The 2012 NFL Draft was a watershed moment for several NFL franchises. Perhaps few have been more changed by it than the Indianapolis Colts. That draft meant saying goodbye to legendary quarterback Peyton Manning, and hello to the Andrew Luck era. But what if it hadn’t?
As a part of SB Nation’s “what if” week, we’re going to take a look back at that fateful offseason and stare into the multiverse of our own making. We’re going to look at several scenarios, all of which begin with the Colts passing on Andrew Luck. Today, we’re taking a look into the Griffinverse.
No, not that one.
This universe wasn’t far from being a reality. In it, owner Jim Irsay cleaned house, just as he did in ours. He chose to part ways with the legendary Peyton Manning as well as head coach Jim Caldwell and GM Bill Polian. The roster had gone 2-14 the prior year and shown that without the brilliance of Manning, they simply didn’t have what it took to play winning football.
Irsay set about looking for replacements at all his newly vacated positions, eventually hiring Philadelphia's young Director of Player Personnel, Ryan Grigson, as the GM. Chuck Pagano, the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator, was hired as the head coach. Instead of taking Andrew Luck with the first overall pick, however, the Colts selected electric quarterback Robert Griffin III.
It really wasn’t that far-fetched. While the majority felt that Luck was the right pick, there was a strong contingent that was really in favor of what Griffin would bring to the table. He seemed like a star on the rise, with the kind of leadership and dynamic play-making ability that was sure to turn a franchise around, and quickly.
It didn’t take long to see that potential come to fruition. Just like in our universe, Griffin’s rookie season was phenomenal. His athleticism made it possible to do things on the field that Colts fans and football fans in general really hadn’t seen. He confounded defenses who simply were not sure how to deal with his dual threat capabilities and landed himself the Offensive Rookie of the Year Honors.
Unfortunately, just like in our universe, a talent-poor roster meant the Colts would only go as far as Griffin could carry them. While the start of his rookie season galvanized the team with the discovery that Coach Pagano had leukemia, the review of the season showed that Griffin was simply taking too many hits and the roster was full of major holes.
With a good coaching staff and front office in place, changes might have been made to help him overcome those obstacles. That was not a part of his reality in this particular universe. A crummy coaching staff and dysfunctional front office, paired with the lack of talent on the roster would lead to Griffin’s injury struggles. Specifically, a major knee injury.
Desperate to improve and move the franchise forward, the Colts rushed Griffin back into action too quickly, playing him at various times while injured. Unsurprisingly, this ended poorly, and resulted in further injury.
When Griffin emerged again and in good health, it was clear that the mental strain of carrying so much weight for the team as well as the worry about the danger of serious injury was impacting his play. The strain, combined with his inability to replicate his once explosive ways post-injury, fueled his rapid descent into little more than damaged goods and cheesy motivational slogans.
By 2015 Griffin was really struggling. No longer the same player, he couldn’t make the throws the Colts needed from him, and couldn’t move the ball on the ground the same way he once had. Grigson’s incompetence in the draft room only made matters worse.
The team floundered after consecutive ineffective drafts in 2013 and 2014. It soon became clear to everyone that Griffin was not the quarterback of the future in Indianapolis. The Colts would have to start again at the quarterback position, and in 2015 they selected RG3’s replacement at the top of the draft. Marcus Mariota would be the new face of the Indianapolis Colts going forward.
Surely he was the piece they needed… right?