Jay Gruden in Washington: Fantasy Football Fallout Part 2

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Robert Griffin III

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s how far Robert Griffin III, once a fantasy football revelation beyond all understanding, fell in a single year: When game film savant Greg Cosell said in November that Mike Glennon was a “far more advanced” quarterback than RGIII, there wasn’t all that much protest.

And this was Glennon, an all-time favorite punching bag among NFL draftniks who is known more for his giraffe-like neck than his quarterbacking acumen.

Cosell was only highlighting what everyone had seen from the 2013 version of RGIII, the one who opponents saw as slower, less evasive, and easier to contain. How much Griffin’s shredded knee impacted his performance is impossible to know, since even his teammates seem not to know.

His fantasy production suffered greatly, as did owners who invested a fifth-round pick to secure Griffin.

RGIII has made it known that he’d like to operate out of a more typically pro-style offense in 2014, and new Washington head coach Jay Gruden seems inclined to bend to those wishes, telling reporters he wouldn’t install plays that would make his quarterback uncomfortable.

Griffin, by all accounts, has every conceivable tool to be a successful pocket passer. This, I think, is at the crux of what makes RGIII a preeminent bounce-back option in 2014, when his fantasy stock may never be lower.

“There’s nothing wrong with the way he throws the football,” said Cosell, who preferred the Baylor University product to Andrew Luck in the run-up to the 2012 NFL Draft. “The issue he has faced is mastering the subtle nuance of the position. … There are things Glennon has shown, as far as progression reading and pocket skills, that are advanced for a rookie. I don’t know if Griffin can do those things, because he has not been asked to do them.”

And therein lies the problem.

We’ve looked at how Gruden’s offensive scheme might impact Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed. Now let’s see if Jon’s brother can make re-make Griffin into a viable fantasy signal caller.

A Whirlwind of Regression

Griffin was off-the-charts efficient during his rookie campaign, driving him beyond even the game’s elite signal callers in fantasy production during the season’s first half.

A side-by-side look at his 2012 and 2013 numbers was bound to show some (inevitable) statistical regression, but nothing like the following.

Statistic 2012 2013
Accuracy percentage 79.6% 72.4%
QB Rating (QBR) 102.4 82.2
QBR on Play Action 116.2 76.2
Deep Passing Accuracy 50% 30.4%

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus

  • The plummeting accuracy numbers may have everything to do with RGIII’s altered throwing mechanics after rushing back from a torn ACL. Game watchers repeatedly pointed out Griffin’s throwing base had changed from 2012. Ron Jaworkski said in August that Griffin lacked the “clean mechanics” from his stellar rookie season, and sounded the alarm on the quarterback’s post-surgery weight transfer. Good call, Jaws. The numbers agreed with you.
  • The change in quarterback rating on play action is the most startling part of RGIII’s regression. In short, Griffin was one of the most deadly efficient on play action passes in 2012, and one of the league’s worst in 2013. Chad Henne was better. So was EJ Manuel. Probably this fall from play action grace has everything to do with defenses being off balance throughout the 2012 season, when Griffin was a terrifying running threat in the read-option. That fear had faded by 2013, and man alive, did it show.
  • Griffin’s deep passing — the proverbial cherry on his fantasy football sundae — was a steep drop too. There was widespread belief in football circles that Griffin was forcing the issue and throwing to his deep option even when the streaking receiver was covered and others were open. This, it turns out, is one of Cosell’s central criticisms of RGIII: he doesn’t progress through reads because he’s never been asked to do so.

Can Gruden Revive RGIII’s Fantasy Value?

I think this question can be answered simply.

If you’re of the mind that RGIII will never be the same player he was before his horrific ACL tear in January 2013, then the answer is flatly no. Those who believe in Griffin’s potential to learn the basics of making progressions — like Glennon, say — will be far more optimistic about the quarterback’s fake football future.

Gruden, who most recently served as coordinator for fantasy football’s fifth highest scoring quarterback — shockingly, perhaps — headed the Bengals’ offense as it saw a marked passing game improvement.

Bengals Passing yards/game NFL Rank
2011 209 20th
2012 223.6 17th
2013 258.5 8th

 

Joe Goodberry, an NFL draft expert who breaks down the Bengals for Cincy Jungle, told me that it might be presumptuous for fantasy owners to discount the use of the read-option in Washington. Gruden, after all, has spoken glowingly of the read-option’s deceptive value, and even used it sparingly with the heavy-footed Andy Dalton.

Andy Dalton

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“I think it’s grown on him, but it still comes from a West Coast background,” Goodberry said. “He has an open mind as we saw a lot of creativity over the last three years, but the passing offense remained very pro style.”

An overriding concern among Cincinnati faithful was that Gruden’s scheming often failed to account for Dalton’s apparent shortcomings. This, Goodberry said, created game plans “ill suited” for the team’s offensive strengths.

“A big concern is that Gruden operated his offense as if Dalton had no physical flaws like arm strength and accuracy. The throws and routes often asked his average-ability quarterback to make hard throws,” he added.

Dalton by year Pass attempts Completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
2011 516 58.1 3,399 20 13
2012 528 62.4 3,669 27 16
2013 586 61.9 4,293 33 20

 

Goodberry — along with many who have charted Dalton’s development — credit Gruden with wringing every last bit of production out of a signal caller who isn’t all that good at, well, anything.

Now Gruden gets to work with a quarterback whose skill set was unquestionably elite before his knee fell apart.

“[Gruden] made Dalton look incredible with great game planning, but those games were too rare to depend on,” Goodberry told me. “I would expect another huge yardage and attempt season from Griffin, but how much he progresses will need to he answered later.”

Cosell, for one, believes Griffin is more than salvageable if — or when — he doesn’t have to rely on offensive tricks to manipulate the defense.

“You need to have a drop-back passing game that isn’t dependent on deception, but route combinations in which the quarterback uses progression reading,” Cosell wrote. “If it’s man coverage, work this side of the field. If it’s zone, work that side of the field. That is basic NFL drop-back passing. Griffin is more than capable of doing this. I’m not suggesting he’s not.”

“You’re going to need to progression read and work the pocket,” Cosell continued. “Griffin is not good at working the pocket to buy time. He either throws it, or the throw’s not there he leaves.”

If this changes — and I think there’s good reason to believe it will — Griffin could prove a dandy bargain in next summer’s fantasy drafts.

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C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.
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