Praising Robert Griffin III is unfair. History tells us why: Akili Smith, Andre Ware, Heath Shuler, JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Todd Blackledge, David Klingler, Rick Mirer, Tim Couch. Would you like me to continue? I didn’t think so.
The future will reveal whether RGIII will fill out the list of NFL Draft Picks Gone Bad. For many watching Griffin decode the New Orleans Saints, it’s only a matter of time before his Hall-of-Fame bust is placed in production and his sculpture will stand in Canton alongside Troy Aikman, Bart Starr, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Unitas, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Joe Namath. Would you like me to continue? I didn’t think so.
Griffin, who, must I remind you, played in his first NFL game last week, is 22 years old. His NFL accomplishments are – zero. After last week’s win Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins fittingly described Griffin as an NFL quarterback who “doesn’t know yet what he doesn’t know.” Redskin fans blasted her, calling for her job.
Fans will be fans. Passionate? Yes. Objective: No. They are overtly biased and wear rose-colored glasses making Jenkins’ critique of RGIII her first mistake. Jenkins column was a buzzkill to Washington fans but, honestly, her assessment is fair.
Washington fans, even sports analysts, who watched Griffin, but didn’t listen to Redskins coach Mike Shanahan after the game, missed an important reality check. Shanahan chose his words carefully. He applauded his rookie quarterback, then reminded everyone Griffin is a rookie quarterback.
“How people get good at the position is repetition, and the more he experiences in-game situations the better he’s going to get, and that happens over time. He’s still absorbing. It takes two or three years before you really feel comfortable, knowing what the defenses are going to do, and you don’t have to think, and can just react.”
If you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, this is the equivalent of the 10,000 Hour Rule. “Achievement is talent plus preparation,” wrote Gladwell. Preparation is good. According to Shanahan, his rookie quarterbacks greatest asset is his preparation and groundedness. “Expectation is so high … what Robert’s been able to do is concentrate on the job and put everything second relative to football,” he said. “Some guys talk the talk, and then some guys talk and work. When you’ve got that … you know you’ve got the real deal.”
Still, if we’re talking about preparation as Gladwell defines it — 10,000 hours — then RGIII has a long way to go. In fact, 10,000 hours is 416.67 days — straight. As Gladwell wrote, “It’s all but impossible to reach that number … by the time you’re a young adult.” That kind of preparation, the kind that leads to a highly successful career, no longer seems attainable after a week or two of practice, preparation and success on Sunday’s. No, it’s years in the making. Like Shanahan said, “Repetition … That happens over time … It takes two or three years …”
This is why heaping praise on Griffin, this early, maybe too soon, is unfair. Believing that last Sunday’s win against the Saints is now the expectation requires believing anything less than success must be a failure. Do you believe that? Anyone who does expect Griffin to repeat (and improve on) what he did against the Saints over and over and over again has a unreasonable sense of expectation.
Griffin needs to fail to succeed. Bradshaw threw 46 interceptions his first two seasons. Akiman’s record his first three seasons in the NFL: 14-24. He threw 46 interceptions. Remember, Aaron Rodgers first season (2008) as a starting quarterback? The Green Bay Packers finished 6-10. Rodgers took his lumps. Lambeau Field reigned in boos. Two years later Rodgers won his first Super Bowl. All was forgiven — and forgotten.
You can bet opponents are watching Griffin. They will adjust, creating new challenges for RGIII. As a result, the Redskins should anticipate failure. Over time, and through the experiences, Griffin will be expected to win. Only then will NFL know for sure if Griffin is more like Andre Ware or Joe Montana.