Forget for a moment that Robert Griffin III has gone from "outstanding prospect" to "can't-miss franchise quarterback" to "John Elway standing on Steve Young's shoulders" in the course of a few workouts and interviews, with the real truth lying closer to the first option than the third.
Finally, forget the talk about the Colts' drafting Griffin instead of Andrew Luck. Yes, there is a slim chance that Jim Irsay will change his mind, not only because he is as predictable as mountaintop weather but because coaches get involved in the draft process this time of year and begin lobbying for their guys. Irsay was sold on Luck about six months ago, so it will take a lot of lobbying to change his mind.
The Redskins will draft Griffin. Griffin will be a day one starter. And Griffin will be the Rookie of the Year.
The guy who will be drafted ahead of him doesn't stand a chance.
A rookie starting quarterback is only as good as his surrounding cast. Unfortunately, most rookie starters become rookie starters for a reason - they play for rebuilding teams which cannot surround them with quality talent.
Griffin and Luck, like most rookies, will be flanked by less-than-stellar offensive weapons. As Table 1 shows, however, the Redskins have some serviceable puzzle pieces in places. The Colts have Reggie Wayne and crossed fingers.
The table assumes that the Redskins will cut Santana Moss and his 46 catches to save cap space; put him back in the mix, and the disparity is much wider. After Wayne and Collie, the Colts have no one to throw to except Brown, a complementary back who has no business being the third option in the passing game. The Redskins have two very good tight ends (Cooley was injured last year) and an up-and-coming all purpose back in Helu. The Garcon and Morgan signings were not outstanding moves - they are the kind a players that get a team to .500, not past .500 - but they give Griffin several viable targets.
The situation on the offensive line is a closer call. The Redskins finished 15th in the NFL in Adjusted Sack Rate last season, according to Football Outsiders, with the Colts close behind them at 18th. (Adjusted Sack Rate takes into account not just sack totals, but number of pass attempts, opponents faced, and other variables). The Colts added center Samson Satele and tackle Winston Justice via free agency; when Justice represents an upgrade, you know you had work to do on the offensive line. The Redskins line is a group of steady journeymen, with Trent Williams still trying to grow into his role as an elite left tackle.
Let's call that a wash. Both rookie quarterbacks will have a little time to throw. The difference is that Griffin will have lots of guys to throw to.
Ah, but Griffin must face the devastating defenses of the NFC East, while Luck gets to goof off in the AFC South, right? Well, here's a surprise for you. Table 2 lists the Football Outsiders defensive DVOA rankings for each division in 2011. DVOA evaluates every single play of a season, making it a much better tool for evaluating defenses than yards or points.
That's right. The defenses of the AFC South are better than the NFC East defenses. And those rankings are adjusted for the caliber of opponents each team faced, so the Jaguars are not getting bonus points for beating Curtis Painter (nor are the NFC East teams getting a boost from Rex Grossman or John Beck).
In fact, the Jaguars' defense has gotten better with the free agent acquisition of Aaron Ross. Free agency was not as kind to the Texans, who lost Mario Williams and others, but no matter how you sift through the transaction pages, you won't reach the conclusion that the NFC East defenses have caught up to the AFC South.
Things get more complicated when you look at the rest of the schedule. The NFC East plays the AFC North, so Griffin will have to face the Steelers and Ravens. The Colts get the NFC North, with the Bears, Lions, and Jekyll-and-Hyde Packers defenses. Luck gets to play in a dome, which will help him statistically a bit. Tally it up, and Griffin appears to have a slightly easier schedule. At best, it's a dead heat, unless you give bonus points for reputation.
A year to remember
It's too early to calculate serious projections for the Redskins and Griffin, or the Colts and Luck. There are whole draft boards to fill out, after all, and there are still free agents on the market. Still, it's easy to speculate about how the 2012 season will play out for both players.
Luck joins a 2-14 team in full fumigation mode. He connects with Wayne for some big plays, but with so few other playmakers, he finds it hard to keep the chains moving. The Colts lose to the Jaguars, and the storyline reads "Luck is bad" because we are not conditioned to think "Jaguars defense is good." Luck's completion percentages are low, and the Colts finish around 5-11.
The Rookie of the Year will be Griffin, unless Trent Richardson rushes for 1,800 yards or something.
Project forward to 2013, and we may see a very different picture. The Colts can add an impact player in the second round this year, which the Redskins cannot, as well as another first-rounder next year. A full-scale rebuilding program is more likely to pay dividends than the Redskins' never-ending effort to tune up their engine while driving. A few years from now, the Redskins may still be struggling to surround Griffin with top-flight talent, while the Colts may have drafted a whole nucleus.
But 2013 is a long way away. This year is going to be the Year of Griffin.
Mike Tanier writes for NBCSports.com and Rotoworld.com and is a senior writer for Football Outsiders.