Why Washington DC can't wait for Robert Griffin III

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When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell heads to the podium at Radio City Music Hall to announce the first two picks of the 2012 NFL Draft tonight, the suspense will have long since passed. However, the anticipation in the nation’s capital has only started to build as the No. 2 pick, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, is expected to bring the Washington Redskins back to prominence.

“Nothing’s a 100 percent yet, so I’ve got to say 99.9”, said Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan during a news conference on Wednesday. “If you guys are right, we’re taking RG3.”

“He’s a natural leader. You want guys to lead your football team. Everybody’s got their own way of doing things. Some guys are a little bit more serious. You’ve got to be yourself.”

The drafting of Griffin, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, became a foregone conclusion when Washington traded the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft — along with their first round picks in 2013 and 2014 — to the St. Louis Rams for the second overall pick on March 12. With the Indianapolis Colts selecting Stanford’s Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick, there was little doubt that Washington was going to draft Griffin.

“What you see immediately for Robert Griffin III is a unique skill,” said Robert Littal, owner of BlackSportsOnline.com. “You see the athleticism of an elite athlete, but you see a lot of the quarterbacking skills, including staying in the pocket, keeping your head up for the rush, very good accuracy on both short and long range passes.He’s not a big guy like Cam Newton, who can just throw people off of him, but he’s dynamic. Now how that’s going to work in the NFL, you just have to wait and see.”

Griffin had a record-setting 2011 season at Baylor. He threw for 4,293 yards, 37 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. He also ran for 699 yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns, leading the once-lowly Bears to a 10-3 season. Those 10 wins included victories over Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and TCU.

Off the field, Griffin has already become a star through his likable personality and friendly demeanor. He has also become a target for advertisers, including Adidas, EA Sports, which has him on the cover of their NCAA Football 12 video game (along with former Heisman winner Barry Sanders), and Subway, which on Tuesday created a 3-foot bust of Griffin made entirely out of smokehouse barbecue chicken.

“The statue looks great,” Griffin said in the Washington Post about the statue, “It’s got peppers for hair, the Smokehouse barbecue chicken all over the place. It actually looks pretty cool. (Subway) didn’t inform me that it was being made until yesterday. I was shocked.”

Griffin, the son of two Army sergeants, initially went to Baylor to run track, not play football. He was a champion hurdler, setting Texas high school records in the 110 and 330-meter hurdles and winning AAU gold medals in the 110 and 440 hurdles.

As a freshman in 2008, Griffin won the Big 12 Championship in the 400-meter hurdles, and later did the same in the NCAA Midwest Regional Meet. He finished third in the NCAA Nationals and made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic Trials.

A scholar athlete, Griffin graduated from Baylor in three years with a degree in Political Science with a 3.67 GPA. He is currently pursuing his Master’s in Communication. In a time when potential draft picks have made headlines for off the field arrests and failed drug tests, Griffin has been squeaky-clean.

He has already made an immediate impact in Washington as the hype and interest surrounding the potential addition of Griffin has stoked hope that perhaps the Redskins have finally found their new leader.

“The Redskins fans, the fans of D.C. are really excited,” Griffin said in the Post. “I’ve seen at least seven different variations of my name on shirts there. Some would call it crazy, but once I get drafted, it goes from crazy to just general excitement for the team. The Redskins have a great defense; they need someone they can believe in, and I’m prayerful I could be that guy.”

Since the Redskins won their last Super Bowl in 1992, they have made the playoffs just four times, winning one division title (1999) and two playoff games. They have also gone through a record 23 starting quarterbacks, including Mark Rypien, Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, Brad Johnson, Jason Campbell, Donovan McNabb, and Rex Grossman.
”(The fans) are begging, hoping, pleading that Robert Griffin III is that guy,” Littal said. “They know that he is a young guy, and he is that franchise guy, and he will get an opportunity. It won’t be six games and then we’re going to pull him. He’s going to get everything.”

In the last two years, the Redskins’ quarterback carousel has featured former Super Bowl QBs McNabb and Grossman, along with journeyman John Beck. Washington opened last season with a promising 3-1 start before losing 10 of their final 12 games and finishing 5-11.

While the team suffered its third straight losing season, they did show signs of improvement defensively, including two wins over the eventual Super Bowl Champion, the New York Giants.

“He’s not going to a horrible team that’s been gutted like Andrew Luck is (in Indianapolis),” Littal said, “He’s going to a team that believes the only thing that’s been holding them back is the quarterback position. Now if that’s the case and he’s the real deal, then the sky’s the limit.”

With the recent success of young quarterbacks such as Newton, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, the Jets’ Mark Sanchez, and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Griffin is expected to produce results quickly in Washington, even if his soon-to-be coach knows it will be a learning process. There is also the outside chance that he could be a potential bust at quarterback, much like Shuler, JaMarcus Russell, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and Tim Couch.

“When you take a look at the young quarterbacks that have been successful in this league, what have they had? Great defense,” Shanahan said, “If you come in and don’t have great defense and you start as a rookie quarterback, usually you don’t see very many teams that are over .500.”

Griffin may also find himself, fairly or unfairly, compared to two famous black quarterbacks to play in Washington: McNabb and Doug Williams. While McNabb was a washout in D.C., Williams, who is currently the head football coach at Grambling University, made history becoming the first — and, to date, only — African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl in 1987, three years before Griffin was born.

“That’s definitely something that resonates with me,” Griffin said about Williams. “Once I get into the organization and I can learn a lot more about the history, maybe I’ll have a different favorite Redskins, but as of this minute, old Dougie Williams does it for me.”

Only time will tell whether Griffin could be the savior of the franchise or just another in the long list of failed Washington quarterbacks. In terms of his athletic ability and magnetic personality — he was mobbed by a group of school children at a pre-draft event in New York on Wednesday — he seems to be built for success.

“D.C. has such a huge fan base and the Redskins are such a storied franchise, if he catches on and shows sparks of being a star, you’ll see him automatically jump to the higher tier of marketable quarterbacks,” Littal said, “He has that type of charisma, much like Cam Newton, but (Newton) is in Charlotte.”

“It’s a big difference when you have that charisma in a big market like D.C. instead of a smaller one like Charlotte. I can see if he has three or four good games, I could see President Obama sliding down to a game. I think he could have that kind of affect on the fan base and the general community in D.C.”

Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith