According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription), two former Indianapolis Colts franchise greats, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, are among his highest graded quarterback prospects ever for the NFL Draft (since 1979)—coming in at the #2 and # 3 overall spots:
2. Andrew Luck, Stanford
Draft class: 2012
Pick: No. 1 overall, Indianapolis Colts
What I wrote at the time: ”Luck has it all — size, incredible smarts, accuracy, and a great work ethic. I compare him a lot to Peyton Manning, but Luck is more athletic. Because of this, the expectations for Luck will be through the roof. He has the overall makeup to deal with that type of pressure and go on to enjoy a career that lives up to all the hype.”
Career notes: Luck made four Pro Bowls in his seven-year career before he abruptly retired before the 2019 season. He was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2018 after he missed the entire 2017 season with injuries. He finished his career with 171 touchdown passes and 83 interceptions.
3. Peyton Manning, Tennessee
Draft class: 1998
Pick: No. 1 overall, Indianapolis Colts
What I wrote at the time: ”He won’t provide the extra dimension of a Steve Young, but I can’t think of a player I’d rather have under center leading my football team into battle. With free agency, teams are changing personnel each year. The need for consistency and leadership at QB is more critical than ever. Manning will win and win big at the pro level, provided of course he gets the necessary assistance from his teammates and the organization.”
Career notes: Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie but then settled into an elite quarterback. He was named first-team All-Pro seven times, was named regular-season MVP five times and won two Super Bowl titles, one with the Colts and one with the Broncos. He’ll enter the Hall of Fame in the 2021 class later this year.
Regarding Luck, the 2012 #1 overall pick by the Colts was the perfect prototype for the modern day NFL quarterback with football intelligence, a golden right throwing arm, mobility, and athleticism. He was the total, complete package as an NFL passer.
As the son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, the Stanford prodigy lived up to his draft billing, as he was a 4x Pro Bowler, 2018 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and was the NFL’s passing touchdowns leader in 2014—carrying the Colts to the AFC Championship Game that same season.
In 86 starts, Luck finished his Colts career completing 2,000 of 3,290 pass attempts (60.8%) for 23,671 passing yards, 171 touchdowns, and 83 interceptions during 7 NFL seasons (although he missed the entirety of the 2017 season recovering from offseason shoulder surgery).
Unfortunately, a number of lingering physical injuries and ensuing prolonged rehabilitations eventually caught up with Luck and his physical/mental well being—with his body arguably breaking down, as he shockingly retired in 2019—just short of his 30th birthday.
He’s one of the greatest pro athletes to retire early while still in his prime.
While Luck should be a strong ‘Ring of Honor’ candidate for the Colts franchise some day soon, his pro career ending entirely too prematurely, will always lead Indianapolis fans to reasonably question, ‘What could’ve been?’
Meanwhile, Peyton Manning is a man who needs no introduction for the Colts franchise, but you’re about to hear one anyway.
As the son of New Orleans Saints’ Pro Bowl quarterback Archie Manning, Manning already had the pro football bloodlines, size, arm, cerebral ability, and leadership to potentially star as an NFL passer at the next level—after a standout collegiate career with the Tennessee Volunteers.
In what was a tight race between Tennessee’s Peyton Manning and Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf for the 1998 #1 overall pick, the Colts ultimately went with Manning—which was the most important decision in franchise history and had incredible trickle down effects for the Horseshoe (especially with Leaf struggling immensely at the NFL level).
The Colts ‘would-be’ legendary field general may have sealed the deal when he infamously told former Colts Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian during the pre-draft evaluation process in 1998, “I’ll leave you with this thought: If you take me, I promise you we will win a championship. If you don’t, I promise I’ll come back and kick your ass.”
Manning was true to his word.
He led the Colts to a Super Bowl Championship in 2006—and no asses were kicked (besides consistently the competition’s).
Not only that, but he became the greatest player in franchise history, helped keep the franchise in Indianapolis (when there were rumblings of a move to L.A.), paved the way for the eventual construction of Lucas Oil Stadium, was instrumental in the city hosting a Super Bowl in 2012, and successfully transformed Indianapolis from a basketball into a football town.
Along the way, Manning became a Super Bowl MVP, 4x NFL MVP, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Payton Man of the Year, 5x NFL First-Team All-Pro, 3x NFL Second-Team All-Pro, 11x Pro Bowler, 2x NFL Passing Yards Leader, 3x NFL Passing Touchdowns Leader, NFL Completion Percentage Leader, 3x NFL Passer Rating Leader, NFL 2000s All-Decade Team Member, and NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team Member during his 14 magical seasons in Indianapolis.
He completed 4,682 of 7,210 pass attempts (64.9%) for 54,828 passing yards, 399 touchdowns, and 198 interceptions during 208 career starts for the Colts.
With Manning under center, the Colts became a perennial AFC juggernaut and one of the league’s most winning franchises (appearing in two Super Bowls)—featuring an all-time prolific offense, as he teamed up with the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James, Dallas Clark, and Brandon Stokley among others.
Manning was later inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor and his #18 is now safely retired forever. He’s set to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this upcoming summer—on the first-ballot.
Like Luck, because of an injury, Manning’s Colts career was cut short—although not nearly as prematurely. Manning remains one of the greatest players in NFL history with a long-lasting legacy in Indianapolis.
Both Luck and Manning were transcendent, generational talents coming out of college, who met the hype and more—exceeding initial expectations in Horseshoe Blue. It’s just unfortunate that Luck’s career was cut entirely too short—although the Colts franchise was still incredibly blessed to have the two special quarterbacks back-to-back in team history.