It is very rare that a potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick can make it through the season without people questioning whether that prospect actually merits the top selection in the NFL draft.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has managed to do that.
Almost all followers of the NFL draft have had no qualms penciling in Luck as the top pick in the draft, especially since USC’s Matt Barkley announced he would return for his senior season of college football (Barkley was ranked No. 1 overall, ahead of Luck, in my rankings for the 2012 NFL draft).
Luck has received this rare lack of criticism because he is a rare prospect. The more I watch of Luck, the more impressed I become, and the more I question whether Barkley would still be ranked ahead of him.
Luck has seemingly every attribute that an NFL team desires in a franchise quarterback.
He has textbook mechanics—he throws a tremendous spiral, launches the ball downfield and has precise accuracy. Luck has tremendous pocket presence, mobility within the pocket, tremendous awareness to step away from rushers and up in the pocket to make downfield throws and the athleticism to make plays with his feet and run for positive yardage.
Luck is a tremendously poised quarterback. He is very intelligent and has terrific field vision. Plus, he has the ability to make quick decisions under pressure and find open receivers.
With all of these favorable quarterback traits, it is easy to be lulled into believing that Luck is a perfect or flawless prospect.
However, this is untrue.
While Luck is a tremendous quarterback prospect who absolutely deserves to be the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft, the young signal-caller still has areas on his game that he needs to work on.
Luck has a tendency to make overly aggressive decisions at times. This past season, Luck did not have a very explosive group of wide receivers, so he had to make the most out of the talent he had to work with, and occasionally took an ill-advised risk and tried to force a pass into coverage.
As a result, Luck threw 10 interceptions this season. In comparison, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III only threw six picks, while Barkley threw seven. At the next level, where throwing windows will become much smaller and defenses take advantage of poor passes. Luck will need to become less aggressive in unnecessary situations, because forcing throws often means interceptions in the National Football League.
That said, Luck has the skill to make tremendous throws into small windows between coverage, throws that are very rarely seen at the collegiate level, and can only be made by a handful of NFL quarterbacks.
From his first start in the National Football League, Luck will have the ability to make the tough throws, but he could have some growing pains in learning what throws he should never be making.
Luck does very well at scrambling outside of the pocket and making plays with his feet—both by taking off and running for positive yardage, and by rolling out away from pressure to bide time to make a downfield throw. However, Luck does have a tendency to throw on the run without setting his feet, which typically results in incompletions and occasionally in interceptions.
While Luck has pinpoint accuracy when he sets his feet squarely toward his intended receiver, any quarterback’s accuracy drops sharply when they do not set their feet to make the throw, and Luck has had some problems with consistently doing so.
Luck will quickly learn that in the faster game of the National Football League, it will not be as easy to roll out of the pocket and make plays with his feet, and that if he is to scramble to throw, he must be able to make the time to set his feet to throw an accurate pass.
Another concern with Luck and his running tendencies is that he leaves himself susceptible to big hits. Fortunately, Luck goes into the NFL draft without any significant injury history, but Luck is known to take some big hits by taking defenders head-on.
In the National Football League, where a team (most likely, that team specifically is the Indianapolis Colts) will be investing their franchise in the success of Luck, they will not be pleased if Andrew gets injured while trying to make a play with his feet.
Luck will not be as much of a running threat in the NFL as he was in college.
While Luck is a very mobile athlete, he does not have the type of speed that NFL dual-threat quarterbacks Mike Vick and Cam Newton do. That said, as Luck goes up against bigger, harder-hitting defenders at the next level, he must learn that when he makes the decision to run, he needs to consistently head to the sideline or slide out of his run in order to avoid taking big hits that endanger his health and could shorten his career.
Nitpicking was used in the headline of this article because admittedly, finding flaws in a prospect of Luck’s caliber is much easier said than done. When watching Luck on film, it is easy to be amazed.
That said, it is also easy to overlook his flaws.
None of Luck’s flaws are anything that should ruin his NFL career—they are all flaws that he should correct with time as he adjusts to the game of professional football, and continues to learn and mature.
Luck is a very intelligent quarterback, a great decision-maker and he has tools that rival those of the NFL’s elite passers. So, he should be able to make the necessary adjustments and develop into one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
That said, pointing out his flaws are important in the realization that while Luck is a special prospect, he is still a young quarterback who will need to make adjustments as he makes the transition from collegiate football to the NFL.
Luck is already a great quarterback, but he is far from a finished product, and his rookie season should not go with growing pains.
He has the talent to be able to take over a team’s starting quarterback position from the first game and make a positive impact on the field, but his progression will take time. He has the potential to be an elite quarterback, but he will need to work his way through the flaws he still possesses before he reaches that level.
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