DENVER — Robert Griffin III offers an interesting view when analyzing the Broncos.
He played for the legendary Mike Shanahan and starred in the league before injuries sabotaged his career. So, he knows a little something of what the Broncos should expect from Sean Payton, a potential Hall of Fame coach, and how his arrival should impact quarterback Russell Wilson, who is trying to rebound like Dennis Rodman after the worst season of his career.
"First and foremost, what Sean Payton brings to the table is credibility. You see this in broadcasting. Amazon went out and got Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit because with them comes the sense that this is a big deal. With Sean Payton, there is sense this is a big deal. He knows what he’s doing. He’s been a winner, he’s won a Super Bowl. Players can buy into that," Griffin, an ESPN broadcaster, told Denver7 in an exclusive interview Monday.
"With Russell, I think he can bounce back. I think he's going to pay more attention to the injuries that happened last season, and he will be healthier. And cutting down on the (55) sacks, part of that is the play calls. Payton understands this. He's going to be hard on Russ. A lot of people are saying Russ doesn't have it anymore. Sean is going to go out and prove he does. And he's going to make sure Russ doesn't hold onto the ball too long and put his line in bad situations."
By any measure, Wilson was a mess in his first year in Denver. He posted career lows in touchdown passes (16) and completion percentage (60.5), posting a 4-11 record. Payton has talked about taking Wilson off the "high dive," asking him to do less, emphasizing fit and quality over quantity.
"With Russell, he's the main piece in all of this. At running back, you have pieces. At receiver, you have pieces. The offensive line is improved. What are you missing? A coach who can get through to the quarterback," Griffin said.
"What Russell has been able to do the first 10 years of his career is nothing short of amazing. What I thought happened to Russell last year is that they were asking him to do stuff he just wasn’t comfortable doing. Listen, when you have Aaron Rodgers, he’s a particular type of quarterback. He’s going to beat a lot of people with ball placement and essentially calling plays or changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Russell has never been that guy. Russ, for the majority of career, he beats you when you blitz him. He beats you with play action and has the prettiest moon ball in the NFL. But that’s off boots and waggles and keepers. For him to drop back and throw the ball 35 to 40 times and try to pick you apart in that way, that’s not what he’s done. I think (Nathaniel) Hackett came in and tried to force that system on Russ. I have a lot of connections to that tree of coaches. There was a lot of conversation that they were trying to ask him to do this and he was really not comfortable with it."
Payton watched the film of last season's offense with disgust. Denver ranked last in points scored per game, doing nothing particularly well. Upgrading the offensive line became a top priority. The Broncos added right tackle Mike McGlinchey and left tackle Ben Powers and could draft a center to push Lloyd Cushenberry. Griffin played with Powers in Baltimore and sees an ascending player.
"I had a lot of conversations with Ben when I was there. I say this all the time, backup quarterback might be the hardest position to play because you are not playing, you are not getting the reps and you are literally the psychologist for the team because everyone is going to the quarterback wanting to know what’s going on. So I had a lot of conversations with Ben about getting opportunity and him becoming the player I knew he could be. It was about opportunity. And in Baltimore last two seasons, he got it," Griffin said.
"And one thing I want from an offensive lineman, I want a finisher. And Ben Powers is a finisher. He's a guy who’s going to the whistle. I am not saying he’s dirty. He’s not dirty. He’s going to be up in your face the entire game and that’s what makes him the best."
Griffin fills multiple roles for ESPN. He is a rising star in broadcasting because of his work on college football games. He provides personality, humor and knowledge. He believes this draft is stocked enough to provide the Broncos with impact players when they finally reach their first picks at 67th and 68th overall in the third round.
"We know one thing that they don’t need receivers unless they trade (Jerry) Jeudy or (Courtland) Sutton. And there have been ebbs and flows in those conversations. But you can find a corner in this draft there and a pass rusher," Griffin said. "A guy like (Iowa State defensive end) Will McDonald. They were talking about him as a first rounder for two years and now he might fall to the third round. I think they need help at corner, center, defensive line and potentially a running back. There's depth all over the place in this draft."