Rookie NFL QBs Reignite Their Lagging Teams

Audie Cornish talks with Mike Pesca about the success of rookie quarterbacks Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. On Monday night, Griffin led the Redskins in a victory over the New York Giants. Andrew Luck threw for a last second touchdown to beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The two were the top picks in last year's draft and both are leading their teams to substantial improvement over last season.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From college football to the pros. This week, the frontrunners for NFL Rookie of the Year are putting on quite a show. Last night, there was quarterback Robert Griffin III leading the Redskins to a victory over the Giants.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Redskins looking to take the lead. (Unintelligible) in the end zone. Touchdown Redskins.

CORNISH: And on Sunday for the Indianapolis Colts, it was quarterback Andrew Luck, living up to his number-one-draft-pick status.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS SPORTS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The final seconds. Luck steps. Luck a little flip. Donnie Avery, he's in, touchdown.

CORNISH: And so it's on. Who will win Rookie of the Year, Luck or Griffin? Joining me now to talk about both players is NPR's Mike Pesca. And, Mike, to start, how good are these guys?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, I'm going to lay a couple of profound statements on you, and they're subjective but defensible. Here it goes. I would say that right now, Andrew Luck is the best rookie passer the NFL has ever seen. And I would say even beyond that right now, Robert Griffin III is simply the most exciting player in the game of football. That second statement a little harder to quantify, but he's electric, and Luck might be just as good.

CORNISH: But, see, Luck, Griffin; Griffin, Luck. I mean, how exactly is a voter to decide?

PESCA: Well, the voters will look at statistics, of course, and there's a trove this being sports, and that sport being football. Andrew Luck is on a pace to throw for 4,800 yards. Some perspective, Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback who Luck plays in Manning's shadow, Manning never threw for 4,800 yards. Luck has 17 throwing TDs, five rushing TDs. There are some stats which don't favor him. He has a kind of low completion percentage, but a lot of that is the function of the offense he plays in.

He's been asked to throw the ball long more than any other quarterback in the NFL. RGIII's statistics are pretty much unblemished. He's one of the leaders in completion percentage in the NFL. He also has thrown for 17 touchdowns and six rushing. He's set the rookie rushing record for a quarterback. And like we talked about, Andrew Luck has been asked to throw long, RGIII not as much, but he's the most accurate thrower in the NFL on throws of 11 yards or more.

He has the most touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Of course, the voters who do the deciding will say, well, what about winning, and that's where these guys are just so unbelievably impressive. Luck took over a team that had two total wins last year. The Colts are now eight and four, and the Redskins, always irrelevant in the month of December, are right in the thick of the playoff race. They're six and six, and those accomplishments largely on the back of their young passer.

CORNISH: All right. But let's get past all the numbers here. I mean, what are the other factors - leadership, personality, anything else - that's going to sway the voters?

PESCA: These guys have it all. Of course, if you're so good on the field, you know, a lot of leadership qualities will be ascribed to you, but it seems real. Here's one stat: Andrew Luck just got passed by Robert Griffin III in the famous Dick's Sporting Goods Jersey Report where they rank who's selling the most jerseys. That's really important. And then there's the fact - and this was reported by Peter King and Sports Illustrated. If you tell Andrew Luck, if he says how you're doing and he - you say good. He'll correct you and say, no, actually, you're doing well. And remember, the guys who vote for the award are all AP writers, so he might get the grammarians' endorsement.

CORNISH: Mike, any other rookies having a stellar year that you want to mention?

PESCA: Well, Russell Wilson, who's the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. He's been having a great year. He's had a couple game-ending touchdowns, game-winning touchdowns, one last week against the Bears, an overtime, one that famous or infamous one that the referees blew the call right before the regular referees came back, if you remember that game in Green Bay.

Of course, you know, there's four more weeks left in the season. It doesn't seem that much. It is a quarter of the NFL season. And remember, the Rookie of the Year, they give one for offense and one for defense, that one really is wide open. A couple of people who may win it are Casey Hayward, a quarterback on the Green Bay Packers, or maybe Chandler Jones who's an end for the New England Patriots.

CORNISH: Mike, thank you.

PESCA: You're welcome.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Mike Pesca.

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