By: Jack Bourgeois
The sports community is going crazy over the underdog story of the amputee linebacker out of the University of Central Florida that is Shaquem Griffin. I personally love the football player, and he’s known and named by many as the hardest working player in all college football. The UCF Linebacker’s game film screams “PICK ME”, as he’s constantly flashing across the screen making play after play. If you were to turn on the full game tape from this year’s Peach Bowl against Auburn, you’d question whether or not if it was a Shaquem Griffin highlight reel (12 tackles, 3.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks). Quickly you forget about the feel-good story of a man who has conquered all expectations, and you start to admire, as well as appreciate, the football player. Regardless of his physical impediment the man can play, and at a much higher level than people are giving him credit for.
The great Bill Walsh once said, “Don’t tell me what a player can’t do. Show me what he can do, and we’ll utilize his strengths.” That is precisely what I intend to showcase! Shaquem Griffin is a hybrid player like we’ve never seen before. Technically, he’s a 3–4 outside linebacker, but that does no justice in describing his role at UCF. Shaquem, the twin brother of Seattle Seahawks’ corner Shaquille Griffin, was asked to line up at both inside and outside LB, edge rusher, and at times even at cornerback. Never before has the NFL had an edge rusher who could line up out wide and cover a receiver, much less someone who has thrived in both roles. A speed rusher meets new age coverage linebacker??? It’s simply unheard of, yet it’s not even talked about compared to his overall story.
Griffin’s 4.38 second 40-yard dash was the fastest time put up by a linebacker in the past 15 years. He also put up an impressive 20 reps on the bench press, with a prosthetic I might add. At 6’1”, 223 lbs, he flies around the field with a relentless passion, continually making plays across the field opposite from where he lined up. In just over 2 full years as a starter at UCF Griffin racked up a bountiful stat line that included: 195 total tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 4 recoveries, 16 passes defended, and 3 INTERCEPTIONS to top it all off.
Still, writers and analyst such as Mike Farrell of Yahoo sports’ Rivals believe he’s not even worth a draft pick, stating:
“I’m going to say what no one else has the guts to say… I wouldn’t draft Shaquem Griffin if I was in charge of an NFL team. Call me a hater if you want or whatever curse words you want to use, but I just don’t think a player can be effective at the NFL level without a hand. How will he tackle elite NFL players? How will he shed blocks of 350-pound tackles? How will he intercept stray passes?”
Now I understand teams being worried about drafting the unknown when there’s never been a player to make it in the NFL with his condition. While I was on the Blitz Breakdown Podcast I spoke with former NFL scout and current Director of College Scouting for the Montreal Alouettes Russ Lande, and he had an interesting comparison, saying:
“Teams will say it’s not that we think he can’t do it without a hand, there’s just no history. And it is a risk when you take a player, and there is no history of a player like him succeeding. It’s the same reason Russell Wilson went where he did in the draft. If he had been 6’2” there would have been a history of quarterbacks that had been successful with his style of play.”
Lande also went on to call his film second round worthy, but he believes Shaquem would most likely fall to the 3rd or 4th round due to losing draft board tiebreakers with players that feature similar skill sets. So, let’s break down the skill sets that lead many to believe Shaquem Griffin be a steal in this years NFL Draft.
Pass Rush Ability
(The Memphis left tackle quickly kick slides to the corner in anticipation of Griffin’s speed, only to be owned with an inside spin move)
One of the UCF OLB’s best abilities is getting off the line and to the edge in a hurry. He has an insanely quick 1st step to go along with a multitude of pass rushing moves. Griffin is excellent at making tackles overstep the corner as they try and keep pace with his speed, and he can redirect on a dime with an inside move. He’s got a wicked spin move that even Dwight Freeney would be proud of, as well as a rare burst that allows him to turn speed into power.
Shaquem also shows the ability to rush the passer from both sides, as well as blitz interior gaps (though he’s much more efficient off the edge and likely will never see any action as a middle linebacker in the NFL). His knee bend and flexibility to turn the corner are decent, but he has trouble planting and pivoting when rushing from the left side due to the difference in arm length. He typically wins with speed, footwork, and balance, but occasionally flashes some power with a strong punch to disengage or redirect his blocker. All that said, the UCF product has more than enough tools and talent to be a viable rotational pass rusher in the NFL.
(Lined up in man coverage verse a slot wide receiver, Griffin reads the play, blows by one block, destroys the lead blocker, and forces the fumble in the backfield)
33.5 tackles for a loss in 2 years should say enough, but it doesn’t do justice as to how he accumulated such an impressive number. His play recognition is widely underrated and maybe his biggest asset overall. Combining his lightning-fast reaction time with his insane quickness upfield allows him to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. He’s also known to be a film junky, religiously studying opponents’ tendencies and play calling, rarely biting on fakes, and seemingly always a step ahead of the offense. Add that with the natural instincts to sniff out the ball carrier, and he’s a massive problem for opposing offenses. As shown above, he doesn’t shy away from contact when taking on lead blockers. He’s more often the hammer than the nail.
One thing that stood out to me while watching for any compensation or weakness due to his disadvantages, I actually found that he can use his left arm as an asset, similar to the difference between someone throwing a punch or an elbow in MMA. With a punch, the wrist and knuckles flex and give, which inherently lessens the blow. Conversely, an elbow is solid bone and doesn’t flex or give on impact, creating a much more destructive blow. He does a tremendous job at dislodging the football from ball carriers with his left arm while at the same time wrapping up with his right.
His technique and form are impressive, but you can’t teach heart and hustle. Shaquem Griffin outperforms the entire 2018 NFL Draft in these categories. He’s a high motor, high energy, superior athlete that racks up tackles all over the field, going 100 miles an hour from the snap to the whistle.
(Griffin going step for step in man coverage against a wide receiver running the 9 route and showing off his impressive ball skills)
Not only does Shaquem Griffin hold the 2nd highest pass-rush productivity rating in this year’s draft class, according to Pro Football Focus, but he’s also one of college football’s highest-rated coverage linebackers. With 3 career interceptions to go along with 16 pass breakups, the UCF outside linebacker can do it all. He’s as versatile as he is fast, offering a rare ability to mirror wide receivers in man coverage. Griffin also has an excellent feel for dropping into zone and locating his responsibilities when in coverage. He was asked to play a lot more in coverage earlier on in his career, and he even saw some snaps as a safety in 2016 before carving out a role as Central Florida’s best edge defender. His footwork is off the charts for a linebacker, and it helps that his twin brother is a starting defensive back in the NFL. I can only assume that he is running the same DB drills as Shaquille is during the offseason. Shaquem has adequate hip flexibility to turn and run, and can also redirect and close distance in a hurry.
However, what helps him in coverage is what will hurt him as an edge rusher– his size. At 6’1” 223 lbs, Griffin is built more like a corner than a 3–4 OLB or pass rusher. It will be his biggest hurdle at the next level, not his left arm. His blazing 4.38 speed will give teams the freedom to leave him out there in 1-on-1 passing situations and not have to worry about him being beat deep. He’s no lockdown corner, but the fact that he can cover will open up the defense and eliminate exploitable mismatches that today’s offensive coordinators thrive on.
The Bottom Line
(Griffin with an effortless scoop and score)
Shaquem Griffin is not only one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2018 NFL draft, but he’s also the biggest question mark. Teams will be asking themselves if someone his size can play off the edge at the next level. Can he have success against the top offensive tackles in the NFL like he did in college? And will he be the first of his kind to make it in the National Football League? All valid questions, but it only takes one — one team to fall in love with his work ethic and physical gifts as a football player. Hopefully, it’s to a team that plans to use him as the swiss army knife that he is. A few destinations come to mind… the Houston Texans already have one of the fastest front sevens in the league. For 3rd down passing situations, Houston could feature J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney lining up on the inside, along with Whitney Mercilus opposite of Shaquem Griffin off the edge. That would be terrifying. The Rams and Raiders could also be possible destinations too, as both need depth at edge rusher and linebacker. He could fill multiple holes for both of those teams.
Griffin plans to attend the 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas Texas, making you wonder if he knows something we don’t… If I were a betting man, I’d say the ultra-talented twin goes in the 3rd round, just like his brother, which means he’s going to be waiting quite a while at Jerry World. I’d be equally surprised to see him go any earlier or any later. Whoever takes him will be getting a tone setter and the type of character that changes the culture of an NFL locker room. If placed in the right scheme and role, Griffin could be an impact player from year one. Let’s hope teams value the player more than the feel-good story.