Every year, there seems to be a player or two in the draft that has a narrative tied to him far better than the draft’s own natural drama and intrigue. Whether it be a heartwarming underdog tale or a frat boy everybody simply can’t wait to see fail, college football usually blesses us with more than just the yearly dry analysis of prospects. This year, current darling and feel-good story of the college season Shaquem Griffin has been gaining a lot of traction in not only headlines and Twitter circles, but in legitimate draft stock as well.
For those who haven’t paid much attention to the draft or just football in general, Griffin shredded college football in his last couple of seasons. In his senior year at linebacker, he led the defense on an undefeated Central Florida team en route to a Peach Bowl victory, in which he won defensive MVP to add to his 2nd-team All-American and Sports Illustrated’s All-Bowl team honors. But what makes him all the more remarkable is he accomplished all this with a single hand.
Tragically amputated at a young age due to amniotic band syndrome, Griffin has gone through his entire football playing career without his left hand. In most cases, NFL teams would see this as an unavoidable red flag, rendering a player like him virtually undraftable. But Griffin has not let any of it hinder him in the slightest up to this point.
He absolutely stole the show at the annual Combine. He first put up an absurd 20 reps of 225 pounds at the bench press using a prosthetic hand. His previous best before this was only 11 reps. He only impressed further in the 40, dropping the fastest time for a linebacker since 2003 with a 4.38. As a six foot one, 227-pound linebacker, that kind of speed is rare and dangerous, nevermind the one hand.
Yeah, while balance issues have plagued his entire career and open field tackles bring their own unique difficulties, a player with his levels of instincts, blazing speed at the linebacker position and overall versatility has incredible value despite it. He even has adapted to catch passes, with three interceptions in his college career and showed the capability off in the coverage drills.
But what has been capturing teams’ attention over all of his athletic gifts lies in his competitive motor and heart. One-handed athletes don’t find too much success in the world of sports, especially such a demanding sport like football, and Griffin would be the very first player in the NFL modern era to play with only a single hand. The fact he even managed a Division I college roster is impressive enough but to take over the way he did and be expected to be drafted relatively high should be more than enough to convince general managers and fans alike of his unparalleled spirit.
Even with his obvious talent, unreal combine showing, and motor, scouts still project him as third or fourth round selection. While his natural playmaking abilities and dynamic athletic qualities could arguably be first-round caliber, adjusting to the pace and demands of the pro game down a hand forces teams to be a little wary of him on day one. He will more than likely hear his name called high-third to mid-fourth and honestly will be able to compete for a contributing role if coaches are willing to work around the missing left hand.
So, enter the Chicago Bears. A rebuilding team doing everything in their power to evolve into an athletic force on defense. They have already cut plenty of aging veterans (looking at you Jerrell Freeman, Pernell McPhee, and Willie Young) at linebacker to make room for cap space and to allow for the young bucks to start to spread their wings. Considering only Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks make up the pass rush, for now, the Bears will more than likely be digging for versatile and preferably young edge rushers to aid the budding defense.
Griffin ticks all of these marks and then some. His greatest skill rests as his pass rushing instincts and robust ability to get to the quarterback, which is exactly what the Bears would be searching for. Add in his coverage skills and wonderful story, and he would be an instant fan favorite who would set the bar for the defense. His journey is inspiring enough but to watch him (hopefully) grow into a star on the founding franchise of the NFL would be a headline for the ages.
And if there will be any coach who could widdle around the one handedness, it would be defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. His creativity on the defensive side keeps him employed and seeing what he has been able to accomplish when given the versatility he wants. Eddie Jackson and Floyd have been smashing successes and as a rookie, Griffin would slide into secondary sets beautifully.
The only problem? The Bears don’t own a third-round selection this year and with such a deep draft in the receiver, interior offensive lineman, and corner positions slim-fitting the Bears’ needs, it may not be worth pulling the trigger on Griffin in the second. However, this wouldn’t be a complicated fix at all as Pace has already shown how aggressive he can be on draft day. Nabbing an early third rounder would be his morning coffee and toast.
The pieces just fit too well on this one. Griffin already has developed a great following and his awesome personality would bring some much-needed character to the Bears, especially if he did grow into a star in this league. His talent would be a perfect addition to the blooming defense and his playmaking skills could inject some excitement into Soldier Field.
Here’s hoping Pace will find a way to get Griffin in blue and orange.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)