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Andrew Luck will truly establish himself among NFL's elite in '14

I love watching athletes reach that next level of greatness.

Kevin Durant just won his first MVP award in the NBA. Clayton Kershaw is about to win both the Cy Young and MVP in the National League. Two premium athletes, in their mid-20s, climbing to the peaks of individual excellence.

The NFL equivalent is Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck, who's about to turn 25 -- and about to establish himself as one of football's true luminaries.

One year ago, almost exactly to the date, I wrote a column on Andrew Luck as he geared up for his second year in the NFL. The premise was simple: When you stack up the young quarterbacks, by any standard or measuring stick, the answer is Andrew Luck.

Need a quarterback to build your team around? Crave the guy who can do the most with the least? Want the future of the game's most important position?

The answer is Andrew Luck.

Now I know one of Luck's contemporaries just won a Super Bowl. And Russell Wilson is one of my favorite quarterbacks in the NFL. He's only going to get better as the Seattle Seahawks continue to provide him with more authority over the offense. But right now, you can't compare Wilson, a 200-yards-a-game passer, to Luck. You can't compare Wilson's supporting cast, that immensely deep and talented roster in Seattle, to the flawed group that surrounds Luck in Indy. Andrew Luck makes everyone better.

Cam Newton is coming off the best season of his young career, having guided the Carolina Panthers to a division title and the franchise's first playoff berth in five years. But he is not the quarterback Luck is. And sadly for Newton, Carolina hung him out to dry this season, leaving him with a shallow talent pool at receiver.

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I love San Francisco 49ers signal-caller Colin Kaepernick and think he will improve on his performance last fall, when he was inconsistent as a passer. He's too talented not to. But he's still no Andrew Luck.

Andy Dalton is a good regular-season quarterback, but he only dreams of having a playoff win (and postseason performance) like the one Luck enjoyed last January.

Remember when Robert Griffin III beat out Luck for Offensive Rookie of the Year? That seems like a lifetime ago. (And for the record, I have a ballot in the AP awards and voted for Luck over RGIII.)

While Griffin struggled through a highly disappointing sophomore campaign, Luck went out and had another monster year. He punched adversity in the face. The Colts suffered a number of injuries last season, none bigger than Reggie Wayne's torn ACL in October, which zapped Indy's Super Bowl hopes. But Luck kept Indy afloat and engineered that unbelievable comeback over the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card round.

So, yeah, that nice little conversation comparing Luck to the other young quarterbacks in the NFL? It's basically irrelevant. Luck has graduated from that class. It's time to play with the big boys. This guy is a 2014 season away from joining the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Yes, by the end of the year, you will lump Luck in with the elite of the elite.

Like those four established superstars, Luck has the ability to mesmerize any Sunday Funday viewer with his precision and intelligence. The Stanford graduate is a football genius. And he's accumulated some crucial numbers to prove it.

Luck has accumulated 11 regular-season wins in each of his two NFL seasons, giving him 22 total. That's the second-most in league history for a QB through his first two years. Yes, Wilson set the record with 24, but as mentioned above, Luck's individual brilliance is superior. Need proof? How about his 8,196 passing yards? That's the highest total in NFL history through two seasons. Oh, and Luck has piled up 11 game-winning drives in his professional tenure -- another NFL record for the time frame.

Seeking more nuggets of domination? I'm glad you asked.

Luck played against six playoff teams during the 2013 regular season: San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Denver, Cincinnati and Kansas City. Luck threw 10 touchdown passes against one pick in these contests, allowing the Colts to go 4-2.

Luck sliced his interception total from Year 1 in half last fall, going from 18 to nine.

Luck is 15-2 in his career in games decided by seven points or fewer.

On Sunday night, Luck and the Colts start the season in Denver. I'm picking Denver to win the game because a) they're at home and b) they have the better team. I'm picking Denver to win the AFC because they have the best roster in the conference. But Andrew Luck beat Peyton Manning last year. He will put the Colts on his back and single-handedly give them a chance to win against a better team, making the "Sunday Night Football" opener a four-quarter affair.

That's who he is. That's what he does.

And even if the Colts do indeed lose on Sunday, don't be surprised if they go on to post the best record in the AFC. Check out Indy's schedule. It's highly manageable -- especially with a quarterback of this ilk.

Rodgers always masks areas of weakness in Green Bay, just like Peyton did in Denver last year. And that is the skill that makes Brady an all-time great. Soon we'll be talking about another quarterback in the same vein. But why wait until the end of the season to salute the inevitable?

Welcome to the club, Andrew Luck.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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