Both came out of college as highly touted prospects. Both were made No. 1 overall draft picks by the Colts. Both are do-everything signal-callers, students of the game who know how to make everyone around them better.
Through the first seven games of Luck's career, he really seems to be a mirror image, more or less, of his predecessor. But there is one difference: Luck is doing more this season to elevate his 4-3 Colts than Manning did with a slightly better supporting cast as a rookie in 1998.
Manning kicked off his NFL career with players like receiver Marvin Harrison, running back Marshall Faulk, tight end Ken Dilger and hulking tackle Tarik Glenn on offense. Still, he won just one game in his first seven contests, and finished the season with a 3-13 record.
Though Luck does not have teammates of that caliber at his disposal, he's already eclipsed Manning's victory total as a rookie. And I don't think he's done winning this year; I could see Luck finishing his debut season with eight or nine victories under his belt. In fact, if the Colts beat the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 25, they'll have a good shot at making the playoffs.
As one NFL pro personnel guy told me, Luck is doing more with less than most people at his position can accomplish. So what's the secret to Luck's success? How has he managed to exceed what were already sky-high expectations?
Here are a few of the attributes that are helping Luck turn the previously moribund Colts into possible playoff contenders:
1. Pocket presence and poise. Luck handles himself so well on the field. He never panics and never tries to force throws. He appears to have checked off one of the most important boxes on the list of things rookie quarterbacks have to learn: reading defenses as quickly as possible and knowing where the football should go. Luck also runs the no-huddle offense very successfully, something that Manning didn't attempt to do until he'd been in the league for three years. Of course, that has a lot to do with our changing expectations for young quarterbacks, who are doing more at a faster pace than ever before.
2. Decision making. More often than not, Luck makes the right choice. Many quarterbacks can do that in the perfect conditions provided by the practice field, but Luck is able to excel in the thick of in-game pressure.
He also never makes the same mistake twice, and does a great job adjusting and adapting to new challenges. In Week 6, for example, the New York Jets seemed to confound Luck with different kinds of blitzes and defensive looks; he was picked off twice while completing just 50 percent of his passes. But Luck apparently absorbed the right lessons from that game. Since then, opponents have tried similar tactics -- to no avail.
That isn't to say he makes the right decision 100 percent of the time. He has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long right now, and I think that's one of the reasons he has 18 sacks, tied for ninth in the NFL. (He also hasn't gotten much help from his offensive line.) But this is something that will change with more game experience.
3. Instincts. Luck's knack for feeling pressure from the backside is reminiscent of Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino. Marino was a slow-footed guy who was hardly ever sacked because he knew how to avoid the pressure at the last second. Luck has those kinds of instincts, which can't be taught. Luck was just born knowing how to do that.
4. Intelligence. Many rookie quarterbacks need to be eased into the pro game, often starting off with plays and concepts with which they're already somewhat familiar. Not so with Luck, who appears to have already learned the whole Colts playbook.
In this respect, Luck has more in common with a third-year veteran than a fresh-out-of-school rookie. The light doesn't come on for many young players for several seasons, but Luck's been fully illuminated for some time now.
Remember, Luck started later than the rest of the rookies because of an NFL rule that required him to complete all of his college classes before he could fully participate in the Colts' offseason program. Stanford's quarter system meant that he wasn't able to begin working in earnest until June. So Luck beat the machine, so to speak, by developing as quickly as he has in the limited time he was given.
Something that former Stanford athletic director (and current Big 12 commissioner) Bob Bowlsby told me a few weeks ago applies here: Luck is a human computer.
5. Leadership. A franchise quarterback should encourage his teammates to play better, getting on them and offering constructive criticism, like Manning is famous for doing. Luck's demeanor is generally that of a quiet guy, and the one concern I had about him heading into April's draft was that he might not be vocal enough as a leader. However, seven games into his career, Luck has put to rest any doubts about his abilities in this category. He can be seen on the Colts sideline, talking to his teammates and explaining things to them. Without being too in-your-face, Luck is trying to help his team get better; players look up to him and respect him.
6. Athleticism. People sometimes seem to forget about Luck's great athleticism. At the NFL Scouting Combine before the draft, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds, posted a 36-inch vertical leap and ran the three-cone drill in 6.80 seconds -- numbers that were especially impressive when you consider that, again, he didn't spend a ton of time in special offseason training programs because he stayed in school. Notably, he's scored three touchdowns on the ground so far this season.
7. Focus. Luck definitely seems to have his priorities straight. Luck's agent (and uncle) Will Wilson told me that for his first year in the NFL, Luck is going to focus on football and avoid any opportunities for off-the-field adventures, and I think that's had a lot to do with his success. Though Luck was the top pick in the draft, he does not have a very prominent profile when it comes to commercials and endorsements; he's not out there hawking fast-food sandwiches or tennis shoes. During his bye week this season, instead of heading somewhere to party, Luck went to Morgantown, W. Va., to visit his family. And in April, rather than getting to New York early ahead of the draft, he traveled to Atlanta to watch his girlfriend, a gymnast at Stanford, compete in the NCAA championship meet.
I believe in little things like that, and I think Wilson, who's a real sharp guy, should get credit for the way he's planned Luck's career. I think what he's done has been very, very good; he's really put his client's interests first.
Looking ahead: Luck is only going to get better. As good as he's been, he ranks 29th in the league in both completion percentage (55.6) and passer rating (74.6). However, I think he'll improve in both categories as he continues to adjust to the speed of the pro game and the different types of looks that defenses can bring. It's also worth noting that his completion percentage improved every year he was at Stanford, from 56.2 in his first year starting to 70.7 in his second year and 71.3 last season.
As this campaign continues, I think we'll see him throw more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions. Through Week 8, he's thrown as many touchdown passes (eight) as he has picks (eight), but over the rest of the season, I think that ratio will tip pretty solidly toward scoring passes. We should see him throw somewhere around 12 more touchdown passes against six picks.
Again, we should remember that Luck has really lifted this Colts team above where it would be otherwise. We're just a fraction of the way through what should be a fantastic NFL career. As high as the expectations were for Luck coming into the league, his ceiling appears to be even higher.
Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois. Buchanan has what people look for in a pass rusher. He has just 2.5 sacks this season after notching 7.5 last year, but he's really done a great job. Like Houston Texans standout J.J. Watt, Buchanan has a knack for tipping passes and making plays on the ball in space. He also has four hurries and a forced fumble. He's playing very hard on a team that isn't very good, and finding a way to excel despite drawing most of the attention of the opposition.
Brad Sorensen, QB, Southern Utah. Sorensen is playing well for a team that doesn't offer him much help. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound signal-caller has great ability and a strong arm. Facing Eastern Washington, the top-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, Sorensen completed 33 of 43 pass attempts for 392 yards and a touchdown (while getting intercepted just once) to help Southern Utah pull off the 30-27 win Saturday.
» I noticed two unsung heroes in Week 8's NFL action. On the defensive side of the ball, New York Giants defensive back Stevie Brown really stood out, nabbing two interceptions and leading the team with six tackles during Sunday's win over the Dallas Cowboys. Brown was originally drafted by Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but spent just a year in Oakland and another in Indianapolis before landing with the Giants. Davis, who was a great believer in developing speedy guys, must have seen something in Brown, who has been responsible for six takeaways in the four weeks that he's been starting in New York. I was talking to Giants general manager Jerry Reese before the game and told him that the Giants really do a great job finding guys that have a history of success in college and teaching them how to fit into their system.
On the offensive side of the ball, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten looked unstoppable. The Giants double-teamed him, they triple-teamed him, they did everything they could, but Witten still came away with 18 catches for 167 yards. What's more, about 15 of those catches were of the extraordinarily difficult variety. He was unbelievable.
» I watched ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary "Ghosts of Ole Miss" on Tuesday and it brought back a lot of memories. One thing that struck me, from a football perspective, was the relative simplicity of Mississippi's offensive attack. Ole Miss ran what was known as a good passing attack at the time, but it consisted mostly of two-man routes. There were no backs flaring out, no crossing routes or anything like that. For their time, Ole Miss was a standout team, but to compare their offense to the sophisticated tactics favored today would be like comparing a kindergartener to someone with a graduate degree from MIT.
» The New England Patriots rolled up 473 total offensive yards against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, marking the 17th consecutive game in which they've gained 350 or more, the longest such streak in NFL history.
» Monday nights are kind to the San Francisco 49ers. By beating the Arizona Cardinals last Monday, they improved to 42-25 in Monday Night Football games. San Francisco is second only to the Dallas Cowboys, who've won 43 since the first installment of Monday Night Football in 1970.