I've bought into the Andrew Luck hype for the last year or so. He's an excellent prospect. There was practically nothing wrong with him. That's the thought I kept coming back to. But when I looked back on it, the reverse wasn't quite as promising. I kept coming back to one question.
What's so special about him?
Is it his intelligence? It's certainly far better than most college quarterbacks. His command of the Stanford offense was excellent, but special? I really don't think so.
The Peyton Manning comparisons are just wrong. Even if Luck had the football IQ of Manning, he'd never be able to do the things at the line of scrimmage Manning does. It's not a matter of who he is, but the offense he'll play in. No quarterback has ever had the command Manning did. Whenever I watched Luck call an audible, it was to get out of a bad play. When Manning audibles, it's to get into a touchdown scoring play. That's the difference, and that's why Manning is special in that regard whereas Luck isn't.
His tools, like his mind, are quite good. He can make nearly all of the throws, and you rarely see him do something stupid. But special? I don't see him throwing 60 yard frozen ropes like Jay Cutler or Matt Stafford. That's not what makes a quarterback great; it's a lot more mental than physical, but Luck isn't a once in a generation quarterback in that regard either.
And then I dug a little deeper. More questions keep popping up.
Why has he played in four incredibly important games in his college career, but only won one of them?
Why didn't he improve between his sophomore and junior years? Has he peaked?Why did Alex Smith improve by leaps and bounds in Jim Harbaugh's offense—doing nearly all of the same things Luck did at Stanford?
Why did Stanford, first under Harbaugh and then under David Shaw, refuse to truly unleash him if he's that good?
Luck had two shots at Oregon for the right to play for the national title. He came up short twice. In the Fiesta Bowl last year he had two chances to get his team a touchdown to end the game, and he failed twice. Is it at all possible that he just doesn't have the clutch gene?
You don't have to win every big game in college, but it's a little disheartening to see you come up short so often. Only Manning, with his inability to beat Florida, has overcome the "un-clutch" label to become a late game closer.
His stats bothered me to no end. Despite having many of the same receivers (including a potential first round tight end) and two first round linemen, Luck's stats stayed largely the same in his last two years. His yards per attempt went down and his interceptions went up.
How much did Jim Harbaugh really have to do with Luck's ascent? He took the exact same system he ran at Stanford and made it work with Alex Smith. Think about that for a moment. Alex Smith, the guy everyone wrote off as a colossal bust just a year ago, turned into an above average NFL quarterback under Harbaugh.
What does that mean for Luck? Smith only had one year under Harbaugh and we saw how much he improved, and Luck had three. No college quarterback has had a better upbringing. How much of Luck's success is his own, and how much belongs to his mentor? Could Harbaugh's absence be the cause of Luck's statistical stagnancy?
Stanford's offense is what bothers me the most. If Andrew Luck is the quarterback everyone says he is—not just a great one, but a special one—why was he a supporting actor in his own offense? Why would any coach in their right mind run the ball 55 percent of the time when they had a thrower that good?
Remember, this is college, not the NFL. You can get away with gimmick offenses. Nobody would have blamed Stanford for throwing it 70 percent of the time. But they didn't. And that bothers me. Why was it that the word we heard the most from Luck at the line of scrimmage was "kill" (a common audible that transitions from a pass to a run)?
Did Stanford's coaches know something we didn't? Maybe there's some flaw in Luck's game we can't see because nobody saw enough reps to expose it? Or maybe, as I believe to be the case, he's just not that type of quarterback.
Maybe Luck isn't the type of guy to go for the kill. He's not the type of guy to say "get on my back guys, today I'm winning us this game."
It bothers me that none of his receivers have seen their draft stock explode because they were lucky enough to play with him (in fact, Doug Baldwin went undrafted last year and then went on to become a solid receiver without Luck). It bothers me that most of his favorite targets were tight ends; safety valves designed to move the chains but not score points. It bothers me just how conservative he was at times. It's a quality you want to see in quarterbacks, but not all of the time. You have to be willing to go for the kill, and for all of his accolades, it's something we rarely saw from Andrew Luck.
It's something we did see though, from Robert Griffin. The more time I spent watching Griffin, the less I stopped asking myself why he was special, in fact, I kept coming to a different question.
Why ISN'T he special?
He amazed me. When he flicks his wrist and the ball comes soaring out of his hand it seems like it may never land. You panic when he lofts a floater to a seemingly empty corner of the field, only to see a receiver come out of nowhere and get it in stride, knowing that's exactly what RGIII was planning.
You see him scan the field for receivers, see that nobody's open, then take off running. Only he's not running, he's drawing the defensive backs away from their assignments; daring them to come after him. Then, at the last second, someone bites. Without breaking stride, the Heisman winner hits his fourth read with a dart—right in the numbers.
His numbers aren't just good. They aren't just Heisman-worthy. They are jaw dropping. He completed an astounding 72.4% of his passes to Luck's 71.3%. That's pretty close, except when you consider that Griffin threw 55 more passes. Oh, and his passes went about 2 yards longer than Luck's on average, with a yards per attempt of 10.68 to Luck's 8.71.
And he did all of this at Baylor. Baylor.
Their football program is only two games over .500 in history. Not only is Griffin their only Heisman trophy winner, but only two others have finished in the top 10. They play in the Big 12, the only conference that can argue equality with the almighty SEC in terms of football competitiveness. A conference that makes the Pac-12 look downright mediocre in comparison.
What Luck did was excellent. He helped lift a program to excellence that had rarely seen it. But Stanford isn't Baylor. Excellent players and coaches have passed through their locker room. John Elway was a Cardinal, as was Jim Plunkett and a handful of other notables. In a decade, Stanford will have moved on to it's next all-world quarterback.
But Baylor? Their program history begins and ends with Griffin. In 50 years, teammates will sit their grandchildren on their lap and tell them stories of the amazing RGIII. Fans will remember him as a god, the greatest thing ever to happen to their school. Stanford will have another Andrew Luck, but Baylor will never have another Griffin.
Kendall Wright is going to be a first round pick because he had the privilege of catching passes from Griffin. Art Briles has bought himself another few years of job security because of his superstar quarterback. These guys aren't world beaters on their own—no one else at the Baylor program right now will make much of a difference in the NFL. They owe it all to Robert Griffin.
Drafting Luck is the safe pick. His game doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. No GM will get fired for taking Andrew Luck. I don't see any scenario where he isn't at least an above average quarterback. But where does he go from there? He doesn't have Manning's intelligence, Brady's poise, Rodgers' force of personality or hell, I'll say it, Tebow's sheer will to win.
At the end of the day, I just don't see how Luck is special. You won't lose games because Andrew Luck is your quarterback, in fact you'll probably win quite a bit because of it. But is he going into Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game and carrying you to a win despite multiple injured starters and 20 degree weather? Sorry, but I don't see it.
That's perfectly acceptable. Most quarterbacks aren't like that, and it's entirely possible to win a Super Bowl with one who isn't with the right team around him. I see Luck settling at the Matt Ryan level. A very good quarterback who will never be great. That's fine, greatness is reserved for the Bradys and the Rodgers' of the world. It's OK not to be great because most quarterbacks never will be. It's just that given all of the hoopla, I would have expected Luck to be that guy.
Drafting Griffin is "risky" pick. Only it isn't risky. People have this delusion that drafting an ultra athletic quarterback is a risk. That you have to have the NFL offense-big school-top head coach pedigree. Maybe Luck will be better next year because he's been exposed to more of what the NFL is. But that doesn't mean Griffin won't pick it up.
There is no throw Griffin can't make as well or better than Luck. There is no angle Luck can see that Griffin can't. There is no hole Luck can run through that Griffin can't. People want to pigeonhole Griffin as Michael Vick because they're tied to the notion that players can only be what they've seen before. Griffin is an original.
Griffin is a pocket quarterback who just happens to have 4.41 speed. He doesn't look to run like Michael Vick does. Griffin will come out of the gates with the same style it took Vick almost a decade to master. He runs as a last resort, but when he does he makes it look easy.
Don't judge Griffin as a running quarterback. Look at him like you would any other quarterback, and then you'll see what I see. Someone with the talent to do things we've never seen from a quarterback, but with the mindset to focus on first excelling at what we have. In 20 years Andrew Luck will have come and gone, leaving nothing more than a faint impression on the minds of football fans, but Robert Griffin will remain a fixture in football lore forever. Griffin is what Luck isn't. Robert Griffin is special.