It is a large enough sample size to make some meaningful observations about Andrew Luck's development and break down how his performance has met, exceeded and fallen short of expectations.
For reference, here's a link to my Luck scouting report from spring 2012. How does he stack up against it now?
Luck's ideal size, speed, athleticism package and good but not great arm strength have translated to the NFL level and served him well. One related tool to his size has stood out in a way that few could have expected: his overall strength.
It's not a stretch to compare Luck's ability to make throws with defenders hanging on him to the best in the NFL at making improbable throws while going down for a would-be sack: Ben Roethlisberger. Luck has completed many passes during his short time in the pros when a defender has him dead to rights.
Check out what he is contending with from one of the best sack artists in the NFL, Cameron Wake, while he is completing this key third-down throw in the epic battle between Luck and fellow Dolphins wunderkind quarterback (at least until the last two weeks), Ryan Tannehill:
Another surprise has been Luck's willingness to pull the ball down and take it in himself in the red zone. Luck appears to be keenly aware of running lanes opening up even while scanning the end zone for an open receiver.
He had seven rushing touchdowns in three years at Stanford. Luck has five in 10 games for the Colts.
Luck's polish has been scuffed, scraped, nicked and dented by the rigors of facing NFL defenses week in, week out. Sure, there have been at least a handful of snaps in each game when Luck can display the near-perfect mechanics, release and footwork that made him such a coveted prospect in the draft.
This is most apparent when he is throwing deep.
Early this season, Luck's deep accuracy was sporadic and perhaps the biggest problem area in his passing. As the season has gone on, he has hooked up with speedsters Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton with more frequency. This demonstrates his ability to improve within a season, and his ability to create new strengths in his game.
Much of the time, Luck is having to make do with less-than-preferred conditions.
His near 70 percent accuracy from the last two seasons at Stanford has reset itself at 57.2 percent. Yet, we are still impressed, even in awe at times at his play. What Luck has shown us at the pro level is his ability to get the job done when he can't rely on the quality of his passing when the plays don't go as planned.
On this play versus the Dolphins, Luck displays two very important qualities in an NFL quarterback: escapability in the pocket and the ability to make accurate throws from improvised platforms.
Miami rookie defensive end Olivier Vernon is about a step away from sacking Luck on this third-down play. Notice that Luck is already mid-escape as Vernon is lunging at him:
Luck sidesteps Vernon while keeping his eyes downfield:
He quickly resets and fires the ball in the direction of Reggie Wayne:
Wayne ends up calmly collecting the ball for the first down, after it barely makes it past the outstretched arm of a Dolphins defensive back:
Luck's textbook clean technique made it easy to love him as a pro prospect. His ability to produce when he has to make "dirty throws" makes it easy to love him as a pro quarterback.
As the previous play illustrated, Luck's smarts under pressure are trumping his once-every-10 years ability to read and run a pro-style offense before he could even legally buy a beer. His ability to keep plays alive and effectively find and connect with receivers outside of the play design has been more important than his ability to manipulate and read a defense.
Going hand in hand with his valiant play, Luck's leadership has been integral in the Colts' whiplash turnaround.
A team doesn't go from being the worst squad in the NFL to contending for a playoff spot in one year without strong leadership, and there's no doubt that Luck is the player that this team takes its cues from on and off of the field.
A Week 5 comeback at home against one of the best teams in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers, really signified that he had arrived. The game was also highly emotional for a team going through 2012 without their newly-minted head coach, Chuck Pagano, who is battling cancer.
Watch Luck's comments on the win to see his leadership in action:
Luck has excelled at times under pressure, but he has also made his share of bad decisions.
He has even gotten away with more than a few throws that should have been picked. More than being rattled by pressure (which doesn't seem to be as big of a problem as anticipated), or trying to do everything himself, Luck just seems to miscalculate and misfire more than he ever did at Stanford. This can probably be chalked up to the intense speed of the NFL game and quality of NFL defenses.
Luck has shown that he can evolve and improve, so look for these wrinkles to get ironed out as he gains more experience.
Luck has not only overcome playing in Peyton Manning's shadow, he has emerged out of it to create his already growing legend at this early juncture of his career.
The NFL game is not too big for him by any measure, nor is the pressure that goes along with being the No. 1 overall pick and face of the franchise.
Reasons for Pause
One unexpected snag has come up in Luck's first season. He has been vulnerable to catastrophic decisions on the road.
Luck has a nearly identical completion percentage at Lucas Oil Stadium as he does away from his home field. He has only thrown for 71 fewer yards in five road games than he has compiled in five home games.
The problem area is clear, however, when you look at his touchdown-to-interception ratio. At home, it's 8-2. On the road, 4-10.
Unless this gets ironed out, Luck could be one-and-done in the postseason. He is virtually guaranteed to open the playoffs on the road. This invokes the spectre of my downside comparison for Luck: Matt Ryan, who is still winless in the playoffs.
That being said, if he can guide the Colts to the playoffs one year after a two-win season, I don't think we'll hear many complaints from the Indianapolis faithful.