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Player Spotlight: Andrew Luck

A detailed look at Andrew Luck's fantasy prospects for 2014

IS IT BETTER TO BE 'LUCK-Y' THAN GOOD?

Andrew Luck enters his third season as a consensus top 5 fantasy quarterback. In fact, 13 of 19 Footballguys staff members rank Luck 5th or higher as this goes to press, and only two staffers rank Luck outside of their top 8. Fantasy owners aren't the only people high on the 3rd year signal caller. The NFL's own assessment of their top 100 players puts Luck 30th overall. A recent ESPN.com poll of NFL coaches and executives firmly places Luck among the best at his position, as well. 

Yet, in spite of nearly universal enthusiasm for the Colts star, his passing numbers have been a mixed bag. In terms of VOLUME, Luck is at or near the top of the NFL record books. In terms of efficiency, Luck's numbers leave much to be desired. I took a look at quarterbacks with a least 100 completions in their first two seasons (1980-present) to help frame how Luck's statistics measure up against other young franchise passers.

Most Passing Yards, First Two NFL Seasons (1980-Present)

RankFirstLastYearsGmsYards
1 Andrew Luck 2012--2013 32 8196
2 Peyton Manning 1998--1999 32 7874
3 Ryan Tannehill 2012--2013 32 7207
4 Andy Dalton 2011--2012 32 7067
5 Drew Bledsoe 1993--1994 29 7049
6 Cam Newton 2011--2012 32 7020
7 Jeff Garcia 1999--2000 29 6822
8 Joe Flacco 2008--2009 32 6584
9 Sam Bradford 2010--2011 26 5676
10 Jim Kelly 1986--1987 28 6391
Most Passing TDs, First Two NFL Seasons (1980-Present)
 
RankFirstLastYearsGmsTDs
1 Dan Marino 1983--1984 27 68
2 Peyton Manning 1998--1999 32 52
2 Russell Wilson 2012--2013 32 52
4 Andy Dalton 2011--2012 32 47
5 Andrew Luck 2012--2013 32 46
6 Jeff Garcia 1999--2000 29 42
7 Jim Kelly 1986--1987 28 41
7 Kurt Warner 1998--1999 17 41
9 Drew Bledsoe 1993--1994 29 40
9 Cam Newton 2011--2012 32 40
9 Mark Rypien 1988--1989 23 40

Most Completions, First Two NFL Seasons (1980-Present)

RankFirstLastYearsGmsComps
1 Andrew Luck 2012--2013 32 682
2 Peyton Manning 1998--1999 32 657
3 Ryan Tannehill 2012--2013 32 637
4 Andy Dalton 2011--2012 32 629
5 Drew Bledsoe 1993--1994 29 614
6 Cam Newton 2011--2012 32 590
7 Jeff Garcia 1999--2000 29 580
8 Joe Flacco 2008--2009 32 572
9 Sam Bradford 2010--2011 26 545
10 Jim Kelly 1986--1987 28 535

Completion Rate, First Two NFL Seasons (1980-Present)

RankFirstLastYRsCMPATTComp%
1 Elvis Grbac 1994--1995 162 233 69.5%
2 Ben Roethlisberger 2004--2005 364 563 64.7%
3 Kurt Warner 1998--1999 329 510 64.5%
4 Joe Montana 1980--1980 176 273 64.5%
5 Tom Brady 2000--2001 265 416 63.7%
6 Russell Wilson 2012--2013 509 800 63.6%
7 Marc Bulger 2002--2003 474 746 63.5%
8 Brett Favre 1991--1992 302 476 63.4%
9 Charlie Frye 2005--2006 350 556 62.9%
10 Robert GriffinIII 2012--2013 533 850 62.7%
55 Andrew Luck 2012--2013 682 1197 57.0%

Yards per Attempt, First Two NFL Seasons (1980-Present)

RankFirstLastYearsYds/Att
1 Ben Roethlisberger 2004--2005 8.89
2 Kurt Warner 1998--1999 8.61
3 Dan Marino 1983--1984 8.48
4 Eric Hipple 1980--1981 8.45
5 Daunte Culpepper 1999--2000 8.31
6 Colin Kaepernick 2011--2012 8.27
7 Russell Wilson 2012--2013 8.09
8 Mark Rypien 1988--1989 8.04
9 Elvis Grbac 1994--1995 7.99
10 Steve McNair 1995--1996 7.92
51 Andrew Luck 2012--2013 6.85

TD Rate (TDs per Attempt), First Two NFL Seasons (1980-Present)

RankFirstLastYearsAttsTDsTD%
1 Kurt Warner 1998--1999 510 41 8.0%
2 Dan Marino 1983--1984 860 68 7.9%
3 Daunte Culpepper 1999--2000 474 33 7.0%
4 Russell Wilson 2012--2013 800 52 6.5%
5 Ben Roethlisberger 2004--2005 563 34 6.0%
6 Mark Rypien 1988--1989 684 40 5.8%
7 Nick Foles 2012--2013 582 33 5.7%
8 Boomer Esiason 1984--1985 533 30 5.6%
9 Joe Montana 1980--1980 273 15 5.5%
10 BillyJoe Hobert 1995--1996 184 10 5.4%
59 Andrew Luck 2012--2013 1197 46 3.8%

WHY DON'T THE STATS BACK UP THE CONSENSUS?

The counting stats support the perception that Luck is an intriguing fantasy prospect. He ranks 1st in the modern era in passing yards and completions, besting many all-time greats including Peyton Manning. On the other hand the rate statistics are far less encouraging. Luck doesn't rank in the top 50 in completion rate, yards-per-attempt or TD rate. THE TOP 50.  So is Luck an elite quarterback or not? And why is her universally perceived as a special quarterback when the underlying metrics are far less convincing?
 
  1. He looks the part -- Luck passes the eyeball test. At 6'4", 234 lbs., Luck fits neatly into the mental picture most have of a great pocket passer
  2. He has the pedigree -- Luck was the 1st overall pick in the 2012 draft and widely considered by scouts to be the best prospect in a decade. He's from an NFL family, played in a pro style offense in college, and was the protege of a college quarterback (Harbaugh) that's widely respected in NFL circles (and is now himself a top-tier NFL head coach)
  3. His mechanics are impeccable -- Consider this 'looking the part, Part II' but Luck has great mechanics. His drop backs are precise, his release point textbook, and his spiral and velocity are elite
  4. He's a winner -- While fantasy owners don't ultimately care if their players win or lose on Sundays, as long as they rack up stats, NFL quarterbacks are judged by their teams wins and losses. The fact Andrew Luck took over a woeful Colts team and immediately led them back into the playoffs matters. His wins help substantiate our positive bias about Luck's abilities
  5. He's quietly produced on the ground -- Fantasy owners love running quarterbacks, and some (e.g., Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III) are afforded high fantasy rankings BECAUSE of their legs. Most don't consider Luck a running quarterback, but thus far in two seasons he's been an impact runner. Did you know Andrew Luck ranks 2nd among quarterbacks with 9 rushing TDs in the last two years? He also ranks 4th in rushing yards.

THE PEP FACTOR

Luck's rookie season was encouraging, but he only complete 54.1% of his passes and threw nearly as many INTs (18) as touchdowns (23). The Colts made a change at offensive coordinator, bringing Pep Hamilton into the fold. Hamilton, who called plays for Luck in college, was expected to elevate Luck and the Colts offense to the next level by implementing a ball control, West Coast offense. In some ways Hamilton's presence helped. Luck's completion rate jumped to 60.2% and his interceptions were cut in half (9) while his TDs remained intact (23). However, it appeared the system hamstrung Luck at times to the detriment of the team. Entering 2014, there are plenty who question whether Hamilton is TOO conservative. Will he loosen up in his 2nd year as an NFL play-caller? If so, it would lend credence to those of us who expect Luck to make another leap forward. 
 

THE SUPPORTING CAST

Returning from injury -- Last season was challenging from an injury perspective. All-time great Reggie Wayne tore his ACL and missed the final nine games of the season; Wayne caught 106 passes in Luck's rookie season. Wayne will be 36 this year but appears to be on track for a return by Week One. Dwyane Allen missed the entire season and will also be back into the fold.

Adding new weapons -- Further strengthening the receiving corps was a priority for GM Ryan Grigson. He brought in Hakeem Nicks on a prove-it deal. While Nicks has injury questions we can't forget that he was considered one of the league's best young receivers just a few seasons ago. Last but not least, the team added Donte Moncrief in the 3rd round of the draft. Moncrief doesn't project as an impact player in Year One, but he is almost certainly better than Darrius Heyward-Bey. 

Further maturation of young playmakers -- That's to say nothing of the continuing maturation of T.Y. Hilton (82 for 1,083 and 5 TDs last year) and TE Coby Fleener (52 receptions for 608 yards and 4 TDs) as each enter the pivotal third season. 

Offensive line uncertainty -- Footballguys' own Matt Bitonti ranks the Colts line 24th entering the season. He acknowledges they have the potential to outperform his initial grade, but there are too many uncertainties to count on significant improvement. 

The Colts’ offensive line grades out as a below average group, which is a result of change at two positions (left guard and center) and a lack of truly elite talent. That being said this is actually an underrated group with the ability to rise in the rankings quickly, should those problems resolve themselves. The best player on the line is probably left tackle Anthony Castonzo. On the right tackle position, Gosder Cherilus joined the Colts before last season and he too has been a productive player, starting all sixteen games in 2013.

Along the interior is where the uncertainty appears. [...] In summary there are five players competing for three spots and at this point it’s just a guess that Thomas, Holmes and Thorton will emerge, leaving Mewhort and Reitz on the bench. Overall this line has the ability to rise in the rankings but they have a lot of uncertainty to wade through before the lineup can be set in stone and the players can focus on gelling as a unit.

POSITIVES

  • The prototypical franchise passer -- Luck has the size, leadership, mechanics and intelligence to be a dominant fixture at the position for years to come
  • The Colts offensive cast appears much improved, particularly if they can avoid the injury bug that befell the squad in 2013
  • Luck is quietly a top-tier rushing threat (4th in yards, 2nd in TDs among QBs) which goes a long to toward offsetting non-elite passing stats

NEGATIVES

  • Luck's rate stats (completion rate, yards per attempt, TD%) leave something to be desired, he failed to crack to top 50 in any of those metrics among modern day passers through their first two seasons
  • The offensive line and running game must improve to keep opposing defenses from keying on the passing game
  • OC Pep Hamilton was conservative to a fault last year

FINAL THOUGHTS

Perception doesn't QUITE match reality yet with Andrew Luck. He needs to continue to improve as a decision-maker in order to live up to the label of "elite" that already follows him around. The good news though is that Luck has already been a fixture as a fantasy QB1 for two seasons in spite of not putting all the pieces together. He's inarguably one of the hardest working, most intelligent young players at his position. It isn't crazy to expect Luck to continue to improve, as will his supporting cast. Very slight improvements can quickly vault Luck into the top 5; and like Peyton Manning before him, he may stay at that level for years to come. When the worst case appears to be a top 10 finish, yet there are ways further growth could deliver a top 3 finish, it's a bet worth taking. If Pep Hamilton allows Luck to throw more often, the ranking looks smart. If Luck throws downfield more often with the additions of Hakeem Nicks and (a healthy) Dwayne Allen, the ranking looks smart. If Luck makes a few smarter decisions with his reads (thus pushing his completion rate into the 63%-64% range), the ranking looks smart. Bet on what's to come, not what's already happened -- that's how you win fantasy championships. 

PROJECTIONS

Andrew Luck Projections

YEAR GCMPATTYDTDINTRSHYDTDFumL
2012 IND 16 339 627 4374 23 18 62 255 5  
2013 IND 16 343 570 3822 23 9 63 377 4 2
2014 PROJ-Dodds 16 366 610 4423 27 13 62 338 2 3
2014 PROJ-Henry 16 373 605 4320 27 10 60 320 3 2
2014 PROJ-Wood 16 375 600 4500 29 12 50 220 2 6
2014 PROJ-Tremblay 16 363 602 4312 27 15 56 303 3 1


THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB

Yahoo!'s Scott Pianowski sings Luck's praises:

Luck was the No. 10 fantasy quarterback as a rookie, and he moved to No. 4 last year despite a series of unfortunate incidents. Reggie Wayne midseason injury, check. Ahmad Bradshaw injury, check. Trent Richardson disaster, check. Pep Hamilton play-calling mess, check. Dwayne Allen early-season injury, check.

Mind you, the Colts do have some fun toys for Luck to work with. T.Y. Hilton is ridiculous and Wayne and Allen and Bradshaw are all back. Maybe Hakeem Nicks can find his past form, freed from the stench of New Jersey. And look how young so many of the players are here: Hilton, Fleener, Allen and (ahem) Richardson are all entering Year 3 in the NFL. Young players can improve.

4for4's John Paulsen points out Luck's high level of consistency:

It’s interesting (though not all that surprising) that most of the league’s top fantasy quarterbacks are also the most consistent, led by Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford in the 35-37% range.


More from Jason Wood:

On Second Thought: Defenses and Kickers - August 28
On Second Thought: Running Backs - August 28
On Second Thought: Tight Ends - August 28
On Second Thought: Quarterbacks - August 28
On Second Thought: Wide Receivers - August 28
What If Roddy White or Julio Jones Are Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Robert Griffin III Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Cecil Shorts Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
Player Spotlight: Philip Rivers - August 8
Player Spotlight: Jordan Cameron - August 7