Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rookies of the Year(?)

     The 2012 NFL Draft was one of the most hyped drafts in NFL history. It featured great collegiate quarterbacks going one and two in the draft that year. The Indianapolis Colts used their No. 1 overall pick on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, whereas the Washington Redskins quarterback used their No. 2 overall pick on Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Both have given their respective franchises a complete 180 degree turnaround this season. The Colts currently hold one of the wild card spots in the AFC while the Redskins stand at 6-6 and are fighting for a playoff spot of their own. But what was it like for both Indy and D.C. before these two rookie phenoms righted the ships this season?
     For the past four seasons, the Washington Redskins have been stuck in the NFC East basement. And who could blame them? You had the Dallas Cowboys who were always in the playoff hunt, the "Dream Team" Philadelphia Eagles who were loaded with talent, and you had the two-time Super Bowl champion New York Giants. But Washington has gone through starting quarterbacks for much longer than that. The Redskins' list of starting quarterbacks since 1993 (excluding Griffin III) is a long one:
  • Heath Shuler
  • Gus Frerotte
  • Jason Campbell
  • Mark Brunell
  • John Friesz
  • Brad Johnson
  • Rich Gannon
  • Mark Rypien
  • Cary Conklin
  • Todd Collins
  • Patrick Ramsey
  • Trent Green
  • Jeff George
  • Donovan McNabb
  • Tony Banks
  • Shane Matthews
  • Danny Wuerffel
  • John Beck
  • Tim Hasselbeck
  • Rex Grossman
     Out of the 20 starting quarterbacks for Washington since 1993, only Gus Frerotte (1996) and Brad Johnson (1999) have even made it to the Pro Bowl representing the Redskins in that timespan. There hasn't been a quarterback in recent years who's instilled hope in the nation's capital. But RGIII seems like a possibility to make it to Hawaii in his rookie season and restore playoff aspirations for Washington D.C. His Thanksgiving victory over division rival Dallas is a perfect example of how he's been the catalyst for the Redskins' success this year. The former Heisman-trophy winner from Baylor went 19 for 27, throwing for 304 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception. He also had a solid Monday Night performance yesterday against last year's Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants. He went 13 for 21, throwing for 163 yards and a touchdown. Griffin III also ran the ball five times for 72 yards, including a 46-yard gain in the third quarter.
     Unlike Washington, the Indianapolis Colts have been competitive in the AFC in recent years. From 1999 to 2010, the only time that the Colts didn't finish the season with ten wins or more and miss the playoffs was in 2001. That was the year that head coach Jim Mora went on this infamous rant: http://youtu.be/-oSFYxDGKy8. As a matter of fact, the Colts made it to two Super Bowls during that timespan. They beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in the 2006 season and lost to the New Orleans Saints 31-17 in the 2009 season. Back then, Indianapolis was headed by quarterback, four-time NFL MVP, and Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning. Manning put up monster numbers thanks to the likes of his wide receivers/tight ends, which included Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark, and Reggie Wayne (Who's still on the Colts). The Colts also had great players on defense such as OLB Dwight Freeney (Who was the 2005 AFC Defensive Player of the Year), linebacker Gary Brackett, and safety Bob Sanders (Who was the 2007 Associated Press AFC Defensive Player of the Year).
     But last year was a different story compared to Indy's previous years of success. The Colts placed the franchise tag on Peyton Manning before the 2011 season, but he sat out the entire season with a neck injury. With Kerry Collins replacing Manning (Collins was replaced by Curtis Painter later in the season), Indianapolis finished the 2011 season in the AFC South cellar at 2-14. One of the losses included a 62-7 walloping at the hands of the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night in week seven. It was the first time in a decade that the Colts had missed the playoffs. This led to offseason drama, which involved Colts owner Jim Irsay firing vice chairman Bill Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell. Luckily for Indianapolis, they won the rights to the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft by a tiebreaker (The St. Louis Rams finished 2-14 in 2011 as well).
     Enter Andrew Luck, a six-foot four quarterback from Stanford University (John Elway's alma mater). A winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award in 2011, Luck had a lot of pressure on him to achieve as much success as his predecessor Peyton Manning (Who's now the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos) and he will for quite some time. However, he's given Colts fans a reason to believe. He broke the NFL record for the most passing yards in a single game by a rookie in Week 9 (He threw for 433 yards in 23-20 win over the Dolphins). Then he led a fourth-quarter comeback last week against the Lions, throwing a game-winning 14-yard touchdown to Donnie Avery as the Colts upended Detroit 35-33. He's thrown for 300 yards or more in six games this season and was the AFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 8.
     Statistically, Luck might not be impressive overall. He's completed 55.5% of his passes for 3,596 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. He also has a passer rating of 76.1 and has fumbled the ball nine times this year. But those stats are great for a rookie, especially when your rookie quarterback has your team at 8-4 through Week 12 and within grasp of a playoff spot. Indianapolis has taken their level of play to another level as they've also been inspired by head coach Chuck Pagano's battle with leukemia. As for Luck, he appears to be a favorite for AFC Rookie of the Year this season.
     Comparatively, Robert Griffin III might've not thrown for more yards while fumbling the ball more than Luck (Griffin III has thrown for 2,660 yards and has fumbled the football ten times this year). But RGIII has done just as good, if not better, than Andrew Luck in other statistics. The Redskins starting quarterback has a passer rating of 104 this year and thrown for 17 touchdowns and four interceptions. RGIII has also completed 67% of his passes this year and has also rushed for 714 yards and six touchdowns. Like Luck, Griffin III looks to be the favorite for his conference's respective Rookie of the Year award this year.
     Overall, both quarterbacks have put up impressive rookie campaigns this season. They've also restored the hopes of their once-disenchanted fanbases who witnessed their teams play horrifically in 2011. There's a possibility that both the Colts and the Redskins will make the postseason this year and for years to come. Who knows? This year's draft class might be known as the best draft class in the near future.

  • ESPN.com/nfl

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