In the 2013 NFL Offseason, no quarterbacks put themselves through more rigorous physical training than Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick.
RGIII spent the offseason rehabbing his knee after surgery on both his ACL and LCL ligaments in order to play in the season opener. Kaepernick trained with Olympic sprinters and at one point, was working out so hard, Jim Harbaugh publicly asked him to “Go easy on the weights.”
RGIII and Kaepernick were also arguably the most hyped Quarterbacks as well.
There wasn’t a day you could turn on ESPN without someone mentioning the status of RGIII’s knee and how he could be ready for week one. The San Francisco 49ers were Super Bowl favorites leading into the beginning of the year, largely because of the arm and legs of Kaepernick.
Well, week three has come and gone, and the Redskins and 49ers have a combined 1-5 record, and aside from brief moments of brilliance, both QBs are looking like ghosts of their 2012 selves.
The question is: What happened to two of the most exciting rookie* starters in NFL history?
Of course, there are other factors impacting their team’s records. With Aldon Smith in rehab for a month and Patrick Willis injuring his groin, coupled with an already weak secondary, the 49ers defense is falling apart faster than a Graham cracker in milk. The insane lack of depth in the San Francisco receiving corps is also a major contributing factor. And in Washington, their defense is so porous it’s making a sieve look like a Shamwow.
That being said, the quarterbacks are often considered the field generals and blame will always find them. But is this blame justified? I submit that it is not.
When watching RGIII and Kaepernick, it is very easy to see their playing styles have drastically changed from a year ago.
They are set instead of sporadic in the pocket. They are passive instead of aggressive in their decision-making. And most disappointingly, they have their eyes on the sideline instead of the end zone when they tuck it and run.
However, this is not the mark of a quarterback. This is the mark of the front office, the GM and the coach and the scar of an organization overprotecting their main asset like he’s a newborn.
This is a relatively new trend in the NFL, as this hybrid model of quarterback is a somewhat new concept to the league, especially when they produce results.
This offensive style, which has exploded in popularity (especially in College football) in recent years, drastically differs from the traditional “big white guy throwing from the pocket” offensive strategy most NFL teams have used for decades. Up until the recent introduction of the read-option in the NFL, coaches and owners have only had to worry about protecting their QB in the pocket.
Of course there are exceptions, most notably pre-PETA sanctioned Michael Vick when he played for the Falcons. He never threw for 3,000 yards, but nobody cared because he was running like crazy. Vick differs from RGIII and Kaep in two key ways: (1) He was a true scrambler who would much rather tuck it and run than throw, and (2) His organization didn’t bog him down with protection, mainly because player safety concerns were pretty much non-existent.
The latter of the two has drastically changed in the past couple years. Player safety concerns are at an all time high with the seemingly never-ending stream of concussions and lawsuits that follow.
Training Kaepernick and RGIII to avoid hits on the field by staying in the pocket and aiming for the sideline when they scramble will minimize their chance of serious injury, but at what cost to the team? Despite their organizations’ good intentions, the hampering of their read-option hurts their teams’ chances of winning games. In the long run, this is an excellent strategy at keeping a key asset healthy, but what good is a healthy quarterback who can’t win games?
Just ask the hundreds who don’t have a starting job in the NFL.
Allowing these quarterbacks to be themselves is the key to winning games. It’s how Alfred Morris racked up 1,600 yards as rookie alongside a QB who ran for 700 of his own, and the Redskins made the playoffs for the first time since 2007. It’s how Colin Kaepernick overtook Alex Smith midseason after Smith went 18-19 with 3 TDs, and led the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
The aggressiveness and determination to get the big yards has seemingly disappeared from their play, which is now dictated by the front office. By curbing their natural abilities and supreme talent, this style of play takes the defenses off their toes and keeps the biggest playmakers on the field in check. All the excitement and hype surrounding these two is quickly disappearing, and fans of both teams are left with a hangover and the big question: what happened?
Now, I wouldn’t be so daft as to say this is the end of RGIII and Kaepernick. They both have excellent arms and incredible football smarts, and will have great success in the NFL in the years to come, but it’s nothing compared to what they could enjoy if they were allowed to run free. The forced conformity of the quarterback position kills the uniqueness and individual talents of those who can truly make a difference in the game with their legs.
Since this is a fantasy football blog, I would be remised to exclude a prediction about the rest of the season for these two preseason top-ten QBs.
For now, I consider both Kaepernick and Griffin matchup pending low-end QB1s. Griffin has a lower ceiling, but higher floor than Kaepernick, as he has a stronger supporting cast in terms of receivers.
Prediction, Week 4- 228 Pass yds, 2 TD, 46 rush yds
Prediction, rest of season- 3,208 pass yds, 18 pass TDs, 7 Ints, 479 rush yds, 5 rush TDs
-Low end QB1. Success largely dictated by health of Davis and Boldin and strength of the opposing secondary. Real value will if and when Crabtree returns.
-In his nine 2012 starts, Kaepernick only eclipsed the 70-yard rushing mark twice (only once in regular season) and rushed for 31 yards or less five times.
Prediction, Week 4- 376 pass yds, 3 TDs, INT, 26 rush yds
Prediction, rest of season- 3,647 yds, 28 TDs, 16 INTs, 513 rush yds, 5 TDs
-Success will be largely dictated by his own health and the ability of his defense to keep the opposing offense off the field.
*Technically, Kaepernick was not a rookie last year, but it was his first year starting
**I know none of those QBs ever won the national championship, and one of them was essentially excommunicated from the University for selling awards and various OSU paraphernalia for tattoos, but they won lots of games for the school.