Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck are not the same quarterback. They are not the same person. They are not from the same area and didn't attend the same college. They don't really have similar playing styles.
But the two quarterbacks will be forever intertwined, as both were drafted No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts, and the drafting of one meant the departure of another. No matter what one's opinion of the release of Manning in March of 2012 and the addition of Luck in the subsequent draft, the fact remains that without Luck, Manning never leaves. Without Manning's neck injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, Luck never arrives in Indianapolis.
The two will be compared until Luck's career reaches completion, and likely thereafter as well. Both inherited awful rosters and were forced to carry bad teams. On the surface, Luck has done that at a higher level, winning 11 games in his rookie season and taking the team to the playoffs while Manning struggled out of the gate before picking up three wins down the stretch.
The sophomore seasons, from a team success perspective, were similar, but Luck still had an edge on Manning with a playoff win—something Manning failed to do until his sixth season in the league.
But who had a better start to his career and was on a trajectory to a higher peak heading into his third season?
|Player||Comp.||Att.||Comp. %||Yards||TDs||INT||Passer Rating|
|Manning Year 1||326||575||56.7||3739||26||28||71.2|
|Manning Year 2||331||533||62.1||4135||26||15||90.7|
|Luck Year 1||339||627||54.1||4374||23||18||76.5|
|Luck Year 2||343||570||60.2||3822||23||9||87.0|
Pro Football Reference
The similarities between the two first-round picks is clear as day. Both quarterbacks cut down on their turnovers dramatically while raising their completion percentages. The quarterbacks' touchdowns stayed rather level while their respective attempts lowered by significant percentages (Luck by nine percent, Manning by just over seven percent).
For Manning, however, there was a key difference: yards.
While Luck's decrease in turnovers was offset by his decrease in production (yards), Manning managed to cut his interceptions in half while producing more yards more efficiently (7.8 yards per attempt compared to 6.5 YPA in his rookie year). Luck, meanwhile, actually was slightly less efficient in his sophomore season (6.7 YPA in 2013 vs. 7.0 YPA in 2012).
It is that efficiency that sets Manning apart:
|Manning Year 1||7.7%||696||-||-||5.2||11|
|Manning Year 2||34.0%||1581||115.6||4.48||7.5||18|
|Luck Year 1||-5.1%||257||103.2||4.41||6.4||13|
|Luck Year 2||4.6%||650||103.3||3.74||6.8||15|
Football Outsiders, Advanced Football Analytics
Manning was a good quarterback as a rookie although the combination of statistics and team success would give the edge to Luck.
Both quarterbacks had heavy loads as rookie Colts signal-callers, but Luck had pressure that Manning never could know. Not only was his load numerically heavier, but Luck had the weight of Manning's ever-looming presence to carry as well. While it may not be tangible, that pressure isn't something to discount.
While Manning has the edge in a few key categories, including completion percentage, touchdowns and Football Outsiders' DVOA and DYAR, Luck led in the majority while also taking the team to the playoffs.
But when Manning took his leap in 1999, there was no comparison statistically. Manning was in the top five in every passing category while the only statistical measure Luck could be lauded for in 2013 was his late-game heroics and low interception count. Manning was arguably the second-best quarterback in the league in 1999 (Kurt Warner ahead) and inarguably a top-five signal-caller. He led the Colts to a 13-3 record.
There were certainly some mitigating circumstances for Luck, such as injuries to a few of his top receiving options (Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen). And make no mistake that the group Luck carried to 45 points in the Colts' playoff win over Kansas City was probably a touch less talented than the one with which Manning scored just 16 points against the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Nevertheless, without any disrespect to Luck, Manning took a leap in his second year that launched him into one of the greatest careers the NFL has ever seen. Even when adding in Luck's ability to move outside the pocket, he can't touch Manning's 1999 season.
The past is the past, or so they say. What it means for the future is what we're most interested in.
The two quarterbacks split their first two seasons, with Luck earning the edge the first year before Manning's second season shot him ahead. How far ahead is difficult to gauge, as the two quarterback's career stats are very similar.
|Player||Comp. %||Yards||TDs||Int.||Passer Rating|
Pro Football Reference
A difference does exist, however. Manning's trajectory heading into his third season was near vertical; he improved dramatically in his second season and was poised to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league for years to come.
Luck has improved, and many think he'll take the leap into the elite in 2014, but he's not there yet.
Will he get there? That's the question that will determine the Colts' fate for the next decade, health permitting (knock on wood, rub the rabbit's foot, etc.). In today's pass-happy league, a season of 30 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and at least 7.5 YPA would legitimately shoot Luck into the top-five conversation.
Can Luck ever be Peyton Manning? That's unlikely considering Manning's status as arguably the greatest quarterback in league history. But for the Colts to be where they are aiming, Luck must be among the league's best.
Now, we're just waiting to see it happen.
All statistics and snap counts come from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. All training camp observations were obtained firsthand by the reporter unless otherwise noted.