After surprising Heisman win, Griffin hopes to surprise in draft
INDIANAPOLIS -- There may or may not be any significance in the order Gatorade brought the NFL draft's top two quarterback prospects to the Super Bowl this week -- Andrew Luck first, on Thursday, and Robert Griffin III second, on Friday -- but that's certainly not the order Griffin is resigning himself to in terms of how events will unfold in late April's first round.
In a wide-ranging one-on-one interview with SI.com Friday morning in the Super Bowl media center, the Heisman winner from Baylor, given the shorthand moniker RGIII, touched on multiple topics that will take center stage in the coming weeks, including:
• How he plans to compete for the No. 1 overall pick with Stanford's Luck, who he labeled the onetime "de facto Heisman winner and de facto No. 1 pick."
• His thoughts on either replacing or playing with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, and being the Colts' choice for the top slot.
• How Cam Newton's stellar rookie year in the NFL opened more minds to the advantages of a running, more athletic quarterback.
• His hope that no team gives up too much in terms of trading veteran talent in order to move up in the draft to take him.
• And why he considers himself the best, most multitalented quarterback available in this year's draft, a case he is not hesitant to make.
Griffin was in Indianapolis taking part in the same Gatorade testing regimen at its Sports Science Institute in the Super Bowl media center that Luck participated in on Thursday, and he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his first trip to a Super Bowl city while making the rounds with the media.
Griffin will be back here in about three weeks for the NFL Scouting Combine at the end of February, and he's not shy about his intentions at that upcoming and high profile job fair.
"It's going to be a great experience at the combine, talking to all the NFL teams," Griffin said. "Hopefully I'll end up here via the draft, but I have no control over that. All I can control is what I say and what I do, and I plan on saying the right things and just being myself, and doing everything I possibly can to show everyone I am the best."
Griffin came from off the radar screen this season to beat out Stanford's Luck for the Heisman, and he sounds as if he likes the underdog role in his quest to be draft first overall. Colts owner Jim Irsay, who owns the No. 1 pick, has said his team plans to take a quarterback, and it will be either Luck or Griffin.
"That's huge," said Griffin, of Irsay's oft-stated intentions. "It's every kid's dream. Every kid wants to be the first pick in the draft. I wouldn't say no to it. I'm glad he at least put me in that conversation and hasn't already made it a foregone conclusion that he's going with Andrew, like a lot of people have.
"As long as that door's open, I'm going to keep trying to run through it. And when it is closed, I'm not going to sit there and wait behind it and cry. I'll just keep moving forward."
Griffin said he and Luck are friends and "pretty cool" as competitors fighting for the same prize. But make no mistake, this is a competition that Griffin intends to fully wage this winter and spring as the pre-draft buildup and scouting season unfolds.
"For me, a quarterback's best friend, especially a young quarterback's best friend is a coach who believes in him," Griffin said. "So if Jim Irsay and (new Colts) coach[Chuck] Pagano believe in me as a player and want to go with me, I'm happy for it. If they don't believe in me, and they believe in Andrew Luck, then go with Andrew Luck.
"My job is to build that belief in every coach and every owner, that they can put the franchise in my hands and I can take it uphill from there. Obviously, everyone wants to be No. 1, but I'm not going to campaign. I'm just going to go out and show what I've got."
Having next to no preseason Heisman buzz working on his behalf, Griffin had a lot of work to do to generate widespread support during his standout junior season with Baylor, in order to overtake the favored Luck and inject himself into the race. There are some who believe he's about to do the same thing atop the draft among NFL talent scouts. Among his growing fans are former Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who has been quoted saying the more mobile Griffin would be his first choice, ahead of even the almost unanimously acclaimed Luck.
The momentum does seem like it's headed Griffin's way. By the time the draft rolls around, some teams are likely to have him rated higher on the draft board than Luck, who has been described as the best passing prospect since Peyton Manning, and was considered an eventual No. 1 overall pick for his last two seasons at Stanford.
"Perception is reality, and at the beginning of the year I wasn't on many radars," Griffin said. "I did have a lot more ground to cover than he did. He was the de facto Heisman winner and the de facto No. 1 pick. We already took one of those from him and we plan to continue to go out there and do that. Whether it's with the first pick in the draft, a playoff win, or who goes to the first Super Bowl.
"I will use that as a driving force, whether I go first, second, third or fourth in the draft. The fact I wasn't out there with people believing in me is going to be the key to drive me to be a better player. So it'll always be a competition between me and Andrew, just because we're in the same class and the media is going to paint it that way. I don't have anything against him, and he doesn't have anything against me. We're just competitors. Outside of that, we're pretty cool."
Griffin said whether it's the Colts at No. 1, the Browns at No. 4, or Washington at No. 6, he will use the combine to help sell a team on his potential and his blend of talents. He said there were even discussions in his own locker room early this season about whether he belonged in the top quarterback debate, but he's used to making his strongest case with his play rather than his words.
"I hate to talk about myself like that, but if I had to straight up tell a head coach or an owner why they should take me, it's because I'm the best in everything I've done," Griffin said. "I'm the most accurate. I have the strongest arm. I may not be the tallest. I may not be the heaviest. But I'm the best quarterback in the nation, and if they pass on me, then I understand. But I'm going to go out and be the best quarterback for somebody else.
"It's about consistency. And I was able to go out and make the nation a believer. I was able to make my own teammate believers, too. And that means even more to me, that they regarded me as the best quarterback in the nation."
Griffin has been following the drama surrounding Peyton Manning's future in Indianapolis, but more as a fan than in terms of how it might impact his own fate in the draft, or at the start of his NFL career.
"Whatever Jim Irsay decides, whether it's, 'Hey, it's time for [Manning] to move on, or we want you to come back,' I can't control that," Griffin said. "I've never met Jim Irsay. I've met Peyton, and I told him if I get the honor to play with him, I'd love it. I hope he gets to play as long as he wants to, wherever he wants to.
"It wouldn't be a burden to play behind him with the Colts. Nothing in life is a foregone conclusion, so Peyton could be here this year. If the Colts decided to draft me to learn from him and be the future down the road, that's a win-win for me, because Peyton's a legend and he knows what it takes to win and to be great. I would love to learn from a guy like that."
Wherever Griffin lands in the draft, Newton's eye-opening rookie season in Carolina likely will raise the bar of expectation for him, and, perhaps, help pave the way for more understanding of how to build an NFL offense around his package of athletic skills. Like Newton, Griffin has a strong, accurate arm, and the ability to make defenses pay with his feet and speed.
"There are traditional ways to win, and there's branching out with ideas that can also help you win in a more nonconventional way," Griffin said. "Cam brought awareness to that. But for people who have watched the game and know the game, they know there are guys like Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Randall Cunningham and Steve Young, who have been athletic, mobile quarterbacks in the past.
"Drew Brees runs a little bit. Aaron Rodgers runs a little bit. The days of the big quarterback who can't move very well, they're not completely over, but they're not everywhere any more. There's no one way to do it. Those guys can go out and be successful. But I think just because of the year Cam Newton had, and guys who showed it in the past, having an athlete at quarterback is not a bad thing."
If Luck does first to the Colts, the Rams at No. 2 could opt to put their pick up for auction, on the chance that a quarterback-needy team like the Browns or Redskins could put together a trade package and try to move up for the rights to Griffin. St. Louis is thought to be committed to keeping 2010 No. 1 pick Sam Bradford at quarterback.
Griffin has heard the speculation, but said he has a vested interest in hoping no blockbuster deal goes down, unless it involves only draft picks being dealt, not veteran players.
"Whatever team you go to, you want to have guys who help you be successful there," he said. "And if the trade involves players who are important to that team, it could rob you of the ability to compete. I don't want anyone giving up five guys, and I've heard references to the Herschel Walker trade. You don't want to go there. If teams want to trade just picks, that will work."