Entering last season, the Indianapolis Colts were coming off of a 2-14 disaster of a season and most people were expecting them to finish right near the bottom of the league again in 2012, perhaps even ending up with the number one overall pick for the second straight year. This was a team with a TON of dead money paid to beloved players that the team cut loose. This was a team that had a defense as porous as swiss cheese and an offensive line that might have been better with an actual revolving door than some of the guys they had.
And yet entering this season, there are playoff expectations for the Colts and the discussion is whether they will win the AFC South. A year after having them at 32 out of 32 teams in their power rankings to start the season, the Colts open up at number 11 on ESPN's power rankings this year.
Why is that?
You could point to the fact that general manger Ryan Grigson spent upwards of $100 million this offseason in free agency. You could point to the fact that the team will have Chuck Pagano back and ready to roll. But you'd be fooling yourself if you thought that any of those are the primary reasons for the expectations on the Colts this season.
It's all about Andrew Luck.
A very young team led by a rookie signal caller quickly became an 11 win squad that had an incredible 7-1 record in one score games. Luck led 7 game winning drives and the Colts made an unlikely playoff berth that stunned experts and fans alike. But not the Colts. They weren't surprised. They knew who they had under center, even if no one else fully realized it at that point.
If the Colts had taken either Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson with the first pick last year, they would have gotten a very good quarterback. But they wouldn't be ranked 11th in ESPN's power rankings, they wouldn't have playoff expectations and they wouldn't be coming off of a playoff berth a year ago.
Adam Schein, in a tremendous piece on Andrew Luck, asked an NFL GM to compare Luck to RG3 and Wilson. Here's what he said:
"Luck will be better than both. He is smarter, bigger and more accurate. He makes better decisions. He's a much better athlete than people give him credit for. And he's hasn't been hurt, either. It's a no-brainer for me. The other two might give you more 'wow,' but I would bet the house Luck will have more sustainable success than a shorter quarterback and a guy who runs too often."
No one expected Luck, hailed as the best prospect since Peyton Manning and John Elway, to be this good this soon, but it turns out he's even better even quicker. Despite whatever challenges the team faced - whether it be a terrible offensive line, numerous late game deficits, or their head coach battling leukemia - the Colts handled them tremendously and they rallied around their pro bowl quarterback, who spent his rookie season running away from defenders and making ridiculous plays on his way to shattering rookie records and leading his team to the playoffs.
And in 2013, he's going to be even better.
He's got a new offensive coordinator in Pep Hamilton, although he's not really new to Luck. Reunited with his former college quarterback, Hamilton joined the Colts this offseason to once again become the "Andrew Luck Director of Offense." Centered around the running game and a shorter passing game, Luck's completion percentage will skyrocket (compared to last season when Luck was chucking the ball downfield on every play). Added to that is the fact that Luck has absolute control of this offense and that he knows it as well as his offensive coordinator does (Reggie Wayne has even joked that he doesn't know which one of them really is the offensive coordinator) and the offensive change itself will boost Luck's stats significantly.
The quarterback also has a better supporting cast for his second NFL season. Of course, Reggie Wayne is still there, and that cannot be overlooked. And then T.Y. Hilton is still there too, and he'll be even better this year as well. Luck and Hilton have worked quite a bit on their timing, and it has paid off. The two of them have phenomenal timing, just like Luck and Reggie do, and T.Y. should emerge as a huge weapon for Luck. Darrius Heyward-Bey is a major upgrade over Donnie Avery, so that right there is reason enough to say it's better. But DHB also has the potential to have a pretty good season for the Colts this year. Dwayne Allen is a great all around tight end and Coby Fleener is a talented receiving threat. At least two new linemen will be up front protecting Luck in 2013 in Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus, and they'll help improve the line. And the running back committee is improved too, with Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, and Donald Brown. The whole offense centers around Luck, but this year he'll have more pieces to work with.
In my post on Reggie Wayne as the third most important player to the Colts this year, I wrote that I didn't quite have the words to describe his importance to the team. For Luck, however, it's easy - he's everything. He's the franchise, he's their leader, and he's their best player. He's the key to their success this year. As long as he stays healthy and plays well, the Colts will be right in the mix.
And he's not just the most important or valuable player to the Colts, but he actually has entered into the MVP discussion for 2013, and I fully expect him to be there for much of the year. There is no better quarterback to lead this team than Andrew Luck, and that's who the Colts have.
We've spent a few weeks looking at the 13 most important players to the Colts' success in 2013, and we conclude that today by looking at number 1. And really, all of the other 12 on this list are dependent on number 1. Andrew Luck is the most important plyaer to the Colts in 2013, just like he was in 2012 and just like he will be for years to come.
And luckily for us Colts fans, he's also unquestionably their best player.