Cam Newton did Andrew Luck no favors.
While expectations are always too high (in every sport) for the No. 1 overall pick in that year’s draft, the expectation of immediate success on NFL quarterbacks had become tempered in recent years. Fans grew to understand and appreciate the complexity of the position (As opposed to the expectations on linemen and running backs, which remain inflated despite the complexities of those positions).
But Cam Newton may have set the clock back 15 or 20 years when he threw for 422 yards and two TDs in his debut, and rushed for another in his debut last year. Luck is going to hear a great deal about Newton this year, unless he repeats Newton's gaudy stats.
But Newton and Luck have different styles, and Luck is going to have a longer road to success.
Luck’s Style Takes a Lot Longer to Master
Luck is widely touted as the best pocket-passer to come into the NFL since his predecessor in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning. Talented pocket-passers thrive in the NFL, long-term. But the learning curve is steep, partly because you must master more intricacies when you cannot bail yourself out on foot, and partly because NFL defensive coordinators know how to defend against a pocket passer on a learning curve already.
Adapting to a runner like Newton, Tebow or Ben Roethlisberger requires stodgy coaches to change their thinking. Defending against a rookie who stands in the pocket and throws requires them to pull out the same model football has been using for the last 50 years: shifting coverages, deceptive pre-snap schemes and hard hits on the new kid (though the NFL is in the process of outlawing the last of those).
Cam Newton is much more a mobile QB, in the Michael Vick model. That’s a model that the notoriously slow-to-react NFL culture is still figuring out, and a rookie season of 21 TDs and 17 INTs—while still an excellent season for a first-year quarterback—is a lot less impressive if you don’t add in Cam’s 14 rushing touchdowns.
Andrew Luck will see a lot of schemes he never saw at Stanford, moving at speeds that will confound him. It will take him time to figure out how to combat that. It took Peyton a while too.
Manning’s first eight games in 1998: 11 TD passes, 16 INTs.
Second eight games: 15 TDs, 12 INTs (no rushing touchdowns for Manning).
Understand, this is not a comparison to rank their respective skill sets, nor a projection of their long-term success. Both Newton and Luck have bright futures.
Luck’s will just take a lot longer to arrive.