INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 26: Quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor meet during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 26, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Indianapolis Colts are going to select Andrew Luck No. 1 overall next month. Write it down. In stone. Then, bronze it and place it in the Metropolitan Museum. It's not something that will happen. It's already happened. You just haven't been formally told about it, yet. That's all the 2012 NFL Draft is for Luck, the Colts, and the NFL.
One big, formal, glitzy, primetime announcement of something that has already happened.
Because this fact is so lifeless and boring, it is the natural tendency of some to inject drama into the process in order to maintain fan interest at a time when no games are being played. I can understand it. The NFL is all about entrainment, year round. The days of forgetting about a sport during the "offseason" are over, folks.
Andrew Luck has been the de facto No. 1 overall pick since December of 2009. It's just a boring, uncompelling fact. The Panthers would have taken him No. 1 overall last year over Cam Newton (yes, they would have Panthers fans), and if the Redskins had the No. 1 pick over the Colts this year, they too would take Luck. There's a reason that pretty much every scout and talent evaluation expert says Luck is No. 1:
It's because he's the best, right now.
It's the "right now" at the end of the previous statement that you have to latch onto. Luck is better than any other quarterback prospect as of right now. He's the best prospect to enter the draft since Peyton Manning (1998) or john Elway (1984). Just like those guys, there are few, if any, flaws to their game. Luck is also "NFL ready" (a term I will later clarify) even before he's drafted, just as Manning and Elway were.
Again, Luck is the best prospect of anyone in this year's draft. This includes the dynamic Robert Griffin III, and if you think otherwise, you haven't been doing your homework.
I got into a debate this weekend on Twitter with Pro Football Talk's Evan Silva regarding Luck and Griffin. To start, let me say that Evan is a fine writer, and I like him a great deal. With Gregg Rosenthal (another excellent writer who I consider a friend) moving from PFT to NFL.com recently, my hope is Evan will get a bit more "blog time" on PFT (hint, hint, let's see some more Silva, Mike!). Evan is already managing PFT's mock draft, which took some heat recently because he selected RG3 No. 1 overall to the Colts over Luck!
Anyway, Evan has been outspoken on the Luck v. RG3 discussion of late, claiming that RG3 is a better quarterback prospect than Luck. Evan cites an article by NFL Films Greg Cosell in which Cosell concluded that Griffin was a "superior arm talent and natural passer" over Luck.
Now, nothing against Greg Cosell, who does great work for NFL Films, but he is not a scout or a talent evaluator. Please keep that in mind. It's also important to note that nothing Cosell wrote about regarding RG3 being more athletic or a better deep ball thrower than Luck is anything new. However, because RG3 throws the ball harder, faster, and further than Luck, and because he had run a 4.41 40, Evan seems to think that Griffin should go No. 1 overall.
Cosell went on to praise Griffin’s "composure in the pocket" as better than Luck’s, as well as RG3′s ability to throw from different arm angles while maintaining consistent accuracy. Cosell suggested that Griffin, despite playing in Baylor’s spread scheme, was less of a system quarterback than Luck, who was "managed and manipulated by his offense."
So maybe the Colts do have a decision to make at No. 1 overall.
Or maybe the Redskins are getting the best quarterback in the draft.
Now, my retort to Evan over Twitter went a little something like this:
This tweet resulted in a back and forth between Evan and I which, after about tweet No. 15, I got frustrated not because Evan was being unreasonable or stupid, but because I hate discussions on Twitter. The character limit annoys the piss out of me, and, after a while, the tone descends into two dogs barking at a fire hydrant.
Thus, so that I can accurately respond to Evan's well-written opinions, and for everyone here, here are mine...
Andrew Luck: More Than Just Arm Strength
There is more to quarterbacking that simply throwing a ball hard. I agree with almost every scout that has watched Luck play. He does not possess an "elite" arm. Neither did Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers coming out of college. Jeff George, Ryan Leaf, Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, Vince Young, and JaMarcus Russell all possessed VERY elite arms when they were drafted, and all (to varying degrees) had disappointing professional playing careers to this point.
This is not to say that Griffin is going to start chugging "purple drank" or that he plans to start a dog fighting ring. I'm just stating a fact: An elite arm does not guarantee success in the NFL.
What does seem to guarantee success in this league is an ability for the quarterback to see the entire field (which is a euphemism for "the quarterback isn't stupid") and to make all the key throws necessary to attack a defense. Andrew Luck might not have an "elite" arm, but he does have a strong one. Making 15-yard out pattern throws in 20-mile-per-hour wind gusts at his Pro Day showed that. Chucking a ball 70 yards through the air showed that. Two seasons of extremely elite play at Stanford showed that.
Add to this that Luck played in a pro-style offense at Stanford, an offense similar (in terms of pro-snap reads, audibles, and play style) as the Colts, Patriots, Bengals, Steelers, and Giants. Luck didn't just audible at the line, he called plays. In the week prior to a game, Luck would design plays with the offensive coordinator and head coach.
Again, "NFL ready" isn't an accurate statement for this kind of evaluation. Luck is "NFL smart."
Andrew Luck: As Athletic As Cam Newton
Let's also not forget that Luck is extremely athletic. Luck ran an unofficial 4.59 in the 40 at the Scouting Combine, which is amazing considering he's 6'4, 240. His official time was 4.69, still equally impressive.
Luck's broad jump was 10'4" while his vertical vertical jump was 36".
When you compare these numbers to the ones that 2011 No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton achieved (4.59 40, 10'6" broad jump, 35" vertical), one could make the argument that Luck is as athletic as Newton. Last I checked, Newton's speed and height were his biggest assets heading into last year. They're why he went No. 1 overall.
Finally, Luck started 39 straight games from 2009-2011. He's durable, tough, and avoids big hits. Injured QBs are useless ones, and having an injured quarterback can set back an entire franchise for years. Just ask the Lions (Matthew Stafford shoulder injuries) and the Rams (Sam Bradford shoulder, ankle, hand injuries).
Add all these together, and you get the unquestioned No. 1 prospect among scouts and talent evaluators: Andrew Luck.
Robert Griffin III: The Red Flags
Now, it is very important to note just because Luck is more "NFL smart" than RG3 doesn't mean RG3 is the next Ryan Leaf. For whatever reason, fans seem to think that the choice between QB prospects today has to result in Manning-Leaf or Rodgers-Smith. The idea that this might be a choice between Elway-Marino, or Eli-Big Ben, doesn't seem to cross anyone's mind.
The choice between Luck and Griffin isn't one that is quite so boom and bust. Griffin is an amazing QB prospect. Physically, the guy can dominate a football field.
However, there are some important red flags. I'll let Dan Kadar of Mocking the Draft wave them:
One of the knocks you'll often read about Griffin is about his size — listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds. That's a similar size to Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, but he doesn't take hits like Griffin does. Because of that, you'll always wonder about Griffin's long-term health.
Field vision: Plays in an offense where he's not asked to make many pre-snap adjustments. Like many college spread quarterbacks, Griffin isn't asked to go through more than a progression or two after the snap. Typically plays only one side of the field.
Durability and a lack of field vision are important factors to take into consideration when evaluating a quarterback.
Robert Griffin III: Lack Of Field Vision
Yes, having a powerful arm and an eye-popping 4.41 40 time at the Scouting Combine certainly should make anyone salivate over Griffin as a QB prospect, but what should give RG3 lovers pause is the fact that he didn't run a pro-style offense in college. He worked out of a shotgun, wasn't asked to audible, and has trouble seeing the entire field. He didn't go through progressions, find the open man, and dissect opponents.
In short, he didn't do in college what every single Super Bowl-winning quarterback has done the last six seasons.
Now, for Griffin, his lack of field vision is something that should not hurt him too much as a rookie, but that is considering where he is likely to get drafted: No. 2 overall to the Mike Shanahan-coached Washington Redskins. The entire Redskins offense is built around the play-action, quarterback boot-leg game. This play is a ball fake to a running back going one direction while the quarterback "boots" or runs in the other direction. It's designed to fake out the defense and limit the area of the field the QB has to throw the ball to. Oh, and if he can't find anyone open, the QB can run for a first down (ahem, 4.41 speed). It's an offense tailored perfectly for RG3.
Robert Griffin III: Injuries
Griffin also has an injury history. He sustained a concussion during the December 29th game between Baylor and Washington. Prior to that, in 2009 he tore his ACL, costing him most of the season that year. Just like Michael Vick, another athletic, slightly built quarterback, durability is a concern for RG3. Big guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, and Andrew Luck can absorb hits. RG3 is known to hold onto the ball too long because, again, he isn't all that great at making reads and going through his progressions. If RG3 takes a big hit while holding onto that ball too long, he might take longer to get up.
So, while Griffin has amazing physical abilities in terms of arm strength and speed, there are mental and durability red flags. Understand, these aren't "OMG HE'S STUPID AND CAN NEVER STAY HEALTHY!" type of red flags. However, they are difference between being the best QB prospect right now, and being the second best.
Conclusion: Luck Over Griffin
I want to be clear here that, when evaluating RG3 and Luck in this way, I'm not saying Griffin is some kind of potential bust. if the Colts had the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, I'd be SCREAMING for owner Jim Irsay to grab Robert Griffin III. I think he will develop into a fantastic pro player. However, since he has never shown a consistent ability to read a defense, make progressions, and pick apart a secondary, I don't think he is a better prospect than Luck. QBs who cannot master the mental aspect of the game are limited, and defensive coordinators can game plan to routinely defeat them. Remember, it wasn't until Michael Vick figured this out just two years ago that he started playing at a high level.
Oh, and the Super Bowl this year featured Eli Manning and Tom Brady, neither of whom possess "elite" arms. Both have won a combined five Super Bowls, and have played in a combined seven since 2001.
To go back to what I said to Evan Silva on Twitter, there is more to playing this position than arm strength, and Luck has more of what those attributes are right now than Griffin does. I'm just speculating here, but I think someone like Evan assumes that, with time, Griffin may learn the mental aspects of the game. Or, at least, he should learn, and it's the job of the coaches to teach him. My retort to that is one can never assume a quarterback can learn how to see the field, make reads, and dissect a defense. For me, you either have it, or you don't. I also don't think it's the coach's job to teach a quarterback how to play his position. The QB should know his craft, and should put in the work to get better.
In the end, I don't think Luck or Griffin will struggle in that department. Both will be great, and for different reasons, on different teams, in the same era... and we fans will be the beneficiary.