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The most encouraging thing for the Colts in 2016: the bounce-back season for Andrew Luck

Jacksonville Jaguars v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Though the 2016 season was a really rough one for the Colts as they went just 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

But there were some bright spots for the team. T.Y. Hilton led the league in receiving yards. Frank Gore had the best season for a Colts running back in years. There were others, too, but the most encouraging thing for the Colts this year was the bounce-back of Andrew Luck.

If you remember, the 2015 season was a nightmare for Luck. He missed nine games due to various injuries, and he played bad football when on the field too. He set career lows in passing yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns, interception percentage, passer rating, QBR, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns, while also posting the lowest completion percentage since his rookie season. Most of those who had actually watched Luck play from 2012-14 thought it most likely that 2015 was just an aberration largely caused by injury, but others who specialize in trolling and hot takes thought it was definitive proof that he stinks.

Either way, the 2016 season was going to be a huge one for Luck, because not only was he coming off of his worst year but he also signed a record deal last offseason to make him the highest-paid player in the NFL. The pressure was on Luck in 2016, and he responded in a huge way - having perhaps his finest season yet.

In 2016, Luck was tremendous. He completed 346 of 545 passes (63.5%) for 4,240 yards (7.8 yards per attempt), 31 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, a passer rating of 96.4, a QBR of 71.2, and he also rushed for 341 yards and two scores while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He set career highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and QBR, while he was just 0.1 point away from tying his career high in passer rating (set in 2014). He finished eighth in the NFL in passing yards, fifth in yards per game, fifth in yards per attempt, fifth in passing touchdowns, ninth in passer rating, and seventh in QBR. Also encouraging was the fact that he protected the football better and made smarter decisions. His 13 interceptions for an interception percentage of 2.4% is very healthy, and in fact of the 15 quarterbacks who threw more passes than Luck this year, eleven of them had double-digit interceptions. Luck was tied for 13th in total picks this year with Ben Roethlisberger, who made the Pro Bowl and is a future Hall of Famer.

It wasn’t perfect, and there were still plenty of times where Luck was inconsistent. One of the more maddening parts of his game is that at any point he could start playing poorly, and it can change quarter-by-quarter, half-by-half, or game-by-game. But this year, those moments were limited for the most part, and Luck made smarter decisions with the football and excelled in the offense. He made several steps forward as a player, and some of those skills are hard to quantify. For example, people will look to the fact that the Colts didn’t allow a ton of sacks in the second half, but they’ll ignore the fact the amount of pressure was the same. Part of the explanation? Luck’s tremendous pocket presence.

Without a doubt, Luck took plenty of steps forward this season as a quarterback, and he’s very much a top-ten player at his position in the league. Yesterday, Chuck Pagano said, “We have a quarterback that I think is the best quarterback in the league,” and while that might be a bit of an overstatement, his quarterback is indeed very good. And the most encouraging thing of the season for the Colts was the fact that their quarterback bounced back from a disastrous 2015 season to play at a really high level once again.