This Sunday’s NFC Wild Card playoff features two teams that have found their glory riding some of the greatest NFL performances ever seen by first-year players. While the two rookie signal callers have made headlines, Washington has another rookie in their backfield, Alfred Morris, who could potentially steal the show.
The NFL prototype quarterback has evolved from the big-armed pocket passer into a more athletic, multi-dimensional and arguably, complete player. The trend in the professional league has been to tailor the offense to the athlete instead of imposing the playbook on to the quarterback.
While there is still measured success in the traditional drop back quarterback (see Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub) there is an "escape-ability" in others (see Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton) that define the new generation of quarterbacks.
The 2012 NFL draft presented the league with the Andrew Luck era, a can’t miss stud from Stanford. Lost somewhere in the collective "expert-crush" on Luck was Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, who presumably came out of nowhere to win the Heisman Trophy and thrust Baylor University into Big 12 relevance.
I found myself alone with the exception of former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy in my assessment of Griffin to be on the same plane as Luck. I felt that while Griffin was the superior athlete, Luck potentially showed more readiness for an NFL "style" offense. The gap between the two was far smaller in my opinion than almost everyone else would admit.
No one ever considered that a relatively unknown quarterback with the IQ of Robert Griffin, dominating a powerful college football conference could translate into NFL success. Though Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has tailored much of the Washington offense to mesh with Griffin’s incredible skill-set, the moxie shown by the NFL rookie on the prime time stage has been remarkable.
A late season knee injury has made him slightly less dynamic headed into the weekend playoff matchup. However, Griffin showed he’s not a lame duck against a Dallas team desperate for a win last weekend, rushing for 63 yards when the passing game wasn’t clicking.
While I can’t say that I was on the (Dange) Russell Wilson bandwagon quite as early, I knew from his days at NC State that he was a special player. He was an absolute steal for Seattle in the third round of the draft, after lighting up the Big 10 during his final year of eligibility in Wisconsin.
The main knock on Wilson is his size. At 5’11”, he is obviously shorter than most of the men blocking in front of him. The intangibles that Wilson possesses are what have made him into an All-American, a Big Ten title game MVP and an NFL playoff quarterback.
Wilson beat out two NFL-caliber (arguably) quarterbacks in Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson to make the Seattle job his own in the preseason. While the Seahawks eased Wilson into his role as the team’s leader, running back Marshawn Lynch carried much of the load. As he became more comfortable running the offense, Pete Carroll took the training wheels off of his rookie. Wilson responded by tying the rookie quarterback touchdown record (26) set by Peyton Manning 14 years ago and restoring some NFL credibility to the Pacific Northwest.
So when the teams line up late Sunday afternoon, all bets are off. The two marquee players calling the plays can hardly be considered rookies anymore with impressive seasons under their respective belts. The outcome probably won’t be decided by a mistake from either quarterback, rather who is the last one with the ball in his hands as time ticks away.
Seattle is a different team away from home, and will have a tough time slowing down Washington’s other super rookie Alfred Morris. I look for the Redskins to sneak past the Seahawks in a one score game, 28-24. Look for great games from Wilson and Griffin as the future of the NFL quarterbacks will be on full display.