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The St. Louis Rams Will Pass on Robert Griffin III. Should They?

The St. Louis Rams will trade the number 2 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. But is passing on Robert Griffin III the best decision?

Let’s establish up-front that this isn’t going to happen.

The St. Louis Rams are going to form a team around Sam Bradford for 2012 and probably far beyond. They seem to be happy with the explanations for his severe regression in 2011 and are moving forward with a plan to trade the number 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to whichever team wants Robert Griffin III the most.

This is the completely rational thing to do.

It’s staying on 16 when the dealer has a 5 showing. It’s asking for a raise when you have your annual review. It’s changing your oil every 3,000 miles. Sam Bradford is a former Rookie of the Year, a hard worker and already a leader on the Rams.

But sometimes you’re dealt a 6. And sometimes asking for a raise when everyone else does gets you less and sometimes 3,000 miles is worse for your car than going 5,000. And what does leadership matter when everyone is following you off a cliff?

I don’t know if RG3 will be a better NFL quarterback than Sam Bradford. You don’t either. That’s the beauty of sports. But I think it’s fair to explore everything before we dismiss the opportunity to take Grifffen. So let’s do that.

Sam Bradford—is he good? That’s the first question that needs to be answered. Unfortunately, we’re not going to have a definitive answer before the draft. Sam regressed in every relevant metric in 2011. He lost 7% of his completion percentage. Threw 12 fewer TDs. Lost 5 more fumbles. Gained 1,300 fewer yards.

He was injured and did appear in 6 fewer games, a couple of which he probably would have been a go if the Rams were in any sort of contention for a playoff spot.

Still, the step back was pretty jarring. Even early in the season, before Braford hurt his ankle, his stats were lame. In the first five games of 2011 he threw three touchdowns and turned the ball over 6 times. He threw for under 200 yards in three of the first five games and absorbed 21 sacks. Not surprisingly, the Rams lost all five games and the season was over weeks before Halloween.

What’s the ceiling?

Looking at Bradford, I can’t help but think his most apt comparison is Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons. A good pocket passer when he has time, shifty enough to avoid some sacks or pick up a short first down if the opportunity presents itself. And ultimately a guy who can peek into the top 10 of QBs, but can’t hit that top 5 and really carry a team in the playoffs if needed a la Eli Manning or Tom Brady.

Now with the right team around a guy like this, the playoffs are in the picture every year. Trouble is that while Matt Ryan will get you to the playoffs on a consistent basis, he doesn’t seem clutch enough to win the career-defining games.

And while Sam Bradford has shown some nice things in the NFL and college, he’s failed to win the ‘BIG’ game. He got whipped in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Got outplayed by Tim Tebow in the BCS National championship game in 2009. And whiffed in the last game of the 2010 season with a playoff spot on the line against the Seahawks.

He hasn’t been able to bust over that hump. There are many reasons for that including injuries, a lack of a consistent offense etc, al. But still, the hump is there. That big game moment isn’t on Sam’s resume.

Enter Robert Griffin.

He was on a Baylor team picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 in 2011 and ended up winning the Heisman Trophy (Yes, Bradford won the Heisman as well, but with a much better supporting cast) and leading Baylor to the most entertaining bowl game of all time, a 67-56 Alamo Bowl against Washington.

RG3 may not turn out to be a better NFL QB than Sam Bradford, but I think that he has the potential to be. Hence the opportunity to look at if it makes sense to draft him.

It doesn’t, in the end, because the Rams have guaranteed 50 million dollars to Sam Bradford. The highest ever obligated to a rookie coming out of college.

And for all the potential the RG3 has shown this past season and now at the NFL combine, he’ll never become a Ram, because the Rams shoved all in with Sam Bradford. But as the imminent trade comes closer and Griffin holds up that Browns or Redskins or Dolphins jersey in NYC weeks from now, we’ll watch Sam with a more critical eye than we ever have before.

Because now we’ll have a guy on some other bad team who we could have had.