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Can Andrew Luck Be Fantasy’s Top QB in 2014?

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Andrew Luck was amazing in 2013. The toughest thing to understand when looking at his fantasy value, though, is that he probably could have been even better.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NBAandNFLInfo or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more 2014 Fantasy Football Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose.

Andrew Luck was amazing in 2013. The toughest thing to understand when looking at his fantasy value, though, is that he probably could have been even better.

If it hadn’t been for a stubborn offensive coordinator and a silly run-heavy philosophy dropping his passing attempts and crippling his offense through the first halves of several games, Luck could have had truly eye-popping numbers as a passer a year ago.

Despite his own team holding him back (as well as the offense losing steady talent like Reggie Wayne, Ahmad Bradshaw and Dwayne Allen), Luck brought the Indianapolis Colts back from the dead time after time (see: the playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs. Yikes.) and ended up posting quality fantasy numbers across the board.

A year after finishing as fantasy football’s 9th best passer, Luck stepped up his game in year two, finishing as the game’s 4th best quarterback. This happened somehow, despite Luck attempting 57 less passes. That led to over 500 less passing yards, but Luck improved his efficiency (four more completions than the year before despite fewer attempts), upping his completion percentage to over 60%, tying his rookie mark of passing scores with 23 and cutting his interceptions in half with only nine in year two.

What saved Luck in the end was smarter play, excellent late-game play and his underrated running ability. Luck added 377 yards and four scores on the ground, which combined with his solid passing numbers to make him a top-five fantasy passer.

So, naturally, with Luck twice finishing inside the top-10 and once cracking the top-five, fantasy owners have to wonder - can the Colts’ young passer vault himself to the top spot in fantasy football?

Let’s make an argument for both sides and come to a final verdict:

Why Andrew Luck Will Be Fantasy’s Top Passer

The beauty is we have seen the real Andrew Luck, albeit only in flashes. From a pure NFL passer perspective, Luck seems to have arrived. He understands reads, defenses, timing, situations and knows his talent that surrounds him. Even without a slew of reliable weapons, Luck routinely put up quality numbers and helped the Colts to win. He also did this despite his own predictable offense shackling him at the ankle.

Yes, despite being a rookie one year and being crippled by happenings beyond his control in the second, Luck has done fantasy owners proud. With Reggie Wayne, Ahmad Bradshaw and Dwayne Allen all returning to full health, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton having an open mind and Hakeem Nicks being added to the mix, the ceiling truly could be limitless.

Think about it. Luck isn’t the type of quarterback who gets designed runs. His rushing production is fluid and natural. He also knows how to evade pressure, minimize hits and go down when he runs. That makes him less of a liability when it comes to injury, and it also makes him more predictable when it comes to rushing production. He simply reacts to defenses and situations, instead of trying to force things as a runner. From a rushing standpoint, what we have already seen is probably as good as it gets, but it’s also probably roughly the norm, as well.

As a passer, Luck hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface from a statistical standpoint. He should get even better on his reads and reaction timing inside the pocket, while healthier, better weapons around him should only help his accuracy and extending average plays into bigger plays. Reggie Wayne’s mere presence gives Luck an extremely reliable chain mover that he really didn’t have for much of last year, while opening things up for bigger play-makers like T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks.

Luck also doesn’t have far to go to get to the top spot. Short of Peyton Manning erupting for another record-breaking season, Luck could probably take the crown if he can just put up 350+ fantasy points. If he can keep his rushing totals and put up 4,300 passing yards and 30 passing touchdowns, he’d do just that.

Why Andrew Luck Won’t Be Fantasy’s Top Passer

Here’s the reality check. Luck may be ascending, but quarterback is still super deep. The above is a best case scenario, and although Luck himself continues to improve, there’s no guarantee everyone and everything around him will be right behind him as he climbs the ladder.

For one, his likely top target is a 36-year old Reggie Wayne who doesn’t score touchdowns and no longer has the speed to make big plays consistently. Hakeem Nicks sounds like a nice addition on paper, but he’s no lock to pay off either, as he’s coming off of a busted season where he looked like a shell of his former self.

Luck also gets tight end Dwayne Allen and running back Ahmad Bradshaw back, but neither of those guys are overly explosive, either. That could have a lot of the big plays hinging on Luck forcing the issue or T.Y. Hilton stepping up like he did a year ago.

The running game was a real hindrance a year ago. Once Bradshaw went down, Trent Richardson was all the Colts had and they even had to eventually turn to backup Donald Brown. Yeah, that’s how bad it was. There’s nothing to suggest Richardson will suddenly be amazing or anyone else in Indy will bring the running game back to life. There is clear hope for all of that, but it’s fairly arguable that Luck needs a remotely effective ground game to help keep defenses honest and let him do his thing.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, we can’t safely trust offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. He foolishly tried to conduct a power running scheme despite having one of the game’s best young passers. Why should we suddenly believe he’ll orchestrate awesome game plans to help Luck be even better?

The Verdict

Is Andrew Luck a lock to be fantasy football’s top quarterback in 2014? No, he isn’t. The good news, though, is his projection is a bit of a mixed bag. There is a lot of good, and there’s also cause for concern.

The biggest deterrent, though, is that the fantasy quarterback position is insanely deep. Peyton Manning is probably still the cream of the crop, while it’s really hard to bet Luck will be better than Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, either. One thing we do know, though, is that Luck is close.

He stands a pretty good chance to slide back into the top-five for the second year in a row, and probably isn’t at risk to ever slide back out of the top-10 again (or at least not for a long time). And of course, if everything goes well, it’s definitely possible he challenges the guy (Manning) that used to have his job.