The 1983 NFL draft class is often viewed as the gold standard for a draft in terms of the quarterbacks it produced. The No. 1 overall pick that year by the Indianapolis Colts was Stanford product John Elway, and joining Elway as future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in that draft’s first round were No. 14 overall pick Jim Kelly and No. 24 overall pick Dan Marino.
No quarterback draft class since has quite lived up to that standard, but the 2012 draft class has a chance to.
The most recent draft also featured the Colts starting the draft by selecting a Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck, with the No. 1 overall pick. The next selection was the Washington Redskins’ selection of Robert Griffin III out of Baylor.
Even as rookies, both quarterbacks already look like they will be among the NFL’s elite for many years to come.
One year removed from being the NFL’s worst team, the Colts are 7-4 and in a tremendous position to earn an AFC wild card playoff berth. The No. 1 reason for that turnaround has been the performance of their rookie signal-caller. Luck has already passed for 3,205 yards through 11 games.
The Redskins aren’t exactly in playoff position, but they aren’t out of the hunt yet either, and the play of RG3 is the primary factor keeping them in contention. Griffin has brought an immediate revival to the Redskins offense; he has 3,132 yards of total offense this season and leads all NFL QBs in rushing yards.
In most years, either Luck or Griffin would be a runaway to finish as the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year at season’s end. This year, however, they have to contend with one another.
At this point, the race is too close to call. To predict who ends up winning, we have to project how each will fare through their final five games of the season.
As you can see, both quarterbacks have two games remaining against top NFL teams but also have three games they should be able to win.
If either quarterback can lead his team to a big upset victory—Luck against the Texans or Griffin against the Giants or Ravens—it would be a huge boost to his Rookie of the Year campaign. To the contrary, if either quarterback struggles in a loss in one of the three other games, his campaign will take a major hit.
Leading his team to a postseason berth would be a huge achievement for either quarterback and would give him a strong boost to his campaign.
Between the two, Luck is in much better position to do that. Even if the Colts lose both games to the Texans, they will finish 10-6 by winning the other three games, which should get them a Wild Card berth in a conference with no other non-division leader above 6-5.
For Griffin to get the Redskins to the playoffs, it is necessary to engineer an upset win in one of their next two games. Even if the Redskins win their last three games, losses in their next two games would leave them with an 8-8 record at the end of the season, which is highly unlikely to earn a postseason berth in a conference with eight teams currently above .500.
But while Luck would certainly get a leg up in the award race over Griffin for making the playoffs if Griffin doesn’t do the same, it won’t win him the award if Griffin is clearly statistically superior.
This was proven last season, when Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton led the surprising Cincinnati Bengals back from a 4-12 record in 2010 to a playoff berth last season. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was much more productive statistically, however, and won the award over Dalton.
New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez also led his team to the postseason as a rookie in 2009 but lost the award to Minnesota Vikings rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin.
While Luck has had more team success, Griffin has been the more efficient and productive quarterback this season. As a result, he is the favorite to win the 2012 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Luck has passed for more yards, but Griffin has a significantly better completion percentage and touchdown-interception ratio, and he is a true dual-threat. In fact, Griffin ranks fourth league-wide in completion percentage and is one of only four NFL quarterbacks with four times as many touchdowns than interceptions (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger are the others).
Luck will have a chance to catch up statistically in some of his final games. Two of his final five games are against the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs, two of three NFL defenses this season on which opposing quarterbacks have a combined passer rating better than 100.
It certainly isn’t all about statistics, either.
Luck has played better than his quarterback rating shows, as he has made big throws throughout the season that are difficult for even the best veteran quarterbacks to make and has already led the Colts on four game-winning drives late in games this season, per Pro Football Reference. Griffin has only done that once this season, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But as his 13 interceptions and subpar completion percentage show, Luck has been more inconsistent and mistake-prone as a passer than Griffin. By combining pocket-passing efficiency with terrific rushing production, Griffin has already become one of the league’s most valuable offensive players.
Griffin also his momentum on his side. Over his last two games, Griffin has completed 78.6 percent of his passes for 504 yards and eight touchdowns with only one interception, with a whopping 12 yards per passing attempt. Luck, on the other hand, has completed just 54 percent of his passes in his two games and has thrown three interceptions with only two touchdowns.
Griffin must weather the storm that is headed for him in the next two games, as he goes up against two of the NFL’s most ferocious defensive teams in the Giants and Ravens. But if Griffin can make a statement and continue to play well through the next two games, and then finish strong against three weaker opponents, he is the favorite to take home top rookie honors at the end of the season, even if Luck’s season is the one that continues longer.
*h/t to Seattle Sports Hell for useful information on rookie quarterbacks leading teams to postseason
Dan Hope is an NFL draft Featured Columnist and the New England Patriots game day correspondent for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.