Is Robert Griffin III Worth the Risk?

By Nick Weimer

“In any war, who pulls their general out? No one.” Ray Lewis, Former Baltimore Raven and ESPN NFL Analyst

Mike Shanahan and the Redskins are paying the price for keeping their rookie phenomenon, Robert Griffin III, on the field after tweaking his knee in the first quarter of the Wildcard game last year.

It’s no secret that the only thing limiting Robert Griffin III from being a fantasy superstar is his health. While healthy, RGIII was as dynamic as it gets, throwing for 3200 yards with 20 TDs and only 5 INT, while rushing for an insane 815 yards and another 7 TDs. However, when RGIII’s knee buckled a second time in the Wildcard showdown between the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks, his availability for Week 1 of the 2013 season was in serious question. We discussed Robert Griffin III in detail a couple months back in our Washington Redskins team preview, but as the first preseason game is less than three weeks away, it’s time to revisit that discussion. Is the reward of RGIII’s fantasy potential is worth the risk of grabbing him as the 9th QB is he’s currently going in fantasy football drafts?

Griffin III suffered his first knee injury back in his sophomore season at Baylor, an isolated ACL tear on the same knee (and same ligament) that was injured in the Wildcard game. That was September 26, 2009. The good news is that he came back to play a full season in 2010 with over 4,100 total yards as a redshirt sophomore. However, the bad news is that the injury this time was more involved.

The onset of RGIII’s second knee injury began on Week 14 last season against the Baltimore Ravens. While rushing down the center of the field after a scramble, not an ideal place for a star quarterback, Griffin’s right knee met the body of Raven’s 340-lb DT Haloti Ngata. An MRI showed a first-degree (slightest in terms of degrees) sprain of the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) of his knee. Still, such a sprain requires forgoing sports activities for three weeks. However, Shanahan and the Redskins staff allowed Griffin to return to the lineup after only missing one week.

In the first quarter of the Wildcard game, Griffin aggravated the knee again after falling during a throw, but remained in the game after convincing Shanahan that he could play. Then came the botched snap in the fourth quarter. As Griffin planted the right leg to recover the snap, his knee collapsed at an unhealthy angle. RGIII tore two of the four major ligaments in his knee, his LCL and his ACL. Once again, for the few that like watching replays to injuries, you can see the injury here.

Let’s first start with the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL). This ligament runs laterally, or the outside, of the knee and connects the femur with the fibula (outer bone of lower leg). When this ligament is tensed, it plays a major role in flexion of the knee, particularly past 30 degrees. An injury to the LCL is usually caused from stress exerted on inside of the knee. You can see in the video that since his foot slipped from underneath him, extra stress pushed on the inside of the knee and tore the LCL (outside). Especially for Griffin’s style of play, the LCL is crucial because it is needed when planting with the right leg to change direction as well as bending the knee in a running motion.

The ACL, on the other hand, begins along the end of the femur at a surface called the lateral condyle and attaches to the top of the larger lower leg bone (tibia) at a spine-like crevice. In other words, it is not along the sides of the knee (like the LCL), but instead in the center. When the leg is extended and the knee is properly in line, the ACL is tensed as it is restricting an overly inward-rotation of the lower leg and keeping the lower leg from shifting in front of the thigh. But keep in mind that like the LCL, the ligament is tensed when bending the leg. So, a strong ACL (tensed when leg is extended) is needed so the LCL does not experience over tension at high angles of flexion, which would increase risk for injury. In summary, Griffin’s injury was not as simple as a pure ACL tear. Yet, reports have been indicating that Griffin is ready to play next week, less than six months after surgery.

The start of Washington’s training camp is July 25th, but the decision on whether Griffin will be participating is yet to be made by team doctors. This coming week Griffin will pay a visit to Dr. James Andrews to see if he will be cleared to practice. Dr. Andrews, the team physician for the Redskins and world-renown orthopedic surgeon, called Griffin’s recovery time in May “superhuman”. Dr. Andrews also performed Adrian Peterson’s ACL reconstructive surgery a year ago, but comparing the two injuries is nearly useless because of Griffin III’s LCL tear and previous ACL injury.

Kirk Cousins, RGIII’s back up, told NFL Network  in an interview that he also felt Griffin III would play Week 1 against the Eagles on September 9th. In deeper leagues, or if you are targeting Griffin, Cousins is worth consideration as a sleeper this year. Some may hesitate and even argue against handcuffing a quarterback, but with Griffin III being a dual-threat, he can treated as a running back from an fantasy football injury perspective. In relief for RGIII last year, Cousins started against the Browns and posted 329 yards with two touchdowns and a completion rate over 70%.

Our staff rankings have RGIII ranked as the tenth-best quarterback, which given his injury risk is pretty fair. However, keep in mind that coming off a serious knee injury, RGIII’s game may look significantly different. While in his rookie year we saw a QB willing to run on almost every play, RGIII will likely be much more of a pocket passer this year. He was effective in doing so in 2012, but a lot of that success came as a result of him being such a threat in the rushing attack. Therefore, even if we see Griffin healthy for all 16 games, does he even have the upside of the upper echelon QBs in 2013? As well, after spending the offseason rehabbing rather than working on his game, defenses will likely be more prepared to deal with his skills, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more struggles this year.

First, if you are willing to draft him this early be sure that Dr. Andrew’s report is convincing. Second, make sure you either handcuff him with Kirk Cousins or a back up fantasy quarterback that you wouldn’t mind starting for two or three games, maybe more. It is optimistic to think that Robert Griffin III will play all sixteen games, especially with the heat that Shanahan saw after keeping him in the Wildcard game after the first fall. Even if healthy all year, RGIII will be lucky to stiff the top 5 fantasy QB. But then again, the rules may not apply to someone that’s “superhuman”.

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Nick Weimer

About Nick Weimer

Nick is currently studying Biology and Exercise & Sport Science at the University of North Carolina. He focuses writing about NFL injuries and their impact on fantasy football. When not working, Nick enjoys playing pickup basketball or learning new songs on the piano. My favorite athlete is Michael Russell, who currently plays shortstop for Chapel Hill. Follow Nick on Twitter @BustaWeims