Often times, the NFL offseason is the time where we're engaged in debate with just how good a certain player is in comparison to the rest of the league. This most often happens with quarterbacks (ok, it always happens with quarterbacks), and ESPN's Mike Sando released his ranking of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the league (it's an insider piece).
For this project, he talked to 26 "league insiders" - 15 personnel people (8 general managers, 2 former GMs, 4 pro personnel evaluators, and 1 top executive) and 11 coaches (7 coordinators, 2 head coaches, and 2 position coaches) - for help in grouping the quarterbacks into tiers, from tier one (being the best) to tier five (being the worst). Five quarterbacks made the first tier, and four of them were easy choices. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees occupied the first four spots on the list. The fifth quarterback on the list and the only one in tier one with those four? Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Luck was a clear number five behind those four (who all were placed in tier 1 by 25 of 26 insiders), but 14 of the 26 insiders Sando asked put Luck into tier one. Wrote Sando of Luck:
Luck doesn't have the track record of the other Tier 1 QBs, and there was a clear gap in the voting between him and the top four. But people in the league love him almost unconditionally, and 14 of the 26 voters insisted upon putting him in the top tier (each of the top four received 25 of 26 Tier 1 votes).
The evaluators think Luck has carried a subpar roster to a 22-10 record without much help. They see no limitations. They have zero doubt about his long-term stardom and felt strongly enough to give him 14 first-tier votes even while acknowledging he's below the Big Four at this early stage. Every other QB fell into the tier in which he received the most votes, and So shall Luck, even if his Tier 1 designation feels a bit premature.
"I'm not going to downgrade him because it's only his second year," a defensive coordinator said after placing Luck in the first tier. "He can put it on his back as a younger player, where some of these other guys had good help running the ball like Ben (Roethlisberger) or Matt (Ryan) or Russell (Wilson) or Joe (Flacco). They have had people you could hand it to. They say you can win with a young QB when you have a top-10 defense and a top-10 running game. Luck hasn't had either."
The Colts have gone 22-10 with Luck, while ranking 28th in defensive EPA and 24th in both rushing yards and rushing attempts by running backs. Luck ranks fourth in drop-backs over that span, trailing only Matthew Stafford, Brees and Ryan.
Still, there isn't much of an individual statistical argument for Luck's inclusion in Tier 1. His completion percentage (57.0) and passer rating (81.5) lag. His QBR score (63.8) ranks eighth and reflects significant value added through rushing. "Luck turns the ball over too much," one GM said in explaining why he left Luck in the second tier for now. A head coach called Luck "a two becoming a one" -- a comment consistent with the thinking of everyone who placed Luck in the second tier.
An accompanying piece by Sando about the quarterbacks who there was the most disagreement on (also an insider piece) gave more insight into the ranking of Luck, and it makes sense. Of the 15 personnel people polled, 66.7% of them placed Luck in tier one compared to just 36.4% of the coaches polled. In other words, to the personnel guys Luck is in tier one and to the coaches Luck is tier two - though Sando makes it perfectly clear that there was no one polled who doesn't think Luck can/will get to tier one at some point if they don't think he's already there.
This isn't surprising at all, and it really doesn't mean there's a huge split in the thinking of Luck, but rather it shows what each side tends to value most. The GMs, according to Sando, really valued the fact that they think Luck has done it pretty much by himself and without help over the past two years on a Colts team they thought was pretty weak. The coaches, obviously, look more towards how Luck himself played, and for that they consider him a tier two quarterback instead of a tier one, though at the same time making clear that Luck will soon become a tier one.
What does all of this mean? Basically, it just goes to show what Colts fans already know - that Andrew Luck is incredible. Whether you make a big deal out of the tiers or not (and it's certainly cool that Luck was placed in the first one), the bottom line is that throughout the league people are unanimous on how impressive Andrew Luck is. The common belief throughout the league (and this is among more executives and coaches than just the 26 polled) is that Luck is special.
As Colts fans, we've seen over the past two years how the most impressive thing about Luck isn't his numbers but it's his play. Whether it's breaking tackles and avoiding sacks, making pinpoint throws, getting it done on the ground, leading his team back from behind, or even scooping up a fumble for a touchdown, Luck has blown away expectations based on his play on the field. He's not the best fantasy football quarterback, but fantasy points don't win football games.
Andrew Luck is special, and this recent poll from Mike Sando only goes to further show that the belief is held throughout the league.