Under Daniel Snyder, through the highs and lows, there is one constant that he has never failed to provide the Redskins fans; off-season hope. While I'm sure every team experiences this, the Redskins, commonly referred to as the "off-season champs," have added over-priced free agents, coaches from all different types of backgrounds, and drafted "sexy" players as opposed to building depth all in an effort to make a run at a real Super Bowl. With the arrival of Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen, it appears the right decisions are being made and our optimism is finally warranted. Or is it? Fresh off our first NFC East Championship since 1999, fans, of course, expect us to repeat that performance and go even further. We are returning 21 of 22 starters and used free agency and the draft to address our RT and secondary issues respectively, but no one will argue that the Redskins will only go as far as the offense takes them. Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris had fantastic years, not just for rookies, but for any pro. In our new, lofty expectations, it's being assumed that both players will have similar seasons to last year which may or may not be naive. So, which player is more likely to have a dreaded, "sophomore slump" or drop in production? Robert Griffin III or Alfred Morris? Which slump would be harder to overcome?
Robert Griffin III
The #2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, RG3 finished the season going 258 of 393 for 3,200 yards, 20 TDs and 5 INTs with a 65.6 completion percentage for a quarterback rating of 102.4. He added 815 yards on 120 carries and 7 TDs. When we traded three 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick for the right to acquire Robert Griffin III, we all had hopes he'd be good but we didn't know he'd be this good. At least, not yet. Unfortunately, his season ended in the most tragic of fashion, with a torn ACL in the NFC wildcard game against the Seattle Seahawks. It would be hard for any player in the NFL to duplicate this season, but it's even harder to duplicate it when you're coming off an ACL tear. Not only an ACL tear, but his 2nd ACL tear. This injury is not as devastating as it once was, but still, its something you still take it into account. Will he even play a full season? The injury will keep him out at least most of training camp/preseason and while he is taking "mental reps," nothing can prepare you for the speed of the game. RG3 has dropped subtle hints (his dad has been more vocal) about making minor changes to the Redskins offense and to let him be a more of a traditional drop back passer. That's fine, it's not like RG3 doesn't have the physically tools to produce in that way, but he would be minimizing his full arsenal. Wanting to be a passer is all well and good, but like I said, if he misses training camp, when he's back in the lineup and he's in the pocket dodging live rounds, just like Tim Tebow's throwing motion, I expect him to act on instinct and scramble out of the pocket. He will still get hit. The Shanahan's designed an offense that integrated their own personal concepts with concepts that RG3 was familiar with in college. They designed an offense for RG3, as a rookie, could succeed and it worked. They didn't show any of this until week 1 vs. Saints. RG3 benefited from the element of surprise and even inspired the Seahawks and 49ers to review how the Redskins were using RG3 and mimic it on the way to successful seasons of their own but that won't happen this year. The element of surprise is gone and with multiple NFL coaches reaching out to the college ranks to study the read-option/pistol plus a full off-season to prepare, NFL defenses will be more coached-up to stop it. His 5 total interceptions might be his most impressive stat of all. Does anyone really expect him to throw 5 or less interceptions this year? Especially on a bum wheel and disinclined to run, defenses can play the pass more honestly. On top of that, Robert Griffin III fumbled an astounding 12 times last year yet only lost 2 of them. The ball will not always bounce his way. RG3 has a great work ethic and tremendous character to go with his skill, but he has set the bar high to equal or improve upon last year.
Alfred Morris had a Cinderella year. A 6th round pick that seemed wasted at the time, Morris wasn't predicted by anyone to make the roster. Many didn't even predict him as a running back. After he played in a pre-season game however, fans changed their tune. Morris finished the season with 335 rushes for 1,613 yards and 13 TDs. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and 100.8 yards per game. He also added 11 catches for 77 yards. He broke the all-time Redskins rushing record and finished 2nd in the league behind Adrian Peterson. Once again, hard to duplicate these numbers for any back. Only Terrell Davis posted back to back 1,600 yard seasons under Shanahan, although Clinton Portis did come close. While Alfred Morris is said to be in "better shape" this off-season, 335 is still a lot of carries for any running back. Heavy workloads will kill any running back's career and while I don't think the number of carries will affect him this year, will he even get a chance to match his 335 carries? Shanahan drafted two more running backs in 2013 and while Alfred's job is not in jeopardy, it will certainly eat into his snaps if either Jawan Jamison or Chris Thompson (Roy Helu also) prove trustworthy. Just like RG3, Morris will be affected by losing the surprise factor to our offense. While he breaks tackles and earns his fair share of his own yards, Morris undoubtedly benefited from the read-option and pistol. Backside defenders and the defensive player "optioned," would stand with RG3 as he watched Morris shred through defenses. With Robert Griffin's health a concern and wanting to run less, defenses will be able to key-in on Morris more on run plays. Can Morris churn out those same yards with an extra man in the box? Will defenses trust putting another man in the box? Only time will tell, but like RG3, if he doesn't match his 2012 totals, it won't be from a lack of trying.
The fact of the matter is, while predicting to repeat as NFC East Champions is fun, no one mentions that there hasn't been a repeat winner of the division since the Eagles in 2003 and 2004. Any year can be good or bad, especially in a division where these teams annually beat the hell out of each other until one limps into the playoffs. We're counting on our pass rush to be improved, our secondary to be fixed by 4th and 6th round picks, and our RT situation to be resolved by other teams throwaways (and a 6th round pick). Every team is a contender in OTAs, so let's try and temper our expectations because we are starting to sound as optimistic as when Donovan McNabb was going to be our John Elway, as optimistic as when we signed the prize of the 2009 free agency class in Albert Haynesworth and as optimistic as when Adam Archuleta was going to be our safety of the future. So, let's brace for the worst but hope for the best, not expect it. With that being said, which 2nd year player is more likely to see a drop in production? If RG3, could we ride Alfred's legs to the playoffs? If Morris, could we get to the playoffs on RG3's arm?