2012 NFL Draft: Comparing Stanford QB Andrew Luck to Colts QB Peyton Manning
Indianapolis Colts fans have been praying for him since the early stages of the regular season. They've got his name printed on the back of jerseys, they've got t-shirts with his name utilized in clever puns, they've got him already pegged to replace the poor Curtis Painter.
It's not Peyton Manning they are asking for, it's Andrew Luck.
Many are left asking, "I'm supposed to believe a player who hasn't stepped into an NFL locker room, let alone an NFL playing field, will the franchise savior?
Ever since future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning was deemed unable to play, the Colts' fans have done everything in their power to ask for quarterback Andrew Luck, a brainy Stanford student-athlete who brought the program up from a bottom feeder to one of the nation's best in a short period of time.
But how does this marvel compare to his predecessor?
Let's take a look at a one specific play of each player that showcases their similar abilities. Both plays come from the season before, when Luck took on Oregon State and delivered a 50-yard pass that sliced the defense right down the middle while Manning knifed the New York Jets defense just outside the seam for 57 yards during the 2011 NFL playoffs.
Watching the Eyes
At the yelling of "hike," Luck and Manning drop back and execute a play-action fake. The fake is sold by two different aspects: the eyes and hands.
The image below illustrates Manning putting his hand in between the hands of the running back with the football on the belly. This shows the defense that the play call is a run despite it actually being otherwise.
This holds true for Luck as well when he administers a play fake against the Oregon State defense in 2010, as Luck watches the ball placed into the abdomen of the ball carrier before retreating and snapping his head up to look downfield, much like Manning.
Balancing and Looking Downfield
After the two quarterbacks have executed the play fake and frozen the defense for a split-second, as can be seen in the previous snapshots, they complete their drop back with two final steps that are used to balance the body weight.
Luck plants his back and final foot and looks to his first read. He sets his eyes downfield on wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who is running a deep inside-breaking route that splits the deep safeties in two.
This same thing is done by Colts legend Peyton Manning on his play-action pass, who balances his body with his final two steps and looks up for receiver Pierre Garcon. Garcon, who breaks outside at the snap of the ball, runs on top of the numbers before breaking his route back inside and down the middle of the field.
Before they decide when and to whom to throw the ball, they still must execute the fundamentals of quarterbacking in the pocket, and one important aspect is securing the ball while within the pocket.
Manning and Luck do this with great technique, forming a triangle (which can be seen even from a backside view) with the ball and their elbows. This enables them to secure the ball with both hands and further balance their weight proportionally.
Moreover, both of these quarterbacks share these characteristics that are vital to quality play. They execute the play fake and balance themselves through their footwork and then look up to identify their target, but this is not the last thing because the quarterback still must deliver the ball with great accuracy.
Finding Your Feet and Placing the Ball
Last of all is transferring the weight, which significantly helps the quarterback deliver the ball to his intended target.
Both quarterbacks transferred their weight on the throws they made with success but with a different set of steps.
Manning took a different path by planting his back foot into the ground and then utilizing a hitch-step (forward step) up into the interior of the pocket. This hitch-step was done to buy himself more time in the pocket and avoid rushers on the edge.
Meanwhile, Luck does not use the hitch-step because he has a cleaner pocket and instead simply steps through the throw by planting his lead foot, which enables him to transfer his weight, and then he opens his hips, points his belt buckle toward his target and delivers the football just like Manning.
However, this is not the only thing that needs to be accounted for in comparing the two quarterbacks. There's also ball placement, which is a part of accuracy—a significant characteristic of quarterbacking.
Ball placement is determined by the leverage of the defender. If the quarterback sees a defender to one side of the ball, he is likely to throw to the other side and vice versa. But in this case, there are two defenders that are to each side of the receiver, leaving Luck and Manning to determine how to properly place the ball.
Manning chooses to do so over the top of both defenders and in front of Garcon, which is the best answer because then only his target can make a play on the ball. Manning has great velocity that allows him to place the football in this way.
Luck's case is not the same, however, as he chooses to place the ball behind the target but only where he can get it. Baldwin can only get this pass because it is put right in between the jersey numbers and while this is also a good choice, it is not the most ideal, which Manning's is.
It must be noted that this is not because of the inability of Luck to place the ball in the same fashion that Manning has. Luck can do this effectively, and he simply should look to do this every chance he gets because it decreases the chance of him turning the ball over while giving him a greater chance of making a play downfield.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is a prospect for the ages because of his ability to deliver the ball accurately with consistency. He shows an understanding of the fundamental aspects of the position and executes them on a consistent basis, something that all great NFL quarterbacks do.
This is a significant reason why he's viewed as the top prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft and why many view him as the potential successor to future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning—a selection that would leave Colts fans "Luck-y" indeed.
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