A little bit of a debate has busted out about what the Vikings should do with their #3 pick. Many still hold to the contention that the Vikings must address their gaping hole at left tackle by taking Matt Kalil or Riley Reiff. Others say wait a second, what about that dynamic Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III? That guy’s so good, the Vikings should just trash the whole Christian Ponder experiment and make him the pick. Which leads the left tackle crowd to fire back, “Okay smarty-pants, who’s going to block for him?” You see how this goes? Always with the fighting.
Truth be told, there wasn’t much of a debate over this up until about a week ago. Then Rick Spielman said something that for some people changed the landscape. During a press appearance Spielman went there with the quarterback question. “I know we’re very confident in Christian, but if one of those quarterbacks [Andrew Luck or RG3] is too good to pass up, you also have to weigh that in too,” Spielman said. “But we’re very, very confident in what Christian Ponder brings. As we go through this process and our coaches come into this process and we put this thing together in April, I don’t know where we’ll be.”
Theories immediately began pouring in as to what Spielman was really doing here. The most popular one held that Spielman was just trying to bluff the Cleveland Browns into trading up. The Browns want RG3 and if Spielman can make them think he’s on the Vikings’ radar, that might prompt them to trade up to #2, allowing Matt Kalil to fall into the Vikings’ lap at #3. Or something along those lines.
I think there’s about a 95% chance that Spielman was just playing games with his quarterback remarks. That 5% allows for the possibility that the Vikings really aren’t that thrilled with Christian Ponder and are at least considering the possibility of putting a premature end to his tenure. I personally don’t think it would be fair to pull the plug on Ponder but Rick Spielman isn’t in the fairness game, he’s in the winning game. If he and his personnel people are convinced Griffin is the real deal and at least strongly suspect that Ponder isn’t? Then it’s only right for them to discuss throwing Ponder over for Griffin, cruel as that may seem.
So what is it about Griffin that makes him such an attractive prospect anyway? Let’s turn to our friends over at NFL Mocks. Here’s a bit of their RG3 scouting report:
PROS: Smart, instinctive, clutch, strong arm, accurate, makes good decisions, athletic ability, track-star speed, size isn’t great, but good enough to be a dominant NFL player.
CONS: Lingering history with nagging and some big injuries…Hasn’t had experience in a pro-style offense, a little quick through his progressions, but with his plus Football IQ that’ll improve, forces a few too many throws especially on the move (but otherwise makes great decisions), he could actually probably run more or throw it away
Player Comparison: Steve Young
Projected Round: 1st
BOTTOM LINE: Griffin has the potential to be a very rare prospect and could turn out to be the best and most entertaining player in this entire draft. If he continues to improve, I think the sky is the limit for this guy, and he could turn out to be a perennial Pro Bowler.
You know what that scouting report reminds me of a little? The scouting report for Christian Ponder. Not the track-star speed or strong arm part but the rest of it. “Smart. Instinctive. Clutch. Accurate. Makes good decisions. Athletic ability. Size isn’t great.” That could all describe Ponder too. In essence, Griffin is Ponder but faster and with a bigger arm. The concerns about Griffin are also reminiscent of Ponder. The potential hang-up on Griffin is that he’s been hurt in the past and may not be big enough to endure an NFL pounding. We saw Ponder take some big hits last season and now everyone is wondering whether he can hold up physically himself.
The advantage with Griffin is simple: He has the speed and freakish athletic ability to elude the pass rush, saving himself a lot of the pounding. Ponder can move but he can’t move like Griffin. Ponder can make throws on the run but he doesn’t have Griffin’s flat-out playmaking ability. Griffin gives you everything Ponder does but has Cam Newton-like physical tools. It’s really easy to talk yourself into liking Griffin.
So we’re pretty much agreed that Griffin has exciting talent. In that regard he has Ponder beat. The question then becomes, how would Griffin fit into the Vikings’ system? Ponder strikes you as a guy who can run but would be better off staying in the pocket. With Griffin, you would want to take more advantage of his mobility. You would want Griffin to develop as a pocket passer, of course, but you would be foolish not to maximize his physical gifts. The thing about it is, I think Bill Musgrave in his heart-of-hearts might actually prefer a player like Griffin over Ponder. Think about last season, and the way the Vikings offense operated with the more-mobile Joe Webb in the game.
I know a big part of Webb’s success was how his speed took defenses by surprise, forcing an adjustment they weren’t able to immediately make, but that wasn’t the whole story. Musgrave was clearly in a better rhythm calling plays for Joe Webb, a QB with more running ability than Ponder. I think that, deep down, Musgrave would love to have a QB like Griffin, someone you could develop as a traditional QB but also employ as an option-type player especially early on. If injected with truth serum, I believe Musgrave would choose Webb over Ponder, and Griffin over both.
Ultimately of course, Griffin’s success would depend on him mastering the pocket passer’s art. All QBs, even mobile ones, must at some point learn to hang in and deliver the pass with pressure in their face. The ideal guy is one who can do everything: pass from the pocket and roll outside and make plays downfield. The man who comes to mind of course is Aaron Rodgers. In a perfect world you would want Griffin to become that type of quarterback. A guy who can work his receivers in devastating fashion from the pocket but can also escape the pass rush and hit targets on the run.
I like Ponder’s athleticism and mobility but I have a hard time seeing him ever becoming Aaron Rodgers. Ditto Webb who has the speed and strength to escape the pass rush but has so far shown little ability to deliver the ball accurately while on the move. Griffin on the other hand is a guy who could one day develop into that Rodgers kind of quarterback. He has everything you need: the arm, the smarts, the mobility. And on top of that he would be an even more dangerous downfield runner than Rodgers.
Like I said before, it’s easy to talk yourself into loving this guy. The best thing about him is his elusiveness. We’re all worried sick about the offensive line, which is why people are so high on Matt Kalil. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to pass protection. You can try to build a stone-wall offensive line sure, but having a QB who can escape pressure gets the same job done. Did Aaron Rodgers have the old ’80s Washington Redskins blocking for him when he led the Packers on a Super Bowl run? I know the lack of pass protection sort of caught up to the Packers this year, but Rodgers was still able to make plays against the Giants and would’ve made even more had his receivers been able to hold onto the ball for him.
This is a case where both arguments have merit. It makes sense to stick with Christian Ponder and try to get him some better blocking and receivers. But you can’t just dismiss the idea of giving up on Ponder and drafting Griffin. As I said before, I think there’s only a slim chance the Vikings are actually considering a change at QB. I believe they’re sold on Ponder and Griffin is not really in their cross-hairs. But the more you look at Griffin, the more giddy you become at the idea that maybe – just maybe – Spielman wasn’t bluffing after all.