touchdowns compared to 35 interceptions over his four year career.
Christian Ponder was having a promising junior year until a series of injuries that sabataged the rest of his career at Florida State. (He suffered a shoulder injury to his throwing arm at the end of his junior season, and dealt with elbow injuries throughout his senior season as well as a mild concussion that knocked him out of a game)
Blaine Gabbert took over the reins of a high powered Missouri offense, but accomplished far less than the previous two Tiger starting QBs - Brad Smith and Chase Daniels. He had only 16 touchdowns his last year at Missouri (with nine interceptions), while Daniels had averaged 33 TDs from 2006 to 2008.
Before Sam Bradford won the 2009 NFL rookie of the year award, Bradford's had one of the best starts to a college career. His 36 touchdown passes in 2007 were the most ever by a freshman. Additionally, he led the nation as a freshman with a 176.53 passing efficiency rating. Furthermore, his 86 TDs are the most ever by a quarterback during his first two seasons (freshman/sophomore), surpassing the previous record by a whopping 31 TDs! He became only the third sophmore ever to win the Heisman Trophy. However, leading up to the draft, many thought Bradford was too fragile to give a 50 million guarenteed contract after a nasty shoulder injury that ended his junior season, NFL.com stated "Coming off shoulder injury on his throwing arm. Needs to add bulk to withstand the pounding at the next level. Uses a three-quarter delivery that may lead to batted balls. Has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long." Scouts openly questioned if BYU can knock him out for the season, how can he survive the pounding of the NFL: http://www.nfl.com/draft/2011/profiles/sam-bradford?id=497095
Tim Tebow: A Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion, Tebow was a polarizing pro-prospect. Although he set both single season and career records for most rushing touchdowns in the SEC (regardless of position), and ranked second in career passing efficiency and third in career yards per attempt (9.33) in NCAA history, many felt he would have great difficulty finding success as an NFL QB.
Matthew Stafford: Scouting reports raved "Stafford is a very good athlete with a huge arm. He makes those throws that just put people in awe. He has 3 years of starting experience in the SEC and in a Pro Style offense. He throws a great deep ball and knows how to throw balls to the back and corner of the endzone. Very NFL ready with excellent mechanics"
Truth be told, Stafford had only a solid -if unspectacular - junior season throwing for 3459 yards, a modest 25/10 TD/interception ratio, and 61.5% He would close out his collegiate career with 7,731 yards passing, and 51 TDs (33 interceptions). But it was his 57.2 career completion percentage that doubters would point to, with the belief that accuracy rarely improves in the pros. After all, this was not Kentucky, Boston College, Vanderbilt, Fresno State, or Utah. This was a Georgia team that was preseason ranked #1 in the country, and in addition to Stafford, had RB Knowshon Moreno, and WRs Mohammed Massaquoi and a then freshman AJ Green ( 56 catches for 963 yards and 8 touchdowns)
Mark Sanchez was considered the top quarterback in the nation upon the conclusion of his high school football career in 2005. While playing in USC's pro-style offense, Sanchez lead the 2007 Trojans to a 12-1 record before leaving school after his junior year. However, Sanchez only started one full season (16 total games) and despite great mobility, there were concerns about his dislocated knee-cap suffered in 2008.
Josh Freeman: As as three year starter at Kansas State, Freeman threw for a somewhat modest 8,078 yards and 44 touchdowns before Bucs coach Raheem Morris (who had been the defensive coordinator at K-State in 2006) drafted him.
Matt Ryan: Believed to have had a poor supporting cast at Boston College, Ryan compiled a 25-7 record as a starter for the Eagles, and as a senior, completed 59.3 % of his passes for 4507 yards and 31 TDs.
Selected 4th overall, Ryan was famously labeled as having "it" while appearing on the cover of Sporting News magazine. http://sportingnews.printstown.com/ProdDetail.aspx?prodId=33984
However, one analyst stated "19 interceptions in 14 games is unacceptable for a first round pick" and there were questions about his arm strength.
Joe Flacco: Unable to win the starting job at Pittsburg, Flacco transferred to the University of Delaware. In the 2007 season, Flacco led his team to an 8–3 regular season record while compiling over 3,300 yards, 18 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. Thought to possess the strongest arm in a relatively weak draft class, Flacco was drafted with the 18th pick.
Jamarcus Russell: Russell parlayed rare size and arm strength for the position into being the #1 pick in the draft, but before then, he used those traits to convince head coach Les Miles to keep Matt Flynn on the bench for most of his LSU career. Russell threw for 3,129 yards, and a 28/8 TD/interception ratio as a junior, and finished his LSU career with a 21-4 record, including a 41-14 win over Brady Quinn's Notre Dame team.
Brady Quinn: Quinn was believed to be one of the most "pro-ready" QBs to come out in a long time, having been coached in Charlie Weiss's pro-style offense at Notre Dame, and finished the 2007 season with 3,426 yards on 289 completions out of 467 attempts for a completion percentage of 61.9% and 7.34 yards-per-attempt. He threw 37 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions. Quinn won 29 games as a starter at Notre Dame, while passing for 11,762 Yds and 95 TDs over his career. However, scouts questioned if Quinn maybe "maxed-out" with a low ceiling.
Vince Young: Forget about his disappointing NFL career. We are talking about Vince Young - the pro-prospect - the one we saw beat USC in the Rose Bowl. Texas entered the game 11-0, but USC entered the game on a 34 game win streak. In the 2006 Rose Bowl, Vince Young put on one of the most dominating individual performances in college football history, accounting for 467 yards of total offense = 200 rushing (10.5 yards per carry, and three touchdowns) and 267 passing (completing 30 of 40, zero sacks, zero interceptions) to lead the Longhorns to a thrilling 41–38 victory. Vince Young was the first player in NCAA I-A history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. He ran for over 998 yards each of his three years at Texas. He had a win/loss record as a starter of 30–2. During his career at Texas (2003–05), Young passed for 6,040 yards and 44 TDs while rushing for 3,127 yards and 37 TDs.
A three year starter, he should have won the Heisman Trophy (winner = Reggie Bush eventually had his trophy stripped for accepting illegal benefits). Bigger and stronger than RG3, he simply is a better runner than passer, and a better athelete than QB.
Even after his Rose Bowl performance, some observers said he may have difficulty in the NFL because of his unorthodox sidearm throwing motion and the different style of play in the NFL
Matt Leinart: Most felt Leinart would have been the top pick in the 2005 draft (over Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers) when Leinart announced he would return for his senior year at USC. He was dating USC women's basketball player Brynn Cameron, and many felt that relationship was the reason for his return, as Leinart had already won both the 2004 Heisman Trophy as well as the 2004 National Championship.
Draft experts believed he had a good frame for a quarterback (6'-5”, 230 pounds), he was a remarkable 37–2 as a starter, and Leinart finished his college career with 807 completions on 1,245 attempts (64.8% completion percentage) for 10,693 yards and 99 touchdowns with just 23 interceptions.
Leinart not only couldn't repeat his Heisman Trophy win as a senior, but he lost to his own teammate. Reminiscent of the University of Miami's Ken Dorsey, some believed Leinarts lack of arm strength would be a detriment in his professional career. This forced scouts to consider the quality of talent surrounding Leinart on those USC teams, and question how important was Leinart in those wins.
Jay Cutler: Overlooked by many while starting 45 games at Vanderbilt, Cutler never missed a game due to injury. Cutler supporters pointed to how he single-handedly lead his overmatched team, while doubters pointed to his 5-27 record against SEC competition, and 11-35 record overall. Despite this, scouts and NFL analysts raved about Cutler's arm strength and toughness, while comparing him Brett Favre and his Southern Mississippi teams.
Alex Smith was selected with the first pick in the draft after putting Urban Meyers spread offense on a national stage. Smith had a 21-1 record as a starter, and threw only eight career interceptions despite having 587 attempts while at Utah. Intelligent both in the classroom and on the football field, he also proved to be very athletic (631 yds, 10 TDs rushing as a senior) a requirement in Meyers system. After the season, momentum steadily built, as he impressed first with a 4.7 40 time, then scored a 40 out of 50 on the wonderlic, and finally shined at his pro-day. Two inches taller, Smith overtook Aaron Rodgers who fell all the way to 24th.
In the ’04 USC game, he completed his first 23 passes against the nation No. 1 team in the country to tie a NCAA single-game record. He finished the gameo 29 of 34 attempts for 267 yards, one TD and no picks for the afternoon, but they lost to the Trojans, 23-17.
For whatever reason, Rodgers draft stock dropped, perhaps suffering from the "Jeff Tedford theory" = prevailing wisdom was that Tedford's system was QB friendly, and made QBs look better than they really were. Crazy? Previous Tedford QBs include Trent Dilfer at Fresno State, Akili Smith and Joey Harrington at Oregon, and finally Kyle Boller at Cal. (He is rumored to have met Jamarcus Russell at a McDonalds once)
Jason Campbell: Campbell, named Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year, played for four different coordinators at Auburn and still had a career completion rate of 64.6% finding success in his senior year when he led the Tigers to an undefeated season in 2004.
Eli Manning Although his career numbers include 10,119 passing yards, 81 touchdown passes, and a passer rating of 137.7, the consensus was that while thought of as a certain future NFL starting QB, he was a step down from Peyton.
Sports Illustrated's pre-draft scouting report on Eli:
Deep throws lack speed and must improve his accuracy down the field. Lacks the quick set up or ability to immediately get the ball off on a three-step drop. Does not display the same pinpoint pass placement his brother did coming out of college. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/football/2004/draft/players/32061.html
The 2004 draft also saw Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and JP Losman drafted in the first round.
Rivers finished as the second-leading passer in NCAA history with 13,484 yards and set an NCAA record with 51 career starts. His last season he led the NCAA with a 72% completion rate and 170.49 pass efficiency rating. A coaches son, Rivers had question about his delivery, a more three-quarters angled than classic over-the-top.
Roethlisberger: A three year starter at Miami of Ohio, as a redshirt freshman, Roethlisberger threw for over 3,100 yards. In 2002, he threw more than 3,200 yards, and in 2003, he threw more than 4,400 yards. A nice 65.5 % passer, with 10,829 yards and 80 touchdowns to his credit, Big Ben may have been undervalued due to playing at the "other Miami".
2003: Carson Palmer won the 2002 Heisman trophy his senior year at USC, where he had been a four year starter (45 starts), and finished with 11,388 career passing yards with 72 passing TDs.
Palmer had a breakout senior year under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Norm Chow, he completed 309 of 489 passes for 3942 yards and 33 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions during the 2002 season. In addition to having the perfect build for an NFL QB, he was considered mature, a hard-worker, and used to the limelight while playing in LA.
Byron Leftwhich, Kyle Boller, and Rex Grossman were also drafted in the 2003 draft.
In his career at Marshall, Leftwich completed 939 of 1,442 passes (65.1 percent) for 11,903 yards, 89 touchdowns and 28 interceptions, but was best known for being carried by linemen after breaking his tibia and later returning to the game. Very slow of foot, even before the injury, Leftwhich also had an elongated wind-up throwing motion in college that he was never able to correct in the NFL.
David Carr was the first ever pick by the NFL's newest team - the Houston Texans. Prior to being selected with the first pick in the 2002 draft, Carr helped lead his Fresno State team to its best ranking ever. His senior year, Carr completed 64.5% of his passes for 4,830 yards. He threw 46 touchdowns versus 9 interceptions.
Scouting report: Carr has the size that the NFL is looking for in its quarterbacks. Carr has a strong and accurate arm with a quick delivery. Not only can he thread the needle with his throws, but he also knows how to put the proper touch on his passes when needed. He is very competitive and a natural leader who makes players around him better. Carr will be helped a lot by the fact that he has spent five years, two as a starter, in a pro-style offense. http://msn.foxsports.com/home/story/David-Carr-Scouting-Report
Joey Harrington and Patrick Ramsey were also drafted in the first round in 2002. During his senior season at Oregon, Harrington threw for 2,415 yards and 23 touchdowns, and he finished his college career with a 25-3 record.
Michael Vick lead his Virginia Tech team to an 11-0 regular season record and the National Championship game against Florida State as a freshman, while also leading the nation is passing efficiency - setting a record for a freshman (180.4), which was good enough for the third-highest all-time mark.
Vick left VT after his redshirt sophmore year with a reputation as being one of the fastest players in all of college football. Reported 40 times for Vick was 4.33. Combing a rocket arm with exceptional athletic ability, he was considered such an excellent prospect that Atlanta traded their first round and third round pick that year, a second round pick the following year, and WR Tim Dwight to move up from the 5th pick in order to draft him.
However, Vick threw for only 3279 yards, and 21 TD during his two years in college. Negative scounting reports stated "uncomfortable being in the limelight...Still needs to mature as a player...Sometimes gets too confident in his running skills, forgetting to eye his secondary receivers in order to run with the ball when his primary target is not available"
Chad Pennington was a Rhodes Scholar finalist. While playing QB at Marshall, he oversaw the University transition from Division 1-AA to Division 1-A in 1997, as Pennington formed an unstoppable combination with WR Randy Moss. His senior year (1999) featured Marshall having a 13-0 record. Pennington finished his career at Marshall with 1,026 of 1,619 completions for 13,423 yards and an almost too good to be true 115 touchdowns.
Note: Tom Brady was also drafted in the year 2000, but was thought of as such a poor pro-prospect that even the team that drafted him bypassed him six times (2nd of two 6th round picks).
Tim Couch : With more impressive statistics than Manning, while playing on an undermanned Kentucky team against the same touch SEC schedule, in 1998 he completed 71.5 % (430) of his 601 passes for 4611 yards and 38 TDs playing in Hal Mumme's new pass-oriented "Air Raid" offense. (Compared to Manning's 60.2 % for 3819 and 36 TDs). Couch still holds the NCAA record for completions per game with 36.4 during the 1998 season.
In a draft that saw QBs drafted with the first three picks, there was little arguement that Couch was the top prospect, as McNabb was more of a running QB at Syracuse, Smith was a "one-year wonder" (only 11 starts at the University of Oregon), Culpepper played against inferior competition at the University of Central Florida, and McNown had a weak arm.
McNabb started every game during his college career, winning 35 of 49 collegiate starts, and amassed more than 10,000 yards of offense, However, the Syracuse offense didn't resemble an NFL offense, which was more old school Nebraska than the spread-options seen in modern college football.
Pre-draft scouting report from ProFootball Weekly: Played in a freeze-option offense...Can still be a streaky and erratic passer...Tends to hold on to the ball too long and must learn when to unload...Played in a domed stadium in college and has not had to play in a lot of bad weather. Needs to work on his deep passing.
This is the year Manning was picked #1 over Ryan Leaf. He became Tennessee's all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns and won 39 of 45 games as a starter, but four losses to SEC rival Florida lead some to believe Manning could not win the "big game", perhaps one of the reasons he also came in second to Charles Woodson in the Heisman voting.
Rarely have we seen someone so athletic, who can overcome the instinct to just take off and run. Blessed with the speed to rival Vick, a completion percentage that dwarfs Matthew Stafford, an interception rate that makes Matt Ryan look like a joke, and intelligence closer to Chad Pennington than Vince Young. He rose from dormancy the Baylor program in a similar way that Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Tim Couch, David Carr, and others have.
There you have it, RG3 is the second best QB prospect to enter the NFL since Peyton Manning.