Had the Colts held the No. 3 pick in the draft, or if there was no top quarterback prospect available, it is likely Manning would still be in Indianapolis right now, preparing to start this Sunday.
But the prospect was there, and Luck is the most hyped quarterback to come out of college since...well, since Peyton Manning in 1998.
Fortunately, Luck has not disappointed one bit so far. In fact, he does not even look like a rookie, which gives the Colts some immediate hope and excitement for the 2012 season.
Let’s review his preseason.
Game 1: St. Louis Rams
Andrew Luck made his NFL debut on national TV—well it was national if you get NFL Network—against the St. Louis Rams.
Watching the game live and knowing offensive coordinator Bruce Arians well, I expected a simple handoff or bubble screen to start the game. Instead, he switched it up and called what was an extreme rarity in five years on the job in Pittsburgh: a middle screen to the running back.
On a pass that barely went two yards, Luck dumped it off to Donald Brown, who made a nice run for a 63-yard touchdown on Luck’s very first snap in the NFL. The storybook start was reminiscent of Peyton Manning throwing a 48-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Harrison on his first preseason pass in 1998.
So far so good, but that was a pass backup rookie Chandler Harnish (this draft’s Mr. Irrelevant) could have completed. We needed to see much more before crowning Luck like Colts owner Jim Irsay did on Twitter.
Historic beginning!!!!!!!!!!!!! The legend has begun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) August 12, 2012
The next drive began to expose the weaknesses of Indianapolis’ offensive line, as Luck was under heavy pressure. He showed his above-average mobility by scrambling for a 9-yard gain, but the Colts were forced to punt after a three and out.
Luck, still showing accuracy under pressure, would hit all four of his passes on the next drive, ending with a 23-yard touchdown to Austin Collie.
On his final drive of the day, Luck was plagued by several bad drops from his receivers, but converted two third-and-long situations to keep the 80-yard drive going.
His best pass of the game was right down the middle of the defense on a 32-yard strike to Quan Cosby, tackled at the 1-yard line. The Colts punched it in for a touchdown, and Luck finished 10 of 16 for 188 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His day could have been even better without all the drops.
Now, this is the same Rams defense that Tony Romo would go on to shred without his main weapons, but it was how Luck performed that was most impressive. Between the accuracy and not taking any sacks despite the poor protection, it was essentially a perfect debut.
Game 2: At Pittsburgh Steelers
I attended this game, and have only seen the highlights from the broadcast, but Luck was the player I was most interested in watching.
The Steelers offered a tougher challenge than the Rams, so expectations were set much lower. Though his pass protection held up best in the preseason in this game, at the start, Luck was more Curtis Painter than he was Peyton Manning.
On the third drive, Luck made his biggest mistake of the preseason: staring down and throwing late to a covered Reggie Wayne on the left sideline. Ike Taylor, not known to possess great ball skills, intercepted him for a 49-yard touchdown return. The Colts trailed 14-0.
It was the kind of mistake you would expect from a rookie. Remembering a great stat from last season on Luck, he usually shook off a mistake.
Following his 10 interceptions in 2011 at Stanford, Luck led seven touchdown drives on the ensuing possessions. I was curious to see if he could continue this after his first huge mistake in the NFL.
After taking his first sack on the next play, it would have been easy for Luck to fold. But this is when his poise showed up, and he completed four straight passes to end the quarter. The drive would end with a touchdown.
On his next possession, Luck threw a great pass over the middle to rookie T.Y. Hilton, this year’s third-round receiver, but Hilton basically handed the ball over to Cortez Allen for an interception instead of a 20-plus-yard gain.
Even though it was not his mistake, Luck rallied again and led another 80-yard touchdown drive, which included a great touch pass to Reggie Wayne for 27 yards, and Luck slid in for a touchdown on a QB keeper on fourth down.
With 0:42 left, one timeout and the ball at his own 34, we got to see Luck in the hurry-up offense late in a half. Three straight completions and a spike set Adam Vinatieri up for a 53-yard field goal, and just like that, the Colts led 17-14 at halftime.
Luck’s night was finished, and on his first test of adversity, he passed with flying colors. After the pick six, Luck finished 14 of 17 for 159 yards, including a drop and spike. That is one real misfire.
Though I was not able to hear if this performance was met with the Cris Collinsworth seal of approval, I left the game impressed once again with Luck’s veteran-like performance in his first road test against a good defense.
Game 3: At Washington Redskins
Getting yet another national appearance on NFL Network, Luck matched up with fellow rookie Robert Griffin III in Washington. The two will always be linked, though do not count on either making the postseason this year.
As the third preseason game is supposed to be the most important, it was another big stage for Luck to continue his strong performances.
This really felt like watching the Pittsburgh offense under Arians. There were bubble screens for short gains, running plays that went nowhere, and some very poor pass protection with linemen beaten right off the snap.
Luck would be sacked twice on the second drive alone, and was fortunate the number was not higher in this game.
After Washington scored first, Luck put together his best drive. We saw him convert a quarterback sneak on a third-and-one attempt for the first time. Three plays later, he made the defining play of his preseason.
On 3rd and 7 at the WAS 31, Luck moved masterfully in the pocket to avoid the rush, then threw a perfect pass down the left sideline to T.Y. Hilton for the touchdown.
The footwork, recognition and accuracy of the pass showed off all the reasons he was the first pick in the draft. Not every top quarterback in the league makes this play.
Luck would only get one more drive in the half because the defense struggled to get off the field. He moved the offense quickly, but his Hail Mary attempt was barely incomplete in the end zone as the half ended.
Luck played one more series in the third quarter, but the Colts punted after pressure forced a third-down incompletion. Luck looked better than Robert Griffin III, but Redskins broadcaster Joe Theismann somehow thought fans would say otherwise.
While Griffin III wowed the announcers with his powerful arm, going 0-for-3 on deep balls, Luck’s touchdown was the highlight of the game, and his preseason.
To be honest, I did not even watch the Colts’ final preseason game against Cincinnati, as I try to watch as little of the preseason finales as possible.
Luck only played the first series, picked up a first down on an illegal contact penalty, then threw twice to Stanford teammate Coby Fleener, including an 8-yard gain on 3rd and 12, which forced a punt.
Luck’s night (and preseason) was done, but it was an impressive display that should give the coaches faith in him to carry the offense this season.
- Luck’s preseason: 17 drives, 34.6 yards per drive, 2.65 points per drive, 41/66 (62.1%) for 522 yards, 7.91 YPA, 3 TD, 2 INT, 89.3 PR.
- Luck was also sacked three times, and rushed four times for 18 yards and a touchdown.
Even though it was just preseason, even though it was 17 drives, he produced offense at an elite level. Four 80-yard touchdown drives would be impressive for the most veteran of offenses.
The stats could have looked even better without all the dropped passes—which accounted for one of the interceptions and at least seven incompletions—the spike, and some throwaways under pressure.
The Luck-to-Fleener combination has not been impressive thus far, with Fleener catching only five passes for 43 yards in the preseason.
However, Reggie Wayne is still the go-to guy in Indianapolis, and Luck had no problem getting him the ball. If Austin Collie can avoid concussions (do not bet on it, unfortunately), he will also be productive in this offense, as might the rookie Hilton.
Like Peyton Manning before him, when you throw the ball with such accuracy and understand what defenses are doing, you do not need great receivers to get the job done. Luck’s long passes to Cosby and Hilton, unheralded receivers to say the least, prove that. Luck will make his receivers better.
If he stays healthy for all 16 games, Luck should throw for over 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. His knowledge of the game, control of the offense and physical skills are the real deal. Previously thought to be in full rebuild mode, it is not out of the question for the Colts to win at least seven games this year.
However, if you are looking for a weakness beyond that Andre the Giant-sounding voice Luck uses to give his Peyton-like answers, then it is the offensive line and defense being big concerns for the Colts.
Luck will be facing pressure allowed by his line (not something Arians ever figured out how to adjust for in Pittsburgh), and pressure to score to match the opponent. Interceptions will happen, mistakes will happen, and probably in bunches in certain weeks.
The speed of the game will catch up to Luck at times as he learns which windows are there and which close faster than they ever did at Stanford.
Not everything is going to go this smoothly this season, but that is fine. Peyton Manning took the same lumps as a rookie, and it made him better for his second season, which was a 10-game turnaround to 13-3 and the playoffs.
There is no reason Luck cannot have a similar start, as he is the closest thing to Manning the Colts could have ever hoped for in a successor. Hard to believe, but Luck makes the Colts must-see TV this season.
For a fanbase having to deal with the shock of a 2-14 season and no more Peyton Manning, a lot of Luck is just what it needed to get pumped again for football in Indianapolis.
Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.