By now, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck should be starting to grow accustomed to the notion that their NFL careers are interwoven, with no untangling of their football fortunes in store any time soon. When the Indianapolis Colts selected Luck first overall in the draft and the Washington Redskins chose Griffin second, it virtually ensured that the two highly celebrated quarterbacks would have their NFL accomplishments and failures ceaselessly compared and contrasted, probably for as long as they play and perhaps beyond.
“They will be sort of linked together, not only in terms of individual success but team success,” former NFL quarterback Trent Green said this week. “It’ll be how many wins they have, how many yards they pass for, how many Pro Bowls they reach. How many years has it been since Ryan Leaf played? And he’s still mentioned with Peyton [Manning]. My year was [Drew] Bledsoe and [Rick] Mirer. Going back to the ’83 quarterback class, those guys are always grouped together and compared. That will always be there for them.”
The matchup between Griffin and Luck is the main story line as the Redskins host the Colts in the third game of the four-game preseason Saturday afternoon at FedEx Field. The third preseason game is traditionally the main dress rehearsal for the regular season for NFL teams. The Redskins are scheduled to play their starters into the early stages of the third quarter.
So there is little at stake in the outcome and not much lasting value if one quarterback outshines the other. But the game could offer some hints about how each prized rookie’s season might go. NFL talent evaluators rave about both quarterbacks, and say that each possesses all the qualities needed for stardom at this level.
But history is against both of them becoming NFL standouts.
Luck and Griffin are the fifth set of quarterbacks to be taken first and second in the same year since the NFL and AFL combined their drafts in 1967. Only once have both had successful NFL careers. That was the case for Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning, who were drafted in 1971.
Each of the other three sets of quarterbacks drafted first and second — Bledsoe and Mirer in ’93, Peyton Manning and Leaf in ’98 and Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb in ’99 — produced one NFL standout and one disappointment.
“People still measure Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning,” Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. “I think that will stick with them [Griffin and Luck] for a long time, unless something crazy happens. But it’s not a bad thing. It’s just the nature of the game.”
Luck has the added burden of taking over as the starter in Indianapolis after the Colts released Peyton Manning, the only four-time most valuable player in NFL history.
“He is a rookie and everybody knows that,” said Garcon, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Colts before signing with the Redskins as a free agent in March. “There’s a mountain that Peyton built that he can’t really climb or overcome. But there is a possibility. He’s looked good in the [preseason] games that he’s played. He’s done a lot of great things. But it’s tough to follow in Peyton’s footsteps.”
Griffin said he and Luck have a friendly rivalry. He has known of Luck since their high school days and met him at college awards ceremonies. The two have since exchanged some text messages.
“We’re not holding conversations about this defense and that defense,” Griffin said. “But we text back and forth. Since we’ve been drafted, we haven’t talked very much. But that’s because we’ve both just been busy.”
Griffin has established an early lead in celebrity status as a recognizable TV pitchman for various products. When the Redskins returned to Dulles Airport after the preseason opener in Buffalo, players turned on a television and in short order saw two commercials featuring him.
Luck has piled up the more eye-catching preseason passing numbers. He has 363 yards on 26-for-41 passing (63.4 percent), with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Colts’ two exhibition games. Griffin has connected on nine of 14 passes for 119 yards in the Redskins’ two games, with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Luck said he understands the focus on the pair. But he maintained this game won’t be a personal duel.
“I think you realize that’s sort of the nature of the beast, nature of playing quarterback, nature of being drafted one-two at any position in any sport,” Luck said during a midweek news conference. “I don’t speak for him, but I’m sure he feels the same way. It’s not too hard not to get too caught up in it. I have much bigger things to worry about.”
The conventional NFL wisdom is that Griffin has a better chance to win earlier in his career in Washington than Luck does in Indianapolis.
The Redskins have their issues, with an offensive line that has been patched together during the preseason, a receiver corps that was remade in the offseason, competition for the starting tailback job and a secondary that was vulnerable in last weekend’s second preseason game in Chicago.
But the Redskins are in their third season under Coach Mike Shanahan and they aren’t starting over this year to the same extent that the Colts are.
“Washington has a better base than Indianapolis does,” Green said.
Coming off a 2-14 season spent entirely without the injured Manning, the Colts overhauled their front office and coaching staff and said their offseason goodbyes not only to Manning and Garcon, but also to fellow offensive mainstays such as tight end Dallas Clark, tailback Joseph Addai and center Jeff Saturday. They did re-sign veteran wideout Reggie Wayne in free agency. Luck was drafted to be the focal point of the Colts’ rebuilding project.
The Colts appeared to be locked in on Luck as the top pick from early in the draft-evaluation process, and seemingly never wavered. The Redskins seemed to know when they traded up for the second pick in the draft that they almost certainly would get Griffin, not Luck. Even so, the Redskins did their pre-draft homework on Luck. Shanahan said this week that the Redskins “loved both guys.”
Of Luck, he said: “I sure liked him. After all that hype, you’ve got to get it done on the football field. You like guys that are very sharp and enjoy the game. I had a chance to spend time around him and Robert. And I felt great; no matter what direction Indianapolis decided to go in the draft, we’d be in good shape.”
Griffin doesn’t track Luck’s progress obsessively. When the Colts played the Pittsburgh Steelers in a nationally televised game last Sunday night, he didn’t watch, viewing a movie instead, he said. Griffin talked this week about facing not Luck but the Indianapolis defense. Yet he said he accepts the comparisons.
“I definitely look forward to playing the guy throughout my career,” Griffin said early this week. “I think it will be exciting matchups every time we face each other.”