Tonight, the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers will face off in Super Bowl 50, and it will feature quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Cam Newton - two former first overall picks. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, however, could have significantly changed the course of both Super Bowl teams (as well as the Colts) with one decision.
After Luck's junior season at Stanford in 2010, he was expected to be the top overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft if he opted to go pro. His decision, however, was to stay in school for another year. That put him in the 2012 draft, where the Colts took him with the first overall pick. The opportunity to get Luck was the biggest reason why the Colts moved on from Peyton Manning in 2012, leaving him to sign with the Broncos. And with Luck not in the draft in 2011, Auburn's Cam Newton took over as the expected top pick, which indeed happened as the Panthers took the quarterback. With the second overall pick, the Broncos took Von Miller.
Let's just imagine for a moment, however, that Luck had made the decision to declare for the NFL Draft in 2011 after his junior season. The Panthers likely would have taken Luck with the top overall pick, leaving Cam Newton available. It's entirely possible and perhaps likely, then, that the Broncos - who had Tim Tebow as their quarterback at the time - would have taken Cam Newton with the second pick. The following year, with the Colts holding the top overall pick, there was no Andrew Luck sitting there as the top prospect, leaving them with the decision between Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III. It's likely the Colts would have stuck with Manning while adding a young quarterback to sit behind him in case his injury uncertainty prevented him from playing or playing well.
By simply declaring for the NFL Draft after his junior season, then, Andrew Luck could have very drastically changed a number of franchises - including both Super Bowl teams. In the end, though, things seem to have worked out for all parties. The Panthers have the reigning MVP in Cam Newton and are the Super Bowl favorites, the Broncos have the league's only five-time MVP in Peyton Manning who is in his second Super Bowl with the franchise, and the Colts have a very talented young quarterback who will likely lead them to a Super Bowl at some point in his career. I don't think the Panthers, Broncos, or Colts would complain at all about how things worked out, but it's still interesting nonetheless to think about how different things could have been.