Other than the knee injury he suffered in the playoffs, it would have been hard for Robert Griffin III's rookie season to have gone much better than it did. Griffin's arrival transformed Washington as he led the team to its first NFC East title since 1999. Now, after a record-breaking rookie season and coming off a serious knee injury, there are questions of what Griffin will do for an encore.
Griffin's health is the biggest question heading into 2013, but he continues to heal well and started making cuts and going through change of direction drills recently, according to Mike Jones of the Washington Post. Jones said that Griffin is yet to receive medical clearance to return to practice, but cutting and testing the knee with change of direction were among the final tests. If the remaining rehabilitation goes well, Griffin appears to be in line to return for Week 1, just as Vikings running back Adrian Peterson predicted.
"RG3's confidence level is where mine was at and I think he'll be back Week 1 and each week, he'll get stronger,'' Peterson said, via USA Today. "I have a lot of confidence in the young guy."
Recovering in time to return for the start of the regular season was Griffin's first hurdle, but assuming he stays on track and returns for Week 1, he'll now have to live up to the high standard of play he set last season. RG3 wasn't just good for a rookie last season, he was among the NFL's best quarterbacks period. He led the league in yards per attempt at 8.1 and compiled a 4/1 TD/INT ratio. Both numbers may be hard to replicate, yet alone improve on. Instead, as Hogs Haven wrote, there are a lot of reasons to think Griffin may regress in some areas in 2013.
The element of surprise is gone and with multiple NFL coaches reaching out to the college ranks to study the read-option/pistol plus a full off-season to prepare, NFL defenses will be more coached-up to stop it. His 5 total interceptions might be his most impressive stat of all. Does anyone really expect him to throw 5 or less interceptions this year? Especially on a bum wheel and disinclined to run, defenses can play the pass more honestly. On top of that, Robert Griffin III fumbled an astounding 12 times last year yet only lost 2 of them. The ball will not always bounce his way. RG3 has a great work ethic and tremendous character to go with his skill, but he has set the bar high to equal or improve upon last year.
Griffin may not be the rushing threat he was in 2012 and he may not limit turnovers as well, but that doesn't mean he'll regress in all areas. Playing in a run-first offense, Griffin attempted just 393 passes, throwing for 3,200 yards. If he does indeed run less often next season, his passing could improve. Griffin will also benefit from a healthier supporting cast. Heading into the season, Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis were pegged as two of Griffin's top weapons. Garcon was plagued by injuries all season while Davis played in just seven games. Both are expected to be healthy heading into the season and could help RG3 take the next step as a passer.
Last season, we saw what Griffin could do in a run-first offense which protected him from the fire as he transitioned to the NFL. That, however, does not mean he isn't capable of more. The Redskins ran the ball 519 times last season because few teams could slow down their rushing attack, not because Griffin was incapable of passing. Griffin proved to be an adept passer, even if he didn't throw as often as other quarterbacks. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes last season and while he benefited from Washington's short passing game, Griffin also succeeded on deep passes.
According to Pro Football Focus, Griffin attempted 36 passes of 20 yards or longer last season, with an accuracy percentage (completions + drops) of 50 percent. That was the fifth-highest of any quarterback with at least 10 attempts.
So what does this all mean for Griffin in 2013? If you're expecting the same quarterback who rushed for more than 800 yards while also being the most efficient passer in the league, you're likely to be disappointed. Griffin may not run as often, or even as successfully next season and he's likely to commit more than seven turnovers. That doesn't, however, mean Griffin is going to be ineffective next season. He could easily have the same impact on the game, even if he does it in different ways. Assuming his knee doesn't hinder him during the season, Griffin's biggest challenge in 2013 will be remaining an extremely efficient quarterback while throwing more often.
Looking ahead, I would expect Griffin's rushing yards, completion percentage and yards per attempt to dip. He's likely to throw more than five interceptions, but his passing yards and touchdowns should increase as his passer rating once again hovers around the top of the league. Something in the range of 3,600 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 550 rushing yards seems about right.
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