Each Monday throughout the college football season, NFL.com draft expert Bucky Brooks has shared his notes and evaluations on potential NFL prospects for the 2012 draft and beyond. Today, he gives a first-hand scouting report of Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
It's not my intent to add to the endless hype that has surrounded the Stanford star over the past two seasons, but that is my opinion after getting an up-close look at his remarkable performance against Notre Dame this weekend. Luck simply possesses everything a QB needs to succeed at the next level, including...
The toughest part of evaluating quarterbacks on tape is accurately gauging their arm strength. You can't determine the speed and velocity of their throws without knowing the impact of the weather elements. Luck, however, possesses enough arm strength to make all the requisite throws in a pro offense. He can deliver pinpoint passes on deep outs from the opposite hash with zip, while also throwing the seam route on a rope from 25 yards away. He combines his superior arm strength with a deft touch that allows him to routinely lob high-arching tosses to a closely defended tight end or receiver on corner routes.
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Luck's arm isn't as strong as Matthew Stafford's or Jay Cutler's, but he certainly shows the ability to fit the ball into tight windows from distance. Against Notre Dame, the Cardinal receivers had difficulty separating from their defenders, so Luck was routinely forced to squeeze the ball into contested areas. Yet he completed 20 of 30 passes for 233 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
Luck grades out well in accuracy and ball placement. He routinely puts the ball on the receiver's upfield shoulder, which leads to valuable yardage after the catch.
Luck's technique is ready-made for the NFL. He has a compact windup and an over-the-top throwing motion. He appears to take his front hand off the ball earlier than most QBs, but his quick release and superb ball security make it a non-issue. Luck displays polished footwork in the pocket. He quickly retreats from under center on three-, five- and seven-step drops, and steps up with balance at the top of his drop. Interestingly, he uses a staggered stance with his left foot back when taking snaps from center. Even though this is a stance utilized by quarterbacks at every level, the placement of his left foot is a bit unorthodox for right-handed throwers. However, Aaron Rodgers uses a similar stance and it appears to allow him to get more depth in his drops, while still retaining his set-up quickness.
Luck also shows good set-up quickness when operating from the shotgun. His ability to catch, rock and throw allows him to connect on quick routes like hitches, slants and crossers from empty formations. His timing was superb on those throws, and he peppered Notre Dame's defense with an assortment of quick-rhythm tosses.
Extraordinary awareness allows Luck to routinely step forward when the pocket is crumbling off the edges. This helps him minimize lost yardage on sacks, which helps Stanford's offense remain on schedule.
Luck is an underrated athlete and crafty runner on the edges who routinely extends plays with his feet. His ability to operate on the perimeter allows the team to utilize an assortment of bootleg and naked passes, which are staples of West Coast offensive systems.
More importantly, Luck shows the ability to avoid rushers in the pocket with nifty sidesteps. With pass rushers in the NFL possessing the speed and quickness of collegiate linebackers and safeties, it is essential to have a quarterback with these skills.
As much as physical ability is factored into the evaluation process for quarterbacks, certain intangibles set some guys apart. The most important one is the "it" factor. Does a player inspire confidence in others with his leadership and performance in critical situations?
Luck absolutely shines in this area. His presence in the huddle inspires his teammates and they raise their collective level of play when he is on the field. The Cardinal doesn't appear to have a wealth of NFL-caliber talent at their skill positions, meaning the pressure to win falls squarely on Luck's shoulders.
Against Notre Dame, Luck wasn't at his best for most of the game, but still delivered a handful of key plays that sealed the outcome in the Cardinal's favor. He masterfully directed a two-minute drill prior to halftime, which showcased his ability to thrive under pressure. He connected on four of five passes for 47 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ty Montgomery. He added 11 rushing yards on the drive, including a quarterback scamper for a first down.
The big picture
The demands of playing quarterback extend beyond producing big numbers. It is about finding a way to win through proper management of game situations. Luck possesses the rare ability to orchestrate the game from the line of scrimmage. He calls his own plays in the Cardinal's no-huddle package, and that freedom even extends to the team's regular offense. According to Stanford coach David Shaw, Luck comes to the line with three different plays to choose from based on the defensive alignment. He identifies the defensive front and coverage and makes the appropriate call for each situation. This is remarkable considering some pro quarterbacks aren't capable of the same task. For Luck to have extensive experience in this area gives him a decided advantage over others at the position.