clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Quarterback Comparison: How does Andrew Luck Compare With the Greats of the Modern Era?

New, comments
Denver Broncos v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Looking at statistics can be fascinating. Its analyses can give great information to teams and to fans. But they can also be used to fuel endless arguments and are often cherry picked to make a point that supports whatever argument you hope to make.

One of the most common comparisons made since Andrew Luck has come into the league is to his predecessor, Peyton Manning. Now, Colts fans know they are not at all the same type of player, but we have watched both and understand that there is some shared capacity for greatness in both. Will Luck rise to the level that Manning did? We don’t know. If he does we will be some of the most spoiled fans in the league and we certainly hope that happens.

But what if we took the first 5 years of play for some of the top QBs of Manning’s generation and forward and compared them? How would Luck hold up?

So that is exactly what we are going to do. We are going to look at each quarterback’s first five years and attempt to assign a ranking.

Ultimately, this ranking is still subjective. All these quarterbacks played under different systems and with different supporting players. Additionally, 1998 football looked dramatically different from 2012 football as far as how defenses could play receivers and quarterbacks. Those things matter and should provide perspective here, but are harder to quantify as far as this exercise goes.

What a ranking of this sort should do, is provide us with another angle at a picture that shows that contrary to the belief of some in the media and even at times in the Colts fan base, Luck belongs in the ranks with the elite quarterbacks in the game. The best way to determine that, in my opinion, is the eye test. But the numbers bear out the same results.


Method

I will rank the players using the following statistics: Completion Percentage, Average Touchdowns/Season, Total Turnovers, Total Sacks, Yards/Game Average, and Game Winning Drives. For each statistical category, the players will be able to receive between .1-1.0 points depending on their ranking. The final number will be tallied to give an average of how the player ranks across all categories with each weighted equally. The points received will appear in parenthesis beside the player’s name.

Additionally, I will provide rankings for each player’s team in Offensive Line Pass Blocking DVOA, Defensive DVOA, and Running Back DVOA. This will help to give context and perspective to the rankings, although I will not directly figure those numbers into the ratings themselves.


The Players

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck.

Divisional Round - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Completion Percentage

Completion percentage is definitely a tricky stat to look at by itself. It does not account for quality of receivers, the average distance of passes, or even number of attempts. For example, Luck threw 74 more passes than Wilson over the course of their first 5 years even though he played a full 10 games fewer than Wilson. He has clearly passed the ball more frequently, which would tend to lend itself to a lower completion percentage.

What cannot be argued is that Aaron Rodgers is the unquestioned leader in this category. He ranks only behind Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck in pass attempts and still easily holds the lead in completion percentage. This will definitely not be the last time you see his name at the top of a list. He is pretty okay at football.

  1. Aaron Rodgers – 65.9 (1)
  2. Russell Wilson – 64.7 (.9)
  3. Carson Palmer – 63.7 (.8)
  4. Drew Brees – 62.8 (.7)
  5. Ben Roethlisberger – 62.4 (.6)
  6. Peyton Manning – 62.1 (.5)
  7. Tom Brady – 61.9 (.4)
  8. Cam Newton – 59.6 (.3)
  9. Andrew Luck – 59.2 (.2)
  10. Eli Manning – 57.7 (.1)

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears

Passing Touchdowns Per Season

Again, in passing touchdowns, Rodgers is the clear winner. For this metric, I used rushing touchdowns as a tiebreaker. I was surprised to see Drew Brees so low in this category. Also, given the era that Peyton played in to begin his career, to see his average so high is very telling about what a prodigious quarterback he really was.

  1. Aaron Rodgers – 34 (1)
  2. Peyton Manning – 28 (.9)
  3. Andrew Luck – 26 (.8)
  4. Russell Wilson – 25 (.7)
  5. Tom Brady – 25 (.6)
  6. Eli Manning – 24 (.5)
  7. Cam Newton – 23 (.4)
  8. Drew Brees – 21 (.3)
  9. Carson Palmer – 21 (.2)
  10. Ben Roethlisberger – 20 (.1)

Wild Card Playoffs - New York Jets v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Total Turnovers (Interceptions and Fumbles)

Turnovers are pretty straightforward. How well does a player take care of the ball? Rodgers gets the win again here easily. Interestingly enough, the two players who lead this group in sacks through 5 seasons also had the fewest total turnovers. This is another stat that can look worse out of context. If a quarterback plays for a team that has no running game, for example, they may have a higher likelihood of interceptions because they more often find themselves in a 3rd and long situation where a pass is more likely.

Also, quarterbacks who are sacked more often or who are more likely to run the ball have more opportunities to fumble which can impact those numbers as well. Still, the quarterback’s ability to protect the ball is one of the most important parts of the position, and cannot be overlooked.

  1. Aaron Rodgers – 68 (1)
  2. Russell Wilson – 91 (.9)
  3. Drew Brees – 94 (.8)
  4. Carson Palmer – 96 (.7)
  5. Andrew Luck – 106 (.6)
  6. Cam Newton – 109 (.5)
  7. Ben Roethlisberger – 111 (.4)
  8. Tom Brady – 113 (.3)
  9. Eli Manning – 118 (.2)
  10. Peyton Manning – 128 (.1)

Super Bowl XLII Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Sacks

A lot of blame falls on the offensive line and receivers to block and get open respectively to help prevent sacks. But quarterbacks who hold the ball too long or don’t get through their reads fast enough carry just as much blame. While a high number of sacks is not necessarily an indictment of the quarterback, the bottom 4 players in this ranking are all excellent at extending the play and so it is not surprising that they would have higher sack totals.

Given his tendency to scramble and hold on to the ball longer than some would like, Luck really hasn’t been too bad. With all the fuss the media makes over how often Luck is sacked, his numbers are relatively pedestrian. Unsurprisingly, Peyton Manning tops this list. His quick release and solid diagnosis of the defense he was facing allowed him to quickly get rid of the ball and avoid sacks.

  1. Peyton Manning – 108 (1)
  2. Drew Brees – 108 (.9)
  3. Carson Palmer – 108 (.8)
  4. Eli Manning – 137 (.7)
  5. Andrew Luck – 156 (.6)
  6. Tom Brady – 156 (.5)
  7. Cam Newton – 185 (.4)
  8. Ben Roethlisberger – 192 (.3)
  9. Aaron Rodgers – 202 (.2)
  10. Russell Wilson – 205 (.1)

Indianapolis Colts v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Average Yards Per Game

Aaron Rodgers makes another appearance at the top here with Luck closely following. Yards per game is not in and of itself indicative of production that is valuable. This does not account for garbage time yards either from the lead or trailing. It also does not translate to information that tells you how efficiently a team has scored.

Obviously driving 99 yards every possession and kicking a field goal means your kick return team is terrible and you cannot score in the red zone effectively. But viewed only through the lens of yards per game it would look better than a team that starts on their 40 and drives for a touchdown on every possession. Still, it is a way to help gauge offensive production when viewed alongside other numbers.

  1. Aaron Rodgers – 273.5 (1)
  2. Andrew Luck – 272.5 (.9)
  3. Peyton Manning – 257.7 (.8)
  4. Carson Palmer – 240.5 (.7)
  5. Cam Newton – 234.1 (.6)
  6. Tom Brady – 228.2 (.5)
  7. Russell Wilson – 227.4 (.4)
  8. Drew Brees – 223.6 (.3)
  9. Eli Manning – 220 (.2)
  10. Ben Roethlisberger – 208 (.1)

Wild Card Playoffs - Kansas City Chiefs v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Game Winning Drives

Game winning drives is an important stat here because it helps quantify that “clutch” factor that we can clearly see watching the film, but that stats don’t do a good job of capturing. This doesn’t mean it is perfect. For example, if you typically are pounding a defense into submission by the fourth quarter, no one would be complaining that you don’t make many late game comebacks. Likewise, if your defense is so poor that they give up close games late, you might be robbed of many game winning drives that would otherwise have been credited to you.

  1. Tom Brady - 21 (1)
  2. Russell Wilson - 21 (.9)
  3. Andrew Luck – 18 (.8)
  4. Ben Roethlisberger - 18 (.7)
  5. Peyton Manning – 16 (.6)
  6. Eli Manning – 13 (.5)
  7. Cam Newton – 12 (.4)
  8. Carson Palmer – 11 (.3)
  9. Drew Brees – 11 (.2)
  10. Aaron Rodgers – 9 (.1)

Where Things Stand

When we total up where each of these quarterbacks stands with just those statistics taken into consideration, this is how they stack up:

  1. Aaron Rodgers – 4.3
  2. Peyton Manning – 3.9
  3. Russell Wilson – 3.9
  4. Andrew Luck – 3.9
  5. Carson Palmer – 3.5
  6. Tom Brady – 3.3
  7. Drew Brees – 3.2
  8. Cam Newton – 2.6
  9. Eli Manning – 2.2
  10. Ben Roethlisberger – 2.2

This ranking is interesting. It gives us a good way to weight how players rank across all categories. Additionally, we might like to know about the blockers, their defense, and how good the running game was. All these things can impact their production and how they measure up in our rankings. In order to provide some context in that way, I wanted to do a ranking in three additional categories. These numbers will not be factored into the player’s rankings but can factor in for analysis.


Offensive Line DVOA (Pass Blocking)

This represents the average DVOA ranking for pass blocking of each player’s offensive line over the five-year period. It is both impressive and surprising that both Wilson and Rodgers were able to do so well despite a consistently poor pass blocking offensive line. This really helps strengthen their cases for belonging where they ranked. Having a good offensive line ought not to be a penalty against quarterbacks who played well, but it would definitely negatively impact my view of a player if they played poorly given a good pass blocking offensive line.

Notice that Luck’s pass blocking has been around average over his first five years in the league. Despite what is consistently preached about the Colts offensive line, that narrative does not totally hold up. While they haven’t been stellar, they are hardly the death trap many on the national stage would have you believe. Luck’s sacks often have come from receivers inability to get open and his tendency to hold the ball too long.

  1. Peyton Manning -6.2
  2. Drew Brees -7.2
  3. Carson Palmer – 10.2
  4. Tom Brady – 11.4
  5. Eli Manning - 13
  6. Andrew Luck – 14.8
  7. Cam Newton - 22
  8. Aaron Rodgers – 23.8
  9. Russell Wilson – 26.2
  10. Ben Roethlisberger - 27

Defensive DVOA

This measures the team’s average defensive DVOA over the five-year period. This is a telling statistic because it gives an idea of how much the defense is contributing. Bad defenses can give up games late which as we mentioned earlier, can affect game winning drives, as well as requiring quarterbacks to make more attempts and be riskier with passes in order to make sure they remain in the lead.

The bottom of this list is comprised of guys who it seems always have had great stats but have struggled sometimes to get win in the postseason the same way that the higher names on the list have. That is no coincidence. This is a team sport, and playing on a team that has a solid defense goes a long way to helping get wins. Especially in the playoffs, having a tough defense is critical.

  1. Ben Roethlisberger – 5.4
  2. Russell Wilson – 6
  3. Aaron Rodgers - 10.8
  4. Cam Newton – 12.2
  5. Eli Manning – 13.8
  6. Tom Brady – 17
  7. Drew Brees – 17.8
  8. Andrew Luck – 18.6
  9. Carson Palmer – 21
  10. Peyton Manning – 24.4

Running Back DVOA

There is very little that helps out a quarterback like a good running game. It doesn’t take much to see how that can impact a player. Someone like Eli Manning, based on many of his other scores, does not belong on this list. Though he has benefited from above average pass blocking and defense, as well as a very good and reliable running game, he does not really stand out from the others in any way.

  1. Eli Manning – 7.1
  2. Russell Wilson – 10.8
  3. Ben Roethlisberger – 11
  4. Peyton Manning – 13.6
  5. Drew Brees – 14.3
  6. Cam Newton – 15.6
  7. Tom Brady – 20.2
  8. Carson Palmer – 20.6
  9. Andrew Luck – 24.4
  10. Aaron Rodgers – 29.4

Players like Russell Wilson have benefited in the same way from a solid running game and reliable defense, but he has used those advantages to make himself stand out. That makes it clear that as a quarterback he is truly talented.

Peyton Manning benefited from the same things. While his defense was lackluster, his good offensive line and solid running game allowed him to put up remarkable numbers, especially given the time in which it was done.

The players that are truly impressive are those that stand out despite having little support in these areas. While Aaron Rodgers played for a team with a terrible running game and offensive line, his ridiculous skill and a consistently good defense made him a major success. Luck should be even more impressive given how he stacks up in these categories. His teams rank 6th among these players in pass blocking, 8th in defense, and 9th for running backs. Yet his numbers still warrant placing him in a tie with Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson for 2nd place.


Conclusion

None of this means that Andrew Luck is an elite quarterback. In fact, we don’t even fully know what it is that qualifies one to be an elite quarterback. What we can say after looking at all this data, is that through 5 seasons Luck compares favorably to some of the best quarterbacks in the game.

At the end of the day, the eye test should hold greater weight than the stat sheet. Great players turn it on when their team needs them. They rise to the occasion and make absurd plays despite the odds being against them. Andrew Luck has consistently done this while being surrounded by less talent than his contemporaries. If he is able to return from shoulder surgery healthier and better than before, we should expect for him to continue to improve.