Since 1998, the #1 overall pick has been a Quarterback 11 of the 14 times, and it's no coincidence it all started with Peyton Manning in '98. The NFL has evolved into a pass-first league, and without a "Peyton Manning", teams were put at a disadvantage before they every stepped onto the field. Hell, even one of the non-QBs that was chosen #1 overall was picked to defend against Peyton Manning. Almost every single year, the team with the first pick tried to find their "Peyton Manning," no matter if it was his brother Eli or Jamarcus Russell.
I don't really need to put quotes around finding the next Peyton Manning for the Colts, as they are literally doing that in 2012. Thankfully for the Colts, that guy has been sitting there for two seasons now, and he was kind enough to go back to school for a year so he would be available to replace his boyhood idol. That guy is Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
Luck was a three year starter for the Cardinal, starting in 38 of the 39 games. The one he missed with the 2009 Sun Bowl against Oklahoma after he broke his right index finger against Notre Dame. He finished his career with a Completion percentage of 67%, but his final two years he was over 70% on the season. One thing you'll read about him a lot is how well he fits balls into tight windows, something he'll see much more often in the NFL than he did at Stanford. He threw 82 touchdown passes to just 22 interceptions, a nearly 4-to-1 ratio. He also nearly had 1000 yards rushing in his career, although only 150 of it came last season.
The most impressive stat I could find on Luck came in the red zone last season, where Stanford was nearly perfect. They had 69 trips to the red zone (that's over five per game), and scored points on 67 of them. Want to know the two they missed? One was a 33 yard FG miss in Game 11 against Cal, and the other was a 35 yard miss in the final 5 seconds against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, which would have won them the game. Thankfully, Luck will have a slightly better kicker backing him up starting next season. Using our Red Zone Efficiency we use here with the Winning Stats, they were at 85.5% (53 TDs, 14 FGs). Let's hope that translates to the next level.
Luck, like Manning, has a father that played Quarterback in the NFL, Oliver. He didn't have nearly the career Archie did, but he did start nine games for the Houston Oilers back in the mid-80s. They were actually teammates on the 1983 team, Luck's rookie season, where Archie started the season as the starter, and young Luck finished off the final six games. Kinda scary to think about, huh? His father is now the Athletic Director at his alma mater, West Virginia, and it's seems as though they've stayed in contact since then.
Luck ran a pro-style offense under now 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, and last season they ran the ball a whole lot more than people expected, mostly because of the coverages played against them. One of the things Manning had to adjust to was taking the underneath stuff when the deep balls weren't there, and that seemed to take the longest for him to figure out. Luck might have that already. He also put up those spectacular numbers without overwhelming talent around him, although he will have two of his Offensive Lineman drafted on Day 1 with him this year in Jonathon Martin and David DeCastro.
What are the potential down-sides to Luck? A couple of his interceptions last year were on plays where he was trusting the coverage he saw, so he tried to look one way and throw back the other at the last minute, without really looking, and it was a bad-looking interception. He's an incredibly smart kid, and does a ton of film study on his opponents, but in the NFL teams will know what he's looking at and try to confuse him, much like they did with Manning. I think the jump mentally will actually be harder than the physical jump, as the schemes and players on the other side of the ball are worlds better than they are in college.
He's also catching some criticism for his arm strength, but I've noticed over the years that anyone save Russell throwing 200 yards from his knees has had issues with arm strength. The plays I'll be watching for in year one will be the 15 yard outs to the opposite sideline. Quarterbacks that can make that throw have the arm strength to play in the NFL. The deep balls floating on him will subside as he gets used to throwing them more.
Has done a lot with a little, doesn't have a real explosive receiving corps and routinely is forced to fit balls into tight windows...Is a competitor who has proven he can bounce back from adversity and take a team on his shoulders in crunch time...Doesn't have an elite arm, but is a "plus" in just about every other facet of the game. Is about as safe a franchise quarterback prospect you can find.
A highly decorated, accomplished, proven quarterbacking commodity with an NFL pedigree. Luck mastered the nuances of a pro-style offense, making a complex position look simple, and has all the traits to develop into an elite NFL precision passer.
Sans the late-rise of Heisman trophy winning QB Robert Griffin III, Luck likely would have been considered one of the most sure-thing prospects in the past decade. He is a prototypical pro-style quarterback who can make all the line calls, formation shifts, pass drops, and throws necessary to be successful at the next level. He will likely be the top pick overall and start immediately, and he possesses the intangibles to be a franchise stalwart for years to come.
Combine Media Session (13:20)
Luck had very little to prove at the Combine, and none of the drills would have hurt him, per se, but he actually turned some heads with his 40 time (almost exactly the same as Cam Newton), and both his Vertical and Broad Jumps. The kid is an athlete, and it is sometimes forgotten when his play is talked about. I bet a good number of receivers in the NFL couldn't have made this catch. He also handled his media session really well, looking confident answering questions, and even joking around when the last question was about whether his neck beard would make a return.
There's no magic formula that tells you whether a #1 pick overall will work out. Most of them, however, do give you strong indications on whether they will be a successful player in the NFL. Football Outsiders simply uses games started, completion percentage, difference in passer rating from year to year, and his rushing stats, and they put Luck in their top 10 since 1998, almost exactly with the same projection has one Peyton Manning. For full disclosure, Robert Griffin III has the highest projection in that time span. It's not fool-proof, but it usually does a good job just weeding out the busts.
Is there a chance all the moves Colts owner Jim Irsay made will backfire, and Luck won't turn out to be as sure-fire as everything seems to think he is? Of course. If it were that easy, teams would have really started to lose on purpose to get this guy. Luck is going to need help around him, and it may not be for a year or two. Rarely do you find a QB that takes six or seven years to "get it", so we'll know fairly soon whether this complete rebuild was the right decision. It's why they call it the "Not For Long" league.
It took the Steelers two decades to find a replacement franchise quarterback, the Dolphins still haven't found their replacement for Dan Marino going on 15 years, and it took the Bears over 40 years to find a guy who could play in three straight seasons for them. The Colts are in one of the most enviable positions imaginable, being able to follow up a legendary quarterback with another guy possessing the same potential.
Here's hoping he can live up to the hype and expectations. We're all rooting for him.
For a complete list of prospects and profiles, check out our 2012 Draft Profiles Page.