Like Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III is a Heisman Trophy winner.
Like Jackson, Griffin is an electric dual-threat talent.
So when Griffin, the No. 2-overall pick in 2012, watched the Ravens pick Jackson at the end of the first round of this year’s draft, he immediately tweeted a congratulatory message to the youngster.
Jackson’s arrival puts Griffin’s status as Joe Flacco’s backup more up in the air, but Griffin is embracing the job of mentor, in part, because he feels a deeper connection with Jackson.
“I look at him like a little brother,” Griffin said. “I’m excited for him and to have him here on the team, just the energy it brings to the room. He has a very bright future.”
Griffin and Jackson both led their programs (Baylor and Louisville, respectively) to the upper echelon of college football. While they both made plays with their arms and legs, Griffin had more success as a pocket passer and Jackson ran more often and was more dynamic when he did.
“Our careers paralleled a lot,” Griffin said. “We were talking about it the other day. What I did in college, he did.”
The start of their NFL careers will be different, however. Jackson is expected to learn behind Flacco for at least a year while the Washington Redskins immediately threw Griffin into the fire.
In his rookie year, Griffin led the Redskins back to the playoffs and was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year. But injuries derailed a strong start and ultimately led to his release four years later. After one season with the Cleveland Browns in 2016, Griffin was out of football for a year until the Ravens signed him three weeks before this year’s NFL Draft.
Griffin believes his up-and-down career thus far can provide valuable lessons to Jackson.
“My goal is, with all the information that I have in my years in the league, to help him have a successful future. And he’s been very receptive to that,” Griffin said.
“I want him to do well, and I always root for quarterbacks. I think he’s doing a great job coming in, learning the offense, putting in the work and time to get ready to go. That’s all you can ask for.”
Griffin’s lessons go beyond just football Xs and Os. Griffin’s falling out in Washington had a lot of off-the-field aspects that Griffin took with him. A quarterback controversy between Griffin and Kirk Cousins led to Griffin being benched for a year before his release.
“I have to say it; he’s an African-American quarterback and I’m an African-American quarterback, and we’ve been judged differently over time in the NFL,” Griffin said. “It’s a tough subject that nobody really wants to approach, but I’m looking out for him and helping him in whatever ways I can.
“One thing I’ve told him is don’t be afraid to be yourself – whether it’s personality-wise or with coaches or players. Be Lamar Jackson and not anybody else.”
Griffin views himself and Jackson, as well as other quarterbacks around the league, as carrying the torch handed on from other African-American signal callers. Griffin pointed to Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick.
“All of these guys that came before us, they set the standard and platform to give us the opportunity to come into the league. It’s our job to maximize that,” Griffin said.
“Within maximizing that, you also have to understand that you may be judged just a little bit differently. Don’t look at it as a bad thing. We’ve had to overcome our entire lives. Lamar has had to overcome a lot in his life and now he’s here. So let’s take that, use it and grow from it. Just know, ‘Hey, I might be a little different, but I’m also a little bit different.’”
He said that last line with a smirk. By “different,” Griffin means special. Jackson and Griffin both came into the league as unique playmaking talents, and Griffin wants to see Jackson use his to flourish.
Especially after his rookie year injury, there was a lot of debate in Washington about how much Griffin should run. The Ravens drafted Jackson, in part, because of the plays he can make with his legs, but there will be an adjustment to the speed of the NFL.
“He’ll learn over time what he can and can’t do,” Griffin said. “My job is also to be able to help him with some of the things I struggled with early on, to get over that, and not make that mistake. That’s why I said he’s like a little brother. That’s my job. I take ownership of that, and I want him to be successful.”