CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- How do young quarterbacks become great?
That was the headline in a 2013 ESPN.com story in which a panel of 12 people ranging from coaches to those who work in front offices rated, in this order, Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, Washington's Robert Griffin III, Seattle's Russell Wilson, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Carolina's Cam Newton.
This story has been referenced here before when Newton faced one of those above him. It is being referenced now because Newton and the Carolina Panthers (9-0) face the Washington Redskins (4-5) on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
This excerpt in particular stood out:
"Luck should be a Hall of Famer 15 years from now. ... Most people interviewed for this story also see greatness in the futures of Griffin and Wilson. Griffin holds a slight edge because he's more dynamic. ... Newton, on the other hand, is at a point in his career where he's likely to plateau if the Panthers keep struggling."
Newton and Griffin in particular were being compared because they were dual-threat quarterbacks. Yet only one has succeeded, and his name does not include Roman numerals.
Newton has won 12 consecutive regular-season starts dating back to last season. Griffin is third on the Washington depth chart behind Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy. He hasn't taken a snap this season. He is 14-21 as a starter.
His career is considered a failure at this point.
Newton is considered a candidate for league MVP.
A right knee injury suffered late in Griffin's rookie season (Dec. 12, 2012) had a major impact on his fall, but it's not the only reason for his demise.
Here are five reasons Newton has succeeded as a dual-threat quarterback and Griffin has not:
Newton is listed as 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, although he's closer to 260 or 270. He's built like a Mack truck. Defensive players bounce off of him. Griffin is listed as 6-foot-2, 222 pounds. He's built more like a Ferrari. He constantly was being crushed by tacklers early in his career. He didn't know how to protect himself as well as Newton does. He didn't have the "wiggle" factor that Seattle's Wilson does. The knee injury during his rookie season made it even harder for Griffin to protect himself because he lost some of his explosiveness. He also suffered a fractured ankle in 2014. Newton didn't miss a start during his first three seasons and he has missed only two -- both last season -- in 73 career regular-season games. In 2013 he was big and strong enough to fight through an ankle injury that required offseason surgery. One of his missed starts was because of broken bones in his lower back -- from a car crash. He simply proved to be more durable because of his size. Durability was the only category Newton ranked ahead of Griffin in ESPN's 2013 survey.
This is the most significant component beyond Griffin's knee injury. The Panthers designed their offense to fit Newton when they drafted him with the first pick of the 2011 draft. Then-offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski incorporated some of what he was using at San Diego with the zone read that Newton ran at Auburn. His staff studied Auburn's offense and other college offenses built around the zone read. When Chudzinski left for Cleveland, Mike Shula continued to build on this philosophy. The Panthers gradually have gone to more no-huddle out of the read option as Newton was accustomed to in college.
"They're continuing to look at what is going on in college football and seeing what we can do, what we can use," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
Griffin initially was thrust into Mike Shanahan's West Coast style with a mix of zone read. He was succeeding before the injury, but when asked to become more of a pure pocket passer after the injury, things began to fall apart. That Griffin never truly embraced the zone read also was a factor. Most of his runs were scrambles. Then the Redskins hired Jay Gruden to implement his West Coast scheme. He never embraced Griffin or adjusted to his style. Griffin never embraced or adjusted to Gruden's style. Cousins simply was the better fit.
Carolina owner Jerry Richardson lets his coaches coach. He stays out of the way. Washington owner Daniel Snyder put himself in between Shanahan and Griffin. He felt the best way to ensure the long-term health of Griffin was to change his playing style, to make him more of a pocket passer. Shanahan reportedly felt Snyder's interference undermined his ability to coach Griffin. Shanahan eventually benched Griffin early in December 2013. Snyder fired Shanahan later in the month. Gruden was hired to implement his West Coast philosophy that -- as mentioned above -- didn't fit Griffin.
Newton has been complemented by a top-10 defense since 2012. This has put less pressure on him having to put up huge numbers and carry the team, although early in his career trying to do too much hurt him. Washington's defense ranked 28th in the NFL during Griffin's rookie season and was 18th in 2013. Griffin was asked to carry the load for a team giving up 29.9 points in 2013. The Panthers ranked second defensively in 2013, giving up 15.1 points a game. That's when Newton and the Panthers began winning, going 12-4 that season.
This incorporates several things above. Newton has been under Rivera since Day 1, and Rivera has been committed to making Newton his franchise quarterback. Newton has worked with Shula since Day 1, first as his quarterbacks coach and then his offensive coordinator. He has worked for an organization committed to being balanced on offense, defense and special teams. He's been with an organization that showed patience during his first two seasons that were 6-10 and 7-9. Griffin has been under two different staffs. He's been on a team that has won only 11 games since his rookie season, when the Redskins were 10-6. He's been with an organization that has had only three winning seasons since a 10-6 record in 1999. He's been with an owner who isn't patient. It hasn't been a recipe for success.