Robert Griffin III was once a Pro Bowler, the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and was off to an incredible start to his pro career.
That was in 2012, four years ago. But it might as well be a million.
Since then, RG3 has dealt with numerous injuries, lost his starting job to Kirk Cousins and last year became RG3rd-string as he fell out of favor with the Washington coaching staff and organization.
Now the starting quarterback in Cleveland, which RG3 will show up when the Browns face off against the Eagles in the opener on Sunday at the Linc: the one who was once a dynamic playmaker or the one who was completely ineffective and expendable?
“I think he’s going to be the player he used to be,” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. “I think he got a fresh start. I think he’s excited to get out there and compete and show what he’s been doing, just like we are. We can’t wait to get out there and get after him. And the best man is going to win.”
In the preseason — and, yes, it’s just the preseason — Griffin showed his old ability to throw the ball deep.
According to ProFootballFocus, he completed 5 of 9 pass attempts targeted 20-plus yards downfield. The Browns gained 215 yards on those plays with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Griffin was tops in the league this preseason on accuracy on such throws (55.6 percent) and he threw a deep ball on 23.7 percent of his drop backs — more than any other QB this preseason.
From 2012-14, Griffin's 7.62 passing yards per attempt ranked sixth in the league behind Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Tony Romo.
“That’s the area that we’ll have to shut down,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Their offense thrives off of those big plays.”
Aside from Griffin’s big arm, his legs are what really gained him fame during his days at Baylor and then in Washington. From 2012-13, Griffin rushed for 1,304 yards, second to just Cam Newton during that time.
As a rookie, Griffin rushed for 815 yards, which ranks as the sixth-best rushing season for a quarterback in NFL history.
“So far what we’ve seen in preseason is he’s still got a big arm,” Jenkins said. “He’s got Terrelle Pryor on the outside that they can stretch the field with. And when given time, he throws one of the better deep balls in this league. I think the key is to not let him get comfortable. And when he does decide to use his mobility, we gotta be able to contain that. I think that’s when he’s at his best, when he’s got a clean pocket.
“When he does get loose, there’s space in the defense for him to run. So those are the two things in the defense I think we have to take away to stop him from looking like the RG3 of old.”
Graham said the Eagles’ defense needs to be aware that Griffin isn’t opposed to sliding anymore, so if he’s running, they need to be ready for him to pull a quick slide and not hit him and get hit with a 15-yard penalty.
One of the challenges of facing a team like the Browns in the first week of the season is that the team has a new head coach, with a new offense scheme. So this week, Eagles players have been watching film from Hue Jackson’s time in Cincinnati, from the Browns this preseason, and some are even brushing up on Griffin.
“He’s not going to change up that much,” middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said of Jackson’s offense. “He’s still going to do the same things. He did the zone-read with Andy Dalton and tried to feature the tight ends. You can really see the ability to execute the offense in the preseason games.”
Jenkins said the thing he’s seen a ton of from Jackson’s offense is the things it does to try to sidetrack defenders, like shifting linemen, zone-reads, and using motions on almost every play.
While the playbook might be slightly different with Griffin this year, Jackson is expected to keep a lot of things the same.
“Even when he was in Cincinnati, Andy Dalton’s not RG3, but Andy Dalton can run,” defensive end Connor Barwin said. “He was a very capable runner, so a lot of that film is really still good to watch.”