Andrew Luck: Indianapolis Colts Can't Protect Rookie QB
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Over the next few months, there will be no end to the discussion about what the Colts can do to help the presumptive No. 1 pick in the draft acclimate to life in the NFL. You'll hear people talk about Luck as if he's a rookie pitcher on a innings limit and occasionally like he's a Faberge egg meant to be encased in glass.
Luck is not a wilting flower, he's a 6'4" 235-lb football player, and there's no formula for keeping him safe in the NFL. History tells us that teams have tried everything to spur on the development of quarterbacks, but to date no one has found the right method. For every popular strategy, there are counter-examples that just didn't work out.
Keep Him Upright
Call it the "David Carr Disaster." No one wants to see a rookie quarterback take 70 sacks. Teams believe if you can just keep the sack rate down, your rookie will be safe to blossom and develop into an All-Pro.
The problem is that sack rate is heavily tied to the quarterback himself. There's only so much you can do to protect a player. At some point, the responsibility to throw the ball away falls on your quarterback.
While it's true that a list of the most sacked rookie quarterbacks since 1990 reads like a laundry list of the worst players in history, several rookies had lousy sack rates and still became solid pros (who not coincidentally continued to have lousy sack rates).
Jake Plummer, Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb, Joe Flacco and Matt Stafford all had sack rates north of 6 percent as rookies, and all have managed solid to great professional careers. While an extreme number of sacks is obviously a bad thing, Luck will likely take some hits in year one. The Colts are taking him in part because he can take a hit. They can't shy away from letting him see contact.
Limit His Throws
There's a school of thought that believes limiting throws to a few passes is a great way to develop a quarterback.
Of course, that would be to ignore the development of Peyton Manning. He lead the NFL in pass attempts his rookie year, and surpassed his total of 575 throws just twice in his career. Things worked out okay for Mr. Manning, as I recall.
In fact, the list of the 10 rookie quarterbacks with the most attempts since 1990 is a nice group. Bradford, Manning, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Kerry Collins, Matt Ryan, Drew Bledsoe and Carson Palmer all had at least 400 attempts in their first year.
Limiting Andrew Luck's throws is neither necessary nor smart. He was drafted to play quarterback and he should play.
Throw Him Into the Fire
Obviously, if the Colts should not try to baby Luck, they should therefore send him to the wolves. He should play from day one, and the Colts should go bombs away.
Yeah, that won't work either. There are some other names on that 'most attempts' list: Weinke, Mirer, Carr, Harrington, and Couch. Some of the best quarterbacks in the league today spent most of if not all their first year sitting and watching. Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are arguably the four best starters in the game, and not a one of them played much their rookie years.
Oh, but then there is JaMarcus Russell, and he sat the pine. My head is starting to spin. Let's try something else.
Give Him a Run Game
Dalton didn't have a good one. Rick Mirer did. McNabb and Bledsoe didn't, but Akili Smith did. There's no magic bullet there.
Give Him a Defense
Peyton Manning, Newton and Stafford all started with bottom-five scoring defenses. So far, so good for those guys. Kyle Orton had the No. 1 defense in football, and he's...well...still Kyle Orton.
The Colts can't follow a magic script to turn Luck from college legend to NFL great
Luck will succeed or fail because of his own talent, work ethic and mental toughness. If there were some surefire plan for translating college accomplishments to professional success, teams wouldn't need to agonize over draft picks. They could just take most any elite quarterback, confident that he would grow into a superstar.
The Colts' best bet is to draft Luck and allow him to be himself. If he's ready to play, he should play. If he takes sacks, they should keep him from getting killed, but realize that a quarterback is who he is. If he can have a great run game or defense, that's great, but if he doesn't, he can still become a great player.
The best thing the Colts can do to ensure the future success of their new quarterback is just to make sure they are drafting the right guy in the first place. If they get that right, the rest will take care of itself.
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