My friend Rick Snider of the Washington Examiner made some national waves with his column saying that Robert Griffin III would be the Redskins’ best quarterback since Sonny Jurgensen.
Said Gregg Rosenthal on NFL.com, “Griffin hasn't faced a single blitz or a live tackling drill. He hasn't even played against a veteran NFL player in practice. But he's already getting placed ahead of Joe Theismann, Billy Kilmer, Doug Williams and, uh, Rex Grossman.”
Snider may be getting ahead of himself a bit but if you look at the record, Griffin would not have to be an elite quarterback in order to surpass the three signal callers that Rosenthal mentions seriously (the mention of Rex, I think, was in jest). He would just have to be somewhere between good and very good for the duration of a couple of contracts.
Kilmer did lead the Redskins to their first Super Bowl and although his passes weren’t pretty they were often effective. And the Redskins won two thirds of the 74 games he started over eight seasons. He made the Pro Bowl once, after that Super Bowl 1972 season.
Theismann was the Redskins starter for eight seasons, from 1978 until he suffered that broken leg at the hands of Lawrence Taylor in the 11th game of the 1985 season. The Redskins were 77-47 (.621 winning percentage) in the games he started. Theismann went to the Pro Bowl twice and was the first-team All-Pro quarterback in 1983. The Redskins went to back to back Super Bowls with Theismann at the helm. They won it all in 1982 and lost to the Raiders the following year.
Williams had the great playoff run following the 1987 season, capped by his marvelous MVP performance in the Super Bowl. But other than that stretch, Williams really doesn’t have a place on the list of all-time great Redskins quarterbacks. In four years in Washington he started just 14 games and the Redskins were 5-9 in those games.
Rosenthal didn’t mention Mark Rypien, the Redskins’ other Super Bowl winning QB. He started 72 games for the team with the Redskins going 45-27 (.625). He made the Pro Bowl twice.
Kilmer led the NFL in touchdown passes in 1972. None of the other three led the league in any major statistical category for a season. Jurgensen led the NFL in completion percentage twice, in yards passing five times, and touchdown passes twice.
The biggest hurdle that RG3 would have in surpassing the post-Sonny quarterbacks would be in winning games. Although winning is highly dependent on other factors like having a solid defense and a running game, as Griffin himself said, the quarterback gets all the credit when the team wins and all them blame when the lose. Whether that is fair or not that is how he will be judged. To equal the winning percentages that Theismann and Rypien posted, the Redskins wold have to average about a 10-6 record every year. To match Kilmer’s winning percentage, Washington would have to go 12-4 year in and year out.
Theismann was solid in the clutch; the folks at Pro Football Reference give him credit for 19 fourth-quarter comebacks and 24 game-winning drives. Griffin had a number of moments like that while winning the Heisman Trophy at Baylor and he could duplicate them in Washington.
Theismann is the Redskins career leader with 25,206 passing yards. The NFL was just entering its pass-happy era during his career. It is easy to see RG3 breaking that record relatively early in his career. If Griffin averages 4,200 passing yards per season, a season that remarkable was Theismann’s day but routine now, he would match Theismann’s record by the end of his sixth season.
And then there are things like playoff appearances, playoff success, and getting to and winning Super Bowls. It would be hard to put Griffin on the proverbial Mount Rushmore of Redskins quarterbacks unless he leads the team to a Super Bowl.