Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is proving that he is light years ahead of the rest of the other rookie quarterbacks from the 2012 NFL draft class. We will highlight eight different ways that Luck is demonstrating skills superior to his fellow rookie quarterbacks.
To be sure, the rest of the 2012 class is a talented group, which includes the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III, the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson, the Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill and the Cleveland Browns' Brandon Weeden. Each quarterback has assumed the starting job from Week 1 and still has a firm grip on the position.
After eight games in his rookie campaign, Luck is averaging 301 passing yards per game. No rookie quarterback has ever averaged 300 passing yards per game in the history of the NFL. At his current pace, Luck would easily set an all-time record with 4,816 passing yards for the year.
In Week 9, Luck set an all-time NFL rookie quarterback passing record for a single game by torching the Miami Dolphins for 433 passing yards.
Luck has already thrown for 300 yards or more in four games this season. The only other rookie QB that ever accomplished that in NFL history was Peyton Manning. Nothing like following in a legend's footsteps and then actually meeting or beating the expectations, right?
Today we will break down the various parts of Luck's game that are so much better than his fellow rookie quarterbacks. We will also share some educated opinions from observers that have been studying him on tape. Then we will conclude with what the Colts need to do going forward to take advantage of their unique talent.
When Luck enrolled at Stanford University, his coach was ex-NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh. Luck was redshirted as a freshman, but then assumed the starting role for Harbaugh's final two years at Stanford. Those three years (2008-2010) were crucial in Luck's development at learning how to run a pro-style offense.
When Harbaugh decided to leave Stanford to coach the San Francisco 49ers, Luck opted to remain and kept honing his skills. The subtle things that you see him do now on Sundays are skills that he mastered during his final years at Stanford.
Oliver Luck, Andrew's father, was a NFL quarterback with the Houston Oilers. Due to his dad and the work with Harbaugh, Luck wasn't fazed by the prospect of turning pro. Nor was he overwhelmed when he became the first-overall draft pick. He quickly went to work to learn the complicated offense that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians created for him.
The eight ways that Luck's skills seems so much more advanced than his fellow rookie quarterbacks:
1) Ability to read defenses and run a complicated pro-style offense.
Luck is able to step up to the line of scrimmage and quickly read the defense. He will either call an audible or redirect his personnel to offset what the defense is trying to do. This is an extension of what Luck did in college.
In contrast, the Redskins designed a much simpler offense for Griffin. He has been struggling lately while Luck continues to improve.
2) Ability to extract and create talent out of what he is given to work with. He makes the players around him collectively better.
The Indianapolis Colts are currently the No. 4 overall offense in the NFL, generating 390.9 yards per game. Outside of returning veteran WR Reggie Wayne, what other great assets did Luck truly have to work with this year? How many experts would predict almost 400 yards of offense every week?
The next-highest ranked offense from the other rookie QBs is Griffin in Washington at No. 7. The other three are ranked in the 23-30 range.
3) Able to generate high production out of an offense with a weak running game.
The Colts only average 105.9 rushing yards per game. They are ranked No. 19 in the NFL. So, teams don't have to worry about the running game and can focus on blitzing Luck instead. That is why he gets sacked as often as he does (19 times after eight games).
The running game isn't getting any better. The Colts released Mewelde Moore and have opted to scale back Delone Carter's workload. That just leaves Donald Brown and rookie Vick Ballard. By comparison, here is where the other rookie QBs' rushing attacks are ranked: Griffin (No. 2), Wilson (No. 7), Tannehill (No. 13) and Weeden (No. 27). Only Weeden is dealing with a worse ground game.
4) Makes accurate reads by continuing to go through his progressions. Doesn't stare down the receiver he plans to throw to.
This is one of the areas that Luck worked on in college. If you watch him on tape you will see his head movement and eye movement as he continues to scan the field, looking for the best option available.
When Luck is feeling some type of pressure, he has the mobility and awareness to move around enough in the pocket to buy more time. When he has identified his target, he quickly releases the ball. He can stand there and take a hit, while delivering an accurate pass. Luck is very decisive with the football, which is a quality that a number of veteran NFL quarterbacks would like to better at.
5) Leadership skills and ability to prove that he can win close games.
Luck's profile page at Stanford states that he became Stanford's all-time leader in wins by a starting quarterback with 31. Luck is Stanford's all-time leader in winning percentage by a starting quarterback, with a winning percentage of .816 (31–7).
Now Luck is 5-3 after eight games in the NFL and is giving the Colts the look of being a team ready to challenge for the final AFC playoff slot. Out of the rookie QB class, only Wilson can boast being over .500 along with Luck at this point of the season.
It would be a significant accomplishment if Luck can lead the Colts to a playoff berth as a rookie. If the season ended today, the Colts would be in right now. The balance of the season isn't a cake walk. They do have games coming up with Detroit and play Houston twice. Both teams have a defense that is ranked in the top 10, which should be a good challenge for Luck.
6) Throwing the ball down the field on a consistent basis.
One of the reasons that Luck averages 301 passing yards a game is that he isn't afraid to throw the ball deep. He has a very accurate arm on deep throws, and that helps to explain the big numbers.
To illustrate the point, here is the number of 20-plus yard receptions on the year by each of the rookie QBs: Luck (37), Weeden (29), Griffin (25), Tannehill (24) and Wilson (20).
7) Has a more polished overall game than the rest of the rookie QBs.
One of the better sophisticated methods used for measuring QB performance is the Total QBR Rankings. Here is the link to the latest QBR scores after Week 9 found at ESPN.com.
The other rookies are ranked as follows: Griffin (10), Wilson (15), Tannehill (17) and Weeden (34).
8) Composure and ability to stay focused late in close games.
Of the five Colts wins, they have won three games by a field goal, one by four points, and the other in overtime against Tennessee. The fact that the Colts are winning these games with the talent level that they began the year with is nothing short of amazing. That is a tribute to Luck and Coach Pagano.
Luck has faced Tannehill and Weeden already, and emerged victorious over both.
When the game is on the line, Luck has shown the ability to lead his team to a win by making smart choices with the football and not turning it over. That is what is keeping the Colts in the playoff picture.
Please understand, we aren't trying to make Luck out to be perfect or anything—far from it. He does have his share of flaws.
Since he is required to throw the ball so often, his ratio of touchdowns to interceptions is just 10:8. He is only completing 56.5 percent of his passes, compared to the 70 percent completed in his final year at Stanford. But as we stated earlier, he really doesn't have that many assets to work with in Indianapolis right now.
He has also fumbled the ball once in each of the last five Colts games. Luckily, the Colts only lost two of them. So, those are some of the areas where Luck can work on improving his performance.
From Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com:
Luck reminds us of Ben Roethlisberger. Coaches can scheme a free rusher to get to him, but they can't get Luck on the ground. Luck was picked off on a bomb to Reggie Wayne, but his accuracy throughout the game was his best of the year despite terrible pass protection. He delivered so many passes while being hit.
What sets Luck apart came late in the game. On third-and-8 in overtime with the Colts on the outside edge of field-goal range, Luck's first read was taken away. Pressure was all around him. He stepped up and delivered a dart to Reggie Wayne to keep the drive alive and win the game. Most veterans can't make that play.
From Ron Jaworski on an episode of SportCenter this week:
Luck passes the eye ball test. He plays the position the way it is supposed to be played. From the pocket first. You notice the subtle eye movement. Eyes are focused down the field. He is winning at the level of what a typical five-year NFL veteran would be doing, except he is doing that as a rookie.
Just today, there was a story out of ESPN saying that Luck shaved his head in honor of head coach Chuck Pagano's fight with leukemia. Coach Pagano is inspiring the Colts to play at a fever-pitch level, but that wouldn't be possible if Luck wasn't there to keep the offense rolling along every week.
Finally, here is an excerpt from an article by Vince Verhei of Football Outsiders that looks at Luck in consideration for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award race. Verhei writes:
[W]hen Football Outsiders' passing rankings are updated Tuesday afternoon, you'll find Luck's name above Griffin's by a significant margin. That's largely because Luck has thrown a lot of deep passes, while Griffin has mostly thrown small stuff.
Nearly half of Griffin's passes (48 percent) have been thrown to receivers within five yards of the line of scrimmage. That's 10 percent higher than Luck's rate of short passes. On the other hand, 23 percent of Luck's passes have traveled at least 16 yards past the line of scrimmage, while only 16 percent of Griffin's throws have gone that far. As a result, while Luck has completed 18 more passes than Griffin, Griffin actually has 24 more failed completions -- completions that failed to gain significant yardage toward a new set of downs -- than Luck.
Going forward, the Colts have something very special on their hands in Andrew Luck. The Colts need to focus their 2013 offseason on improving the running game and the offensive line. The last thing you want to do is allow your franchise quarterback to get hurt due to poor pass protection.
The Colts know they also have to improve the defense as well, but we have seen our fair share of teams that went very deep in the playoffs with a defense that was among the worst in the league.
The future looks bright for Luck and the Colts. They need to continue to attract talent either by the draft or free agency. By surrounding Luck with playmakers, the additional outlets will keep defenses guessing and off balance.
Thanks for checking out the presentation.