Andrew Luck: He's not Peyton Manning

The quarterback to whom I most often hear Andrew Luck compared is Peyton Manning. It's an understandable comparison for a slew of reasons.

  • They were both not only No. 1 picks, but two of the most heralded No. 1 picks of all time. (It'll be interesting to see how the career of Robert Griffin III, drafted just behind Luck, compares to Ryan Leaf's, who was drafted No. 2 to Manning.)
  • They're both sons of NFL quarterbacks who were born and bred around professional football.
  • It was no one other than Peyton Manning who talked to Luck and encouraged him to return to Stanford for his fourth year, as Peyton had at Tennessee.
  • Personality-wise, the similarities only continue. They're each off the charts in terms of football (and overall) intelligence, yet both are goofs who are quick to make fun of themselves. It's not hard at all to see Andrew Luck doing the same types of self-depreciating ads you see Peyton starring in every other commercial break.
  • Of course, there's also the 600-pound elephant (colt?) in the room: Luck, still years away from being able to rent a car, has knocked Manning, an 11-time Pro Bowler, four-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion, out of Indianapolis. Before sitting out 2011 due to complications from his neck surgery, Manning had started 227 straight games over a 13-year span for the Colts. No longer.

Luckily, there's no hard word count on the internet, and all that lead in is just to say that if and until Luck's NFL accomplishments begin to match Manning's, No. 12 will be living in No. 18's shadow. However, and in spite of the convenient narrative, the two men aren't all that similar in terms of how they actually play the game. Instead, Luck falls far better into the mold of another former Stanford quarterback – John Elway.

Seems to me that Manning is relatively immobile, puts great touch on his deep ball and is more of a game manager than a risk taker. Better to check down, better to play it safe and punt, lest you force something in there and cough it up.

(Side note: As a redshirt freshman, teammates called Luck "the Truth" because they could see what the rest of the nation soon would. Sure enough, watching him play in person reminded me of sitting in the stands as a five year-old and watching Michael Jordan take down my Detroit Pistons – you knew in real time that you were witnessing someone special.)

So while they're all studs, Luck is more Elway than Manning. Consider: Manning has thrown 399 touchdowns to 198 interceptions in the league, far better than Elway's 300-to-226 ratio.

Luck threw nearly four touchdowns for every pick at Stanford, but obviously that's an entirely different level of competition. More revealingly, Luck threw more interceptions every subsequent season on the Farm, even as all of his other numbers improved.

It pains me to say it, but the dirty secret is that more games than not, Andrew was good for a boneheaded pass or two that was either picked off or really should have been. In the 2011 Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech, the Hokies dropped two would-be picks that hit them in the chest, and in his freshman year Big Game versus Cal, Stanford was in range for a game-tying field goal with a minute left, only for Luck to throw a pick that was ten yards off… a double-covered target.

Final nitpick before we highlight what could make him one of the greats: unlike Peyton, an area Luck where will need to improve is his accuracy on deep balls. Stanford fans' No. 1 gripe with Andrew was his inability to throw a fade. The offense was averaging 40 points per game and the unit sported four top-50 picks, but it got to the point where Stanford stopped calling the fade altogether because, try as David Shaw, Luck and the receivers might, the play simply would not go. Arm strength isn't a question – Luck threw a 70-plus yarder to end his Pro Day – but accuracy deep is an area for growth.

Ultimately though, Luck could end up one of the greatest football players to sport a uniform, and here's why: His single best quality, and, in my opinion, the single most underrated quality for a quarterback, is an uncanny ability to move the chains. Elway never gave up on a play, was never sacked without a fight, and could pick up first downs with his legs. Luck's the same way, and the numbers tell the story far better than I could.

  • Luck was sacked all of 23 times in his three years at the Farm.
  • Luck threw 71 times on third down last year. 53 of those passes, or 75 percent, went for first downs.
  • Luck completed 14 of 17 passes on third downs of 10 or more yards in 2011. You could never count on getting Stanford off the field, regardless of down and distance, and that third-down success limited how defenses could play Stanford on first and second.

Luck's other elite quality is also Elway-esque: presence in the clutch. Andrew completed 71 percent of his passes last season, but was better yet late, connecting on 75 percent of throws in the second half, and 82 percent in the fourth quarter and overtime. Luck also completed 78 percent of passes when Stanford was down a touchdown or less, a major reason he lost only three times in his final two seasons.

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It'll be interesting to see how Luck adjusts to the NFL, where he'll presumably be encouraged to take fewer risks and throw more balls away, instead of rocketing it in a three-yard window between two defenders on slant routes. (Luck is at his best on slants and seam routes.)

Regardless, 2012 is almost certainly going to be a disappointment for Luck fans. No matter how good the quarterback, a 2-14 team doesn't fix itself overnight. Heck, even the almighty Peyton went 3-13 his rookie season.

But moving forward, here's hoping Andrew's coaches don't mess with greatness. He's going to throw his share of picks, but if management can live with it and let him keep battling, they'll be rewarded handsomely.

He's definitely not Peyton Manning, and he's not entirely John Elway either – Andrew Luck is his own quarterback in his own mold. If coaches can recognize that fact, keep their hands off, and allow Luck to play to his strengths and through his weaknesses, the sky is the limit.


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