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Black Quarterbacks

Robert Griffin III was a superstar. Then came the long slide

After starting as a rookie phenom, RG III was out of football five years later

For one season, Robert Griffin III was an NFL superstar quarterback.

“There were just certain defenses you couldn’t play against him,” said two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan, who coached Griffin during his spectacular rookie season. “I had never been around a quarterback quite like Robert.”

For one season, Griffin captivated the nation’s capital.

“RG in [Washington] D.C. that first year … he was like [former President Barack] Obama,” longtime NFL defensive back DeAngelo Hall said last year. “Man, he was big.”

For one season, Griffin convinced the Washington Redskins that anything was possible.

“We all talked about it. It felt like it was the beginning of something,” former NFL linebacker London Fletcher recalled in 2015. “We felt we just had to follow him and we would get there.”

And then, poof. It was over.

After rocketing to the highest heights of the league as a rookie, the Heisman Trophy winner and second overall pick in the 2012 draft was out of football this season. After his stunning fall in Washington, Griffin hoped to revive his career with the Cleveland Browns in 2016. However, the Browns quickly turned away from the injury-prone passer, who again missed a significant chunk of a season. Cleveland finished an abysmal 1-15.

It appears the NFL has seen enough of Griffin, who declined multiple interview requests from The Undefeated. In July, Griffin worked out for the Los Angeles Chargers, who did not sign him.

Griffin’s supporters still say the Redskins ruined his career. Supposedly, the team rushed him back from injury too soon. They didn’t do enough to improve the talent around him. The offensive line was awful. The defense was abysmal. Griffin had to shoulder too much. The coaches were against him. It was just straight racism. The list is as long as the lines of fans used to be to praise Griffin.

But the thing is, RG III did most of it to himself.

He thought he knew more than Redskins coaches. He believed he was much better than he was in the pocket. He acted as if he alone was responsible for his success. And Griffin wasn’t trying to hear anyone tell him anything different.

Former NFL wide receiver Santana Moss remembers.

Moss, Griffin’s teammate with the Redskins from 2012 through 2014, watched as the young quarterback made unforced errors in both his public and private comments.

“No one who ever played this game can do it on their own, or can’t be” helped by good coaching, Moss told a reporter in 2014. “I know everything this game gave to me I got because of what I did and what they [coaches and teammates] did to help me. And no matter how much [talent] you have, it can change quick in this game. You gotta know that. You gotta remember that.”

It’s almost hard to remember just how spectacular a dual-threat quarterback Griffin was not so long ago. In Griffin’s rookie season, his success as a runner provided the foundation of Washington’s 2012 NFC East title, and his efficiency as a passer sealed it. He finished the season with 815 yards rushing on 120 total attempts, which came from a mix of designed runs and scrambles. He also had 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. During a season in which Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck were also fantastic, Griffin was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. He deserved it.

Then came the long slide.

Griffin, with the backing of Redskins senior management, dictated to Shanahan and the coaching staff how he wanted to play and struggled while trying to become primarily a pocket passer for the first time at any level.

He believed he was a polished passer. And he was wrong. The miscalculation would have a devastating effect on his career.

Ultimately, Griffin’s inability to function effectively in the pocket proved to be his undoing. After a coaching change in 2014, Griffin fared poorly under new Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. Beaten out by Kirk Cousins, his former backup, Griffin spent the entire 2015 season on the bench. The Redskins released him. Cleveland signed him. With no better options on their roster, the Browns handed Griffin the starting job to open 2016.

In Week 1, Griffin injured his shoulder. He played in only five games. The Browns also released him.

At only 27, Griffin still has time to reinvent himself. Perhaps he’ll continue his comeback bid. But even if his football career is over, he’ll always have 2012.

Liner Notes

The Undefeated will profile 30 black quarterbacks leading up to the 2018 Super Bowl, which marks 30 years since Doug Williams won the big game.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.