Indianapolis was supposed to be rebuilding this season.
The Colts parted ways with their aging franchise quarterback in favor of a fresh start with another one, churning the roster along the way. They focused on the offense in the 2012 NFL draft, seemingly content to wait on defense.
Andrew Luck had other plans.
It was reasonable to expect a good rookie season for Luck, who was the consensus No. 1 pick and pegged for greatness. His immediate success has surpassed most expectations, however. Luck is penning one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time.
But is it the greatest?
Here are some of the NFL's greatest rookie seasons at the quarterback position through their first nine games:
Many will point to Cam Newton's rookie campaign as the greatest statistical season by a rookie in history. Few can argue the record 14 rushing touchdowns he had, and he surpassed 4,000 yards over the air.
Indeed, Newton impressed, but there is the little matter of that poor record.
The most remarkable rookie passer could be Dan Marino, who threw 20 touchdowns to just six interceptions in less than 11 games in 1983. His official record was 8-3 that season; like Ben Roethlisberger, one of the losses in the chart technically belongs to David Woodley.
So why do wins matter? At 6-3, Luck has one of the best records to start a career to this point for a quarterback.
The tricky endeavor in all of this is how to measure victories. Wins are, by far, the most overrated statistic when it comes to judging the success of a quarterback. Vince Young is 31-19 as an NFL starter, while Marino never won a Super Bowl.
But there is some value there, particularly when measuring wins against expectations. Were the Panthers a good team when Newton was drafted? No. Were the Colts when Luck joined? Few thought so.
By many measures, Roethlisberger stakes a good claim to this throne. The loss noted in the chart technically belongs to Tommy Maddox, who started that game; Roethlisberger would go on to finish with a mind-boggling 13-0 record that season before losing to the Patriots in the divisional playoff game.
Big Ben did have some impressive statistics as a rookie, but it can be argued a strong running game and defense had plenty to do with his rookie record. Luck has neither.
What is quite impressive, however, is the fact that Roethlisberger led the league in game-winning drives that season with six.
Luck is currently tied with Matt Ryan for the league lead with four this season on a team that was pegged to win four games altogether by some. For all of his statistical exploits, Newton had just one as a rookie, the only one of his career.
Speaking of Ryan, he had four comeback victories of his own in his similarly impressive season debut. The Colts are a lot like those 2008 Falcons in that they were not supposed to be very good, but Ryan led them to a playoff berth nonetheless.
Past rookie achievements are not all Luck has had to deal with; he has had competition from his own class.
Robert Griffin III, whom some thought should be the top overall pick by the end of draft season, picked up where Newton left off last year. He lit up opposing defenses over the air and on the ground, jumping out to a Rookie of the Year lead on Luck in the process.
It might seem like a Tortoise and the Hare teaching point, but Luck has overtaken RGIII after that strong start, both statistically and as a winner. He recently broke Newton's single-game mark by torching the Dolphins with 433 yards passing. He is catching up to Griffin on the ground, too.
Russell Wilson has quietly had a great season for the Seahawks as well, though it seems like he benefits the 12th Man at home. He also has a much better supporting cast on both sides of the ball.
So where does all this leave Luck in the pantheon of great rookie seasons? The answer lies at the end of the season's tunnel, but Luck is already ahead of some good historical company. He might not wind up with Newton's gaudy numbers, but he is clearly no statistical slouch.
Numbers and records aside, Luck has simply looked like a veteran at the head of what promises to be the best quarterback class since 1983.
His schedule toughens a bit from here—the Colts have yet to play the mighty Texans this season—and fortunes can turn like C.J. Spiller can on a dime.
If his first nine games are any indicator, however, Luck could well be authoring the greatest rookie season in NFL history.
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