Will Robert Griffin III follow in Cam Newton's footsteps and put up big fantasy numbers as a rookie?
There's almost no way around this. Those of you who don't care about statistical analysis and play fantasy football with your heart and intuition are going to call me a hater. Die-hard Washington Redskins fans (I'm looking at you, Matthew Berry) will probably join in that chorus. However, despite the undeniable urge to be accepted, I cannot compromise my integrity and must answer the above question with a resounding NO. Griffin will not put up big numbers as a rookie.
Since 1980, 70 quarterbacks have been taken in the first round of the NFL draft. Know how many of them scored more than 200 fantasy points in their rookie season? The answer is one: Newton, whose 352 fantasy points last season were more than 150 points greater than the next highest scoring rookie quarterback in the past 30-plus years.
You might think that rookie quarterbacks don't generally get the opportunity that Griffin will be given. You're wrong. Since the 1993 draft, 16 rookie quarterbacks amassed at least 350 passing attempts (starting with the most recent): Blaine Gabbert (413), Sam Bradford (590), Matthew Stafford (377), Mark Sanchez (364), Matt Ryan (434), Joe Flacco (428), Vince Young (357), Matt Leinart (377), Byron Leftwich (418), David Carr (444), Joey Harrington (429), Tim Couch (399), Peyton Manning (575), Kerry Collins (433), Drew Bledsoe (429) and Rick Mirer (486).
When you look at those names, you'll likely find some good signal-callers, but other than Manning, and maybe Stafford, those names don't represent an elite level of quarterbacks. While you may be thinking something along the lines of "Griffin is going to be elite, so that comparison is useless," consider that, with the exception of Gabbert, Flacco, Leinart and Leftwich, all of those quarterbacks were taken in the first five picks of the NFL draft. Seven were taken first or second overall, which means the expectation for those players was that they were going to be elite as well. Elite is easy to project, difficult to achieve.
Based on the fact that fewer than 25 percent of the first-round rookie quarterbacks had 350 passing attempts, predicting 500 pass attempts is an aggressive forecast, but let's go with that. Let's also give him 6.4 yards per attempt -- the average of the rookie quarterbacks with at least 350 attempts -- and we come up with a prediction of 3,200 passing yards. Now add 18 passing touchdowns and 20 interceptions because rookie quarterbacks throw touchdowns on 3.5 percent of their attempts while 4 percent are picked off.
I fully expect some to argue that Griffin's rushing ability will be the key difference. Of those 70 quarterbacks taken in the first round, only two rushed for at least 400 yards during their rookie campaign: Newton and Young. Other mobile quarterbacks, such as Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, split time during their first season, so their opportunities were limited. That being said, it's probably safe to project 400 rushing yards for Griffin. On average, a rookie quarterback will score one touchdown for every 100 yards rushed, so that's worth four touchdowns.
This gives us a line of 3,200 yards passing, 18 passing touchdowns and 20 interceptions complemented by 400 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns for a grand total of 224 fantasy points. That would place him as the second-highest scoring rookie fantasy quarterback, which is nice but nowhere near Newton's performance last season.
It's important to acknowledge that a driving factor in Newton's amazing season was that his production was driven by one key attribute that Griffin doesn't have: massive size that can be exploited at the goal line. Griffin is crazy fast, but Newton's size allowed him to separate himself from his predecessors.
Finally, remember this, 224 fantasy points for a quarterback is not horrendous. It would project him as our 14th-highest producer at quarterback this season. However, this prediction would include the assumption that he plays all 16 games, which is no way a given in today's NFL, especially based on Griffin's style of play.
The bottom line is that drafting Griffin as a backup fantasy quarterback is OK, but there are much better options available based on the fact that his average draft position is well above his projected end-of-season ranking. Let someone else reach for his potential and take a more proven commodity who doesn't have to go against history to earn the value of his draft position.