By John Boyle Herald Columnist
Heading into the NFL draft, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson both had an inkling of where they would end up.
There was little doubt that Griffin, the No. 2 overall pick, would end up in Washington. The Redskins had, after all, traded two future first-round picks and a second-round pick to move up in the draft, and with the Colts making no secret of their plans to take Andrew Luck with the first pick, Griffin to Washington was all but etched in stone well before April’s draft.
But how could Wilson, who ended up being the 75th pick in draft, possibly have known he was headed for Seattle? Well, he isn’t sure if it was divine intervention, or a sign from his late father, Harrison, but Wilson did get a clue about where he was headed prior to the draft.
“I threw all the teams in a hat and I told my wife, ‘I’m not normally like this,’ but I put all the teams in a hat and the one team I pulled out was the Seattle Seahawks,” Wilson said. “I’m not sure if God or my Dad or somebody had something to do with that, but just to be here is a great opportunity.”
And the rest is now well-documented history in Seattle and Washington, D.C. Griffin, as expected, was named the starter from Day One, and spent his rookie season winning over teammates, coaches and a fan base dying to support a winner, all the while making Washington look smart for essentially betting its future on him.
In Seattle, meanwhile, Wilson quickly impressed his coaches at the team’s first rookie minicamp — to the point that a two-man quarterback competition became a three-man race. And he played so well and showed such a tremendous work ethic that Pete Carroll eventually had no choice but to name a rookie who was a third-round pick, and who most people said was too short, as his starting quarterback.
While the Redskins hit the ground running with Griffin leading the way, the Seahawks offense started slowly, in part because they didn’t name a starter until late in the preseason. Seattle’s offense eventually blossomed under Wilson. Now this afternoon at FedEx Field, these two quarterbacks whose rookie seasons took different paths end up in the same spot — leading playoff teams after remarkably successful, and statistically similar, rookie campaigns.
“They were committed to Robert right from the beginning, they knew what they were doing; we weren’t,” Carroll said. “We didn’t know. We were in the midst of a competition. We were struggling with dividing it in threes, so we didn’t have the same commitment to our guy like they did. … So, it’s just a different way it came about, but their numbers came out similar during the season.”
That commitment Carroll mentions has certainly paid off for Washington, which ended its season on a seven-game winning streak to win the NFC East. Griffin, who was named a team captain during the season, has been spectacular, doing more than enough to justify the steep price the Redskins paid to draft him.
“There’s always risk no matter what direction you go, and there’s going to be mistakes made, there’s always mistakes made,” Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. “But one of the reasons we did it is we felt at the time we made the trade that there were two guys out there that we thought had a skill set that a lot of people don’t have. We knew about his arm strength, we knew about what he accomplished in college — his percentages, touchdowns/interception ratio — but when you spend time with him, you could see that he really had the tangibles that we were looking for as a person, as well as an athlete.”
The Seahawks, like every team with a need at quarterback, would have loved to have landed Griffin, but according to Carroll they weren’t willing to give up what it would have taken to move up that far in the draft. Instead, Carroll and general manager John Schneider waited until the third round to pick who Carroll called, “Our ace in the hole.”
Yet as excited as the Seahawks were to land Wilson, they couldn’t know for sure if he would be ready this year or ever to be an NFL starter. Wilson didn’t take long, however, to force the decision with his first-to-arrive, last-to-leave work ethic, his leadership ability and his many physical talents that easily trumped his one, oft-discussed limitation: “My height doesn’t define my skill set,” Wilson has said on numerous occasions this season.
“When I came here, I didn’t come here to be a backup quarterback or a third string quarterback,” Wilson said. “I came to be a starter for a long time, and that’s my mindset. That’s always been my mindset, that competitive edge that I try to bring to the table.”
There was risk for both of these teams when it comes to Wilson and Griffin. Washington’s bigger risk came in giving up so much to acquire him, while Seattle’s came in naming him the starter over big-money free agent Matt Flynn. Both gambles are paying off in a big way, and in Seattle’s case, the benefit isn’t just in finding a quarterback, but being able to do it after taking two impact defenders in the same draft.
“It was an amazing pick for us,” Carroll said. “If our young team grows together and we can really make a push to be consistent and win, that draft pick and this past draft are going to be a really significant part of why we were successful. Obviously when you get the quarterback and he happened to be in the third round …”
Carroll, as he often does, trailed off without really finishing that thought, but he didn’t need to. Finding a franchise quarterback anywhere is huge in the NFL; finding him in the third round is almost unheard of.
And as Wilson developed, he quickly joined the “who is the best rookie QB” conversation that had previously been a Luck vs. Griffin debate.
Each led their team to double-digit wins while putting up impressive numbers. Griffin set a rookie record with his 102.4 passer rating, Wilson was just behind that while tying the rookie record for touchdown passes and Luck set a rookie record for passing yards while helping Indianapolis go from a two-win season to the playoffs.
The three rookies’ performances have a lot of people wondering if we’re seeing a new trend in football. No longer, the thinking goes, do quarterbacks need time to develop. And while to an extent that is true — more and more rookie quarterbacks have had success in recent years — let’s not just assume every year will be like this.
“You don’t have to wait years and years for those guys to show up and be a big factor obviously,” Carroll said. ‘We’ll see how that goes. Maybe this is just the class of classes, too. Maybe this isn’t as much of a trend, but it looks like it’s kind of turning.”
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. We’ll see more and more rookies playing in the future as teams get impatient, but it will be rare to see three play as well as this trio has.
And along those lines, let’s hold off on using today’s game as a way to settle the “who’s better” argument.
That’s looking at it all wrong. First of all, one season doesn’t define a career. Just because Griffin or Wilson might have had a slightly better season, or just because one may out-play the other today, that won’t come close to deciding who is the best player in the long run.
Instead, after a week of comparing the two, let’s spend today to simply appreciating them. Yes, we may just being seeing the beginning of a quarterback youth movement, but more likely we’re seeing two special quarterbacks who came out of a unique draft class. Two quarterbacks who knew all along that this is where they would end up.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.