Given the tone of many reports in the media over the last few months, it seems Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is a virtual lock to win 2014’s comeback player of the year award even before the first snap of the season. Even if we ignore the media hype that has always surrounded RGIII, there are many valid reasons to suppose this may be the case. The NFC East looks to be a two-horse race between Washington and Philadelphia, and with only the league’s 17th toughest schedule despite playing everyone from the NFC West, there will be plenty of opportunities for Griffin to shine. One player who may challenge Griffin for this particular accolade is of course St Louis’ own Sam Bradford. What are Bradford’s chances?
A superficial glance may tell us that Bradford seems to be fighting a losing battle. In numerous areas, his stats come out second-best compared to Griffin’s: Overall quarterback rating (79.3 – 91.5), completion percentage (58.6 – 62.7) and average yards per pass (6.3 – 7.5) being among the more striking ones. Griffin also averages over 46 rushing yards per game, compared to a meagre 5 for Bradford. Does this mean Griffin is the superior player, therefore more likely to have a better 2014? Not necessarily.
Prior to his injury, Sam Bradford was on course for the best season of his young career in 2013. In many key areas including passing yards per game (241), quarterback rating (90.9) and completion percentage (60.7) he was noticeably ahead of previous seasons – and very much in the same area as Griffin’s numbers. This suggests Bradford is quite capable of performing at the same level. Bradford’s detractors will, at this point, undoubtedly be jumping up and down in their eagerness to point out that many of Bradford’s stat-boosting drives were late on in games where St Louis were staring defeat squarely in the face. The counter-argument to that is simple: Bradford still has to make those throws, complete those passes, keep those drives alive. Did Atlanta simply allow the Rams two fourth-quarter touchdowns out the goodness of their hearts in week two? Did San Francisco give Bradford a ‘sympathy’ touchdown pass in week four? Of course not. These points still had to be earned, and earn them Bradford did. The comeback efforts may not have resulted in wins, but to completely disregard this portion of Bradford’s overall numbers as some kind of garbage-time sideshow is as foolish as is it disrespectful.
If Sam Bradford’s numbers were on the rise before his season was prematurely ended, the opposite is true of Robert Griffin III. His quarterback rating plummeted from 102.4 in 2012 to 82.2 last season. Despite playing two games fewer in his second season than his first, he threw more than double the number of interceptions in 2013. Griffin’s completion percentage also dropped off, from 65.6 to 60.1. He registered an excellent seven rushing touchdowns in 2012, yet he managed none at all in 2013. Much of Griffin’s appeal is his speed and athleticism. Griffin’s successful rookie season two years ago was built on his ability to use his natural speed to make space and either make a pass or take off downfield himself. In October 2013 Peter King of MMQB.com wrote in an excellent article “It’s clear that [Griffin] lacks the same burst and change-of-direction quickness that defined his rookie season.” Therein lies the crucial difference between RGIII and Sam Bradford. Bradford possesses natural ability as a classic pocket passer that Griffin simply does not have. Where Bradford has been let down is by under-performing receivers and restrictive offensive scheming.
In summary, 2013 saw Sam Bradford on the rise while Robert Griffin III’s stock fell considerably. Griffin arguably relies on his legs just as much than his arm, and if his knee proves to be not what it was prior to the major injury he may never fulfil his potential. That being the case, who is to say that a fully fit Sam Bradford will not eclipse the former Baylor man in the race to be the comeback player of 2014?