There are a few things about Shaquem Griffin that make him unique from other NFL draft hopefuls, and to ignore those things would be doing a disservice to him as a player, a person, and as a prospect. Yes, Griffin is the twin brother of Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin, the 90th overall pick in the draft last year and an under-the-radar defensive back who quietly had an exceptional first season that was somewhat overshadowed by the play of Tre’Davious White and Marshon Lattimore.
Those are some names that have made Shaquill a bit of an afterthought around the league, but it was Shaquill who overshadowed his one-minute-younger brother for much of his playing career too.
Shaquem was recruited by UCF so they could secure Shaquill. Shaquem redshirted for a year, which is why Shaquill went into the NFL draft one year earlier. Shaquem didn’t become a full-time start on defense until his fourth season at UCF. The Knights went 0-12 when Shaquem and Shaquill were juniors, then 6-7 as seniors, with Shaquem winning the AAC Defensive Player of the Year award. Then they went 13-0 without Shaquill, but with Shaquem in 2017.
In their big win of the season, 34-27 over Auburn in the Peach Bowl, helping the program finish 6th in the nation just two seasons after 0-12, Shaquem had a game-high 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. They held Auburn and Kerryon Johnson to 90 rushing yards on 44 carries. None of which was enough to get Shaquem an invite to the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, something he had to petition to receive.
The reason for him not getting an initial invite are certainly more complicated than just the fact that he had his left hand amputated when he was four -- UCF is a “small school” regardless of their top-10 finish in the polls, Griffin was slower to develop and contribute than his brother, there are other pro-worthy prospects out there who also didn’t get invited to the combine but didn’t have as much attention or support (did you know: Shaquill Griffin did not get an initial invite to the 2017 combine) -- but I’d also buy that Griffin’s left arm was one of the reasons that some in the league have doubts, and why some teams will shy away from him in the draft.
Everything else seems to be screaming that the teams who are now more inclined to draft Griffin following his historic combine performance will be on the right side of history. Not because he is a “great story” but because Shaquem Griffin is writing the book of his life day by day -- and he is clearly well aware that writing a book is hard. It requires hard work, discipline, and over-achievement at the highest levels. That’s what I think makes Griffin a good prospect more than anything else — he already knows what “hard work” really means and has accepted that may he has to fight for his place a little bit more than the next guy.
Griffin may be the first one-handed player in NFL history to get drafted, but he’s far from the first player to have to overcome the skepticism about his future successes. In fact, that is about as “Seahawk-y” as an prospect can get; players who have stood up to doubt for nearly every moment of their careers and who then thrive more on competition and “winning” than on anything else.
Russell Wilson is “too short.” Doug Baldwin is “too small.” Richard Sherman is “too big.” Griffin has one hand, and hands do seem integral to tackling or making a play on an attempted pass, but that’s already something outside of Griffin’s control just like Wilson can’t grow five more inches at this point. Wilson can’t wear lifts in a game and Griffin may not wear a prosthetic on his arm, but there’s still plenty that’s always within our control and that’s what the best people focus on. “What can I control and how can I improve it?” That type of preparation and focus is what helped Griffin become the star of the 2018 combine.
At the combine, Griffin weighed in at 227 lbs, which is 34 lbs heavier than his “twin” brother Shaquill. However, when Shaquem first got to UCF he weighed 169. 169. He could barely press the bar on the bench a single time, but in the five years since, Shaquem added 58 lbs to his frame and did 20 reps of 225 at the combine. He’s now willing to drop weight to play safety, if that’s what a team wants him to do. If they want him to get to 240 and rush the passer, something he did to the tune of 18.5 sacks in the last two seasons, he’ll do that too.
“I want to be able to show NFL teams that whatever you need help at, I can play it,” Griffin said. “Want me to play kicker or punter? All I need to do is get a good stretch in and warm up my foot.”
Versatility. Also a word that is as important to Pete Carroll as “compete” is. Seattle needs a SAM linebacker, a safety, depth at corner, depth at middle and WILL, and pass rush help. Maybe Shaquem, when he gets to the pro level, will be several of those things or one of those things, but he’s certainly proven to be adaptable. And that he’ll fight for special teams coverage reps just the same.
Still, Shaquem may have sealed his NFL fate with his 40-yard dash. It seems that no matter where you place him at the next level, you’d be really underselling his gifts if you didn’t utilize his rare speed. Griffin was timed with a 4.38 40-yard dash, the fastest of any linebacker in combine history, dating back to 1987.
Shaquem Griffin out-ran some of the NFL's fastest pic.twitter.com/SygN6SGyig— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 4, 2018
I honestly want to put this in perspective with a still shot. I’ve watched this kid @Shaquemgriffin Benchpress 225 (20reps), run a 4.3 AND CATCH footballs out LB breaks on the biggest stage... #NoExcusesNoExplanations #ChasingHisDream pic.twitter.com/JEIKbJimOF— ROBERT MATHIS The1st (@RobertMathis98) March 4, 2018
I would love to play with this guy! Salute @Shaquemgriffin ✊ https://t.co/2bfROH4l4I— Von Miller (@VonMiller) March 4, 2018
.@ShaquemGriffin showing off his coverage skills! #NFLCombine @UCF_Football— NFL (@NFL) March 4, 2018
: @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/gWKdy1mVYB
Which other linebackers since 2000 were between 6’-6’2, 221-233 lbs, and ran a sub-4.5 40-yard dash?
Linebackers since 2000, who like Shaquem Griffin, were roughly 6'1, 227 lbs, and ran a sub 4.5:— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) March 5, 2018
Darron Lee, 2016 (1st round)
Gerald McRath, 2009 (4th)
Jonathan Casillas, 2009 (UDFA)
Jon Alston, 2006 (3rd)
Leon Joe, 2004 (4th)
Michael Boulware, 2004 (2nd)
The two best of those names are Lee and Casillas. We’re only two seasons into Lee’s career, but he’s perhaps an example of what a fast linebacker at that size can do for you and he was the 20th overall pick of the draft. On the other side, only Casillas was undrafted out of this group and he’s had a good, unspectacular nine-year career.
The others were drafted but had very short careers, including Michael Boulware, who was drafted by the Seahawks, had 11 interceptions in three seasons, and was out of the NFL by 2008.
There are also some strong safeties who fit that athletic profile since 2000, if that is the position that Griffin ultimately plays: Chip Vaughn, William Moore, Josh Barrett, Wesly Mallard, and Jarrod Cooper. Most of those are not “name” players, with the exception of Moore, who was a second round pick by the Falcons and a Pro Bowler in 2012. Broadened out, that gives us 11 players who were roughly the same BMI as Shaquem; the good news is that the only one who was faster than Griffin was Josh Barrett (4.34), but Griffin’s broad jump (117”) would be the lowest of the bunch too.
So, how good of an NFL player is Griffin going to be really? Shit, I don’t know. How the hell can any of us know? How good is Josh Rosen going to be? Or Josh Allen? Or Bradley Chubb? Or Saquon Barkley? We can’t even reasonably predict the success of the players expected to go into the top five, so what are we meant to say about a player whose grade between the start of the year and the draft will bounce from undrafted to early day two to who-the-hell-knows?
Wilson is a success, but it doesn’t mean that the concerns about his height weren’t valid. There are things that Wilson will never be able to do because of his height, and there are things that he probably wouldn’t excel at if he weren’t tasked with a career in which he must compensate. Baldwin will never be Julio Jones, but he’ll always be Doug Baldwin. He’s the best Doug Baldwin he can possibly be, and that’s great.
I don’t think Shaquem’s left arm is nearly as big of a concern to NFL evaluators as it may have been three years ago — he played two seasons as a full-time starter, made the plays, and proved just like Wilson did at NC State and Wisconsin that there are countless ways to be successful. We’re all carving our own paths anyway, and it’s Griffin’s unique road that makes him special, just as it is for Nazair Jones, who at 16 wasn’t sure if he’d ever walk again. Or Bruce Irvin, a high school dropout. Or Brandon Williams, the tight end who proved that regional combine invites actually do work out for precious few.
Everybody gets to be unique in their own way, that’s the gift of individuality. Shaquem’s stands out because it is really unlike anything we’ve seen in modern football and it’s impossible to not notice in nearly every photo and every highlight. And that’s fine. We do not need to ignore it. We also do not need to necessarily celebrate it, but it should be fine if you want to. As a person, you should be able to celebrate and spotlight Griffin’s accomplishments because that type of work ethic is always inspirational to me.
As a prospect, take everything into account as you would anyone else. He’s just another one of the many hopefuls and that’s where he belongs.