Back in March, the Washington Redskins traded up four spots in the first round of the draft, from the No. 6 pick to No. 2, in order to select Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. The team also dealt away its 2013 and 2014 first-rounders to the Rams, plus this year's No. 39 overall selection.
So it would be fair to say that the 'Skins expect brilliance from RGIII, and soon. If Griffin is merely good and not great — effective, but not revolutionary — then the trade that brought him to Wash--
Well, let's not go down that road just yet. It's still July. Training camps have just opened. Every analyst is supposed to be geeked about every player's potential. It's all sunshine right now, at least until the hitting begins.
We know this much about RGIII with absolute certainty: "He's the starter. Period." That's a direct quote from Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan ... and that guy has never misled us. Period.
RGIII has the skill-set to be an almost perfect fantasy weapon: He has the rocket-launcher arm, he has ridiculous speed and athleticism (4.41 speed, 39-inch vertical) and he was deadly accurate in his senior season at Baylor, completing 72.4 percent of his passes. We have all the usual college-to-pro worries here, of course, as Griffin is transitioning from a spread-option offense while making a huge quality-of-competition leap. RGIII doesn't have Cam Newton's size — he's three inches smaller and 25 pounds lighter — so you can't expect him to serve as his team's primary goal line back. (Cam's short-range rushing role was the key to his top-three scoring finish in 2011). Griffin's mobility nonetheless figures to be a huge component of his overall fantasy value, if also part of the risk profile.
But in an era where the elite quarterbacks throw for 4,800-plus yards and 40-plus TDs, RGIII won't be able to simply run his way into the top-tier. He'll need to pile up passing stats, too. It's extremely rare for any first-year QB to rank anywhere near the NFL leaders in yardage or touchdowns. Last year, Newton established a new all-time record for passing yards by a rookie, yet he still finished just tenth among all quarterbacks.
Here's hoping that Washington fans (and Griffin's fantasy owners) can appreciate the difficulty of the jump RGIII is making. I think we're all anxious to see the kid operate in Shanahan's offense, running play-action boots with big-play potential, but let's try to set reasonable expectations. If you can allow for the possibility that Griffin may not reinvent his position this season, then you probably won't be disappointed. I've got no great quarrel with RGIII's current fantasy price tag (ADP 89.6), though in standard formats I won't be drafting him ahead of Cutler (94.2) and Big Ben (97.0).
For me, he opens the year as a platoon QB in redraft. In dynasty, I'd go top-eight.
Washington doesn't have the league's most impressive collection of receivers, but the group isn't a disaster, either. (Can someone please figure out a way to get Mike Wallace to DC? Let's work on this). Pierre Garcon landed a five-year, $42.5 million deal with the Redskins via free agency ($20.5M guaranteed), so this team is clearly confident that he's about to break out in a significant way, at age 26. Garcon had a nice enough year in Indianapolis in 2011, catching 70 balls for 947 yards and six scores. His quarterback situation was miserable (Collins-Painter-Orlovsky), but he still gave us a decent fantasy campaign because he was peppered with targets (134). He has excellent speed and highlight-catch ability, plus his developmental years were spent in a sophisticated offense. We've seen a few ugly drops from Garcon over the years, but he's performed well in postseason play. (Go check the 2009-10 game logs). Pierre has been a relatively buzzy player this off-season, yet his ADP still seems reasonable to me (86.8, WR34). I'll gladly take him as a third or fourth receiver on a fake squad; that's exactly where I mocked him last week.
Santana Moss is still in the team picture, preparing to enter his 12th NFL season. He's a serviceable wideout, just a year removed from a 93-1115-6 season. No one drafts him as a fantasy starter — he's the No. 46 receiver (and the No. 2 Moss) off the board — but he'll sneak into a few starting lineups before the year is finished. Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson are battling for position in the receiving hierarchy, and either player could get interesting at some point in 2012. Hankerson was a third-round pick out of Miami last year, and he offers a decent combination of size and speed (6-foot-3, 4.43); he may not have a starting role to open the season, but he's still on the radar. Dezmon Briscoe recently found his way to Washington's depth chart, too, after Tampa Bay's new regime tossed him on the discard pile.
Tight end Fred Davis is a serious talent, a guy with 80-catch, 1,000-yard potential. But he also has suspension potential, so he's not without downside. Still, he's a risk worth taking at the draft table. Davis was the No. 5 per-game scorer at his position last season and he'll be playing for an extension. At his current draft price (ADP 85.4), he'll find his way onto a few of my teams.
The fantasy community pays way, way too much attention to Mike Shanahan backfields, given the lousy recent results. Washington's running game has been a bust over the past two seasons — the 'Skins ranked 24th last year and 30th in 2010 — and Shanahan hasn't actually delivered a 1,000-yard rusher since 2006, when Tatum Bell did the trick (barely: 1,025).
Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Tim Hightower are all in the mix for the starting nod in Washington's opener, and Shanahan claims that he doesn't know who will get the season's first carry. All three backs had their moments in 2011, but health was a recurring problem. Hightower tore the ACL in his left knee in Week 7, while on his way to a big day against Carolina. Helu had three straight 100-yard performances in Weeks 12-14, but toe and ankle issues ended his binge. Royster finished up the season with a pair of 100-yard, zero-touchdown efforts.
As of this writing, there's no obvious reason to think that any one back will dominate the rushing workload this season. Helu sure looks like the most talented runner of the bunch, but Shanahan wants you to know there's more to this position's responsibilities than taking hand-offs and catching low-risk passes. This from the Washington Times:
"Number one, we've got to stay healthy," Shanahan said. "Helu and Royster, with the limited play, they both have been hurt. So if you are going to take some more reps, obviously you've got to stay healthy.
"So it's a combination. Can a guy stay healthy when he does perform? Is he consistent doing what he's doing? What I mean is, first and second down, as well as third down. Some guys can't block those linebackers. They're more runners than pass protectors.
"So if we can get a guy that can do it all, obviously we'd like to leave that guy in and play all the time. There's some backs in the league that do."
Hightower has a talent for blitz-pickup, a trait that has great importance in real-life yet won't pay the fantasy bills. Helu is certainly the flashier ball-carrier, and you might recall that he had that one huge PPR day when the 'Skins were trying to turn John Beck into less of a flaming disaster. But all three Washington backs have demonstrated the ability to catch the football. If you draft one of these guys, you might as well take another. And another. It's just a big theater of pain. And in the end, RGIII might just lead the team in rushing.
We're drafting Helu roughly 60 picks ahead of Hightower and a million picks ahead of Royster, so fantasy owners have stated their preference clearly. The problem is that Shanahan still hasn't stated his. I'm not likely to get involved with this bunch unless Helu slips beyond his current ADP (66.2, RB26). If we're choosing RBs who aren't actually guaranteed touches, then I'll just wait for Ben Tate, thanks (ADP 77.1).
The Redskins' defense ranked 26th in fantasy scoring last year, 22nd in 2010, 30th in 2009, 32nd in 2008, 25th in 2007 and 32nd in 2006. So they're consistent, which we always appreciate. IDP owners should take an interest in London Fletcher (166 tackles in 2011), Brian Orakpo (9.0 sacks), Perry Riley (67 tackles after Week 9) and Ryan Kerrigan (7.5), then look elsewhere.
2011 team stats: 18.0 PPG (NFL rank 26), 100.9 rush YPG (25), 253.6 pass YPG (14), 28.75 yards/drive (17), 0.189 turnovers/drive (31)