Indianapolis Colts  

 

Andrew Luck flying under radar in Year 2 with Indianapolis Colts

Let's work backwards.

The answer is Andrew Luck.

You can ask the question any way you want ...

Who had the best and most impressive rookie season: Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson or Luck? Who did the most with the least? Do you want RGIII, Wilson or Luck in the fourth quarter? Who will have the best 2013 campaign? Which quarterback will have the best career? Who will win the most Super Bowls?

The answer is Andrew Luck.

I'm going to take it a step further, beyond just the 2012 NFL draftees -- let's include another group of celebrated signal-callers, those from the Class of 2011. Last month on ESPN, my guy Ron Jaworski said, "Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever." I make my living debating across all platforms -- radio, television and the Internet -- so I will never knock someone for a strong take or condemn a network for turning an educated opinion into a news story.

But greatest ever? In this group of emerging franchise QBs, I'll take Luck.

Now, I don't think those are the boldest words I've ever written. Not by a long shot. After all, Luck was the most celebrated quarterback prospect in recent memory, a no-brainer No. 1 overall pick in 2012. Then again, think about all the offseason conversation about Luck's young QB contemporaries (RGIII, Wilson, Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, to name a few). Is it possible that the pure genius and destined greatness of Andrew Luck is flying under the radar?

Dalton has helped the Cincinnati Bengals make the playoffs in each of his two NFL seasons, while Newton has made some amazing plays for the Carolina Panthers. Still, my concerns about both players have been well-documented in this space.

Meanwhile, I think Wilson, RGIII and Kaepernick are all fantastic quarterbacks who will get even better. These three have more cachet in a debate forum.

I was on the Wilson bandwagon before he was drafted. I thought the conversation about his lack of height was totally overrated. I wasn't surprised when he starred and proved clutch as a rookie last year. He's a true leader and a gym rat. Simply put, Russell Wilson defines the term "franchise quarterback."

But Wilson also benefits greatly from the absurd talent and depth around him. Do you want to compare the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts position-by-position? It's not a close contest.

RGIII is the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year (though I was one of the 11 voters to cast a ballot for Luck). He has been in the news all offseason, with constant chatter about the health of his knee. We've seen the "Operation Patience" T-shirt that ran him $10,000. We've heard RGIII make Bill Belichick's name into a verb. And of course, we've experienced plenty of back-and-forth regarding the quarterback's relationship with Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. Are they on the same page? Are all the medical folks on the same page?

RGIII deserves so much credit for putting in the hard work to get back and be cleared for Week 1. But is he ready to play like he did in 2012 with a repaired knee, a knee that was injured just eight months ago in a playoff loss to Wilson's Seahawks? Questions abound here. So again ...

The answer is Andrew Luck.

Or, as one NFL general manager put it to me when I asked him to compare Luck with Wilson and Griffin, "Luck will be better than both. He is smarter, bigger and more accurate. He makes better decisions. He's a much better athlete than people give him credit for. And he's hasn't been hurt, either. It's a no-brainer for me. The other two might give you more 'wow,' but I would bet the house Luck will have more sustainable success than a shorter quarterback and a guy who runs too often."

Kaepernick is a blossoming star for the San Francisco 49ers who has gifts of savvy, speed and a true cannon for an arm. I love watching him. I love talking to him. I love talking to his teammates and staff about his talent and team play.

But give me Luck.

As another GM, when asked to compare Luck and Kaepernick, explained, "(Kaepernick's) an awfully talented player but relies on his legs too much. He's big and strong and can take a pounding. He's got a bazooka for an arm, but struggles with his touch and has bouts with inconsistency and accuracy."

Perhaps Luck gets overshadowed because he was supposed to be great right away. Perhaps it is because Wilson and RGIII matched his brilliance as rookies in 2012. But nothing should distract from the special nature of No. 12.

Think back to April of 2012: Luck joined an inept, two-win team, devoid of talent and experience. And then, his head coach missed the majority of the season after being diagnosed with leukemia. Luck handled every single obstacle with aplomb, guiding the Colts to 11 wins and a playoff appearance.

If you need to jog the mental rolodex, I wrote a column early last December that explained why, at the time, Luck was my pick for not just Offensive ROY, but MVP, too. Of course, Adrian Peterson, who blew by everyone in the final quarter of the season, deserved the hardware, but Luck was certainly a finalist. Forget the raw numbers -- they don't truly tell the story. Luck made everyone in Indy better. He was superb in the fourth quarter and in close contests, pulling out games the Colts had no business winning.


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Former Colts offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arians did a fine job with Luck, but he really encouraged the rookie quarterback to let it rip downfield. Remember that when you try to knock Luck as a neophyte by pointing to his high interception total (18). After Arians took the Arizona Cardinals' head-coaching job during the offseason, Chuck Pagano brilliantly plucked Luck's old offensive coordinator from Stanford, Pep Hamilton, to replace Arians. In Hamilton's offense, the interceptions will go down while the completion percentage goes up. Luck and Reggie Wayne developed a special rapport in Year 1, and it will be fully on display in Year 2.

The Colts, by and large, are a better team than they were last year, when a slew of rookies were pressed into action, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They added some key players during the offseason -- like running back Ahmad Bradshaw and safety LaRon Landry -- and they will improve. But I wouldn't call this a great team, like Seattle or San Francisco.

Still, like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Andrew Luck has the individual ability to lift his team to the next level. Pretty impressive for a guy who has been in the building for just 16 months.

I would not rank the Colts' overall talent among the top six teams in the AFC, but I predict they will make the playoffs again. And once again, Luck will carry the team, seemingly eradicating areas of deficiency with his personal brilliance. Indianapolis will go 5-1 in the AFC South and claim the top wild-card slot.

You can pick any QB you want from the draft classes of 2011 and 2012. I'll take Luck. I'll win now ... and down the road. He doesn't get the attention with the splash play -- he just gets it done.

The answer is Andrew Luck.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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