By Jimmy Burch Fort Worth Star-Telegram
SAN ANTONIO — Remember the Alamo Bowl, Baylor fans. Cherish every passing yard compiled Thursday night by quarterback Robert Griffin III, the school’s lone Heisman Trophy winner.
Revel in the ridiculous touchdown run in which Griffin broke free from two Washington tacklers in the backfield and scrambled 24 yards for the Bears’ third touchdown of the opening quarter. Bask in that memory, and others like it, from the best Baylor football season in a quarter-century.
Conventional wisdom suggests it will be the last time you see RG3 operate in a Bears uniform.
That is not a given. Griffin, a fourth-year junior, has yet to make an official declaration about his intentions in regard to the 2012 NFL Draft, where he is projected to be a first-round pick — likely a Top 10 selection. Maybe higher.
But his rising stock with NFL executives, thanks to his Heisman pedigree, suggests now is the time to strike in terms of maximizing his signing bonus as an NFL rookie.
Griffin has said repeatedly he will make his decision after the season and, in all likelihood, may not domino until close to the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft.
If I’m advising him, I’d tell him there’s no better time than now. No need to risk another knee injury, like the one that cost him most of the 2009 season. With his skill set, work ethic and maturity, he’s ready now.
He proved that time and again Thursday night against Washington, racking up 238 yards of total offense in the first half before the Bears’ defense went AWOL and allowed 35 points in a 12:32 stretch. That allowed the Huskies to take a 49-46 lead over No. 12 Baylor early in the fourth quarter at the Alamodome.
Griffin led Baylor back for a 60-56 lead en route to a 67-56 victory in a record-breaking shootout of a yardage-filled game. Griffin finished 24 for 33 passing for 295 yards, with one touchdown pass and one rushing score. He carried 18 times for 55 yards.
For prospective NFL teams, Griffin (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) offers a comparable package to Cam Newton, the 2010 Heisman winner who left Auburn after his junior season. But without any of the character-related questions that plagued Newton before he became the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and emerged as the front-runner to become the league’s Rookie of the Year.
RG3, the son of two Army sergeants, already has his bachelor’s degree and is on pace to finish a master’s degree in May. He is engaged to be married. He also has watched Newton from a distance and sees similarities in their games that should translate for him in the NFL.
Newton, he said, has “revolutionized the quarterback position” at the next level because of his blend of running and throwing skills. Griffin figures he could do likewise.
“Cam Newton started it and, hopefully, I can continue to carry that flag and make it my own,” Griffin said during a recent interview. “Just with the ability to run the ball and throw at a high (completion) percentage … Since I lead the NCAA in passing efficiency, it’s something the NFL has never really seen.”
Griffin said he began college with an NFL career as his “Plan B” in life because so few college players get the opportunity to play at the next level.
“But Plan B can overtake Plan A if they come knocking at your door. Because who are you to turn down the NFL?,” said Griffin, who did exactly that a year ago.
He solicited feedback from NFL evaluators after the 2010 season, learned he would be a second- or third-round pick, and said it was “a no-brainer” to return to Baylor, where he’s thrown for more than 4,000 yards and has a 37-6 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions this season.
In terms of current NFL quarterbacks, RG3 hears a lot of analysts compare him to Newton, Michael Vick and Vince Young. But Griffin sees himself more in the mold of former quarterback Steve Young, a Hall of Famer known for his accuracy and unique mobility and who is now an ESPN analyst.
“He’s a guy who extended the play instead of just running for yardage,” Griffin said. “There’s a time and place for everything … You’d like to think you are unique. But there are bits and pieces of everybody’s game you can pick off of.”
Toward that end, Griffin said he tries to match the accuracy — and intangibles — of guys such as Drew Brees and Tom Brady. But will he join them at the next level in 2012?
The skill set is there. All that is lacking is an official declaration.
From my perspective, Griffin has proven all he can — or needs to prove — at the college level. But his is the only opinion that matters. And he has yet to share it.
“I’m not against coming back,” Griffin said. “If I come back for my final season, it’ll be a happy thing. It won’t be a last resort. College is fun and you’ve got to enjoy it.”
As a college football fan, Griffin’s 2012 return would make for a wonderful storyline. But as a business decision, it is not the right move. RG3 stock is at an all-time high with NFL scouts. Now is the time to cash in and let Baylor fans start reflecting on their fond memories.