Stanford Football: Could Andrew Luck Have a Better NFL Career Than John Elway?
Stanford football fans should consider themselves blessed. They've been Luck-y enough to witness two of the greatest college football quarterbacks of all time—Andrew Luck and John Elway—work their magic in Palo Alto.
Additionally, Cardinal fans saw Stanford alum Elway go on to a Hall of Fame career in the National Football League. Seeing Luck's success at Stanford has got me wondering how No. 12 will fare at the next level.
While some fans will find this ridiculous, there's a possibility that Luck could have a more prosperous pro career than Elway. I'm not saying he will, I'm saying he could.
Here are some reasons why.
Statistically, Their College Careers Are Nearly Identical
I realize some say that stats are for losers. Still, comparing the college statistics of Stanford quarterbacks Andrew Luck and John Elway is one of the few ways to predict whether Luck can match Elway’s pro success at the moment.
If you want to go on purely college stats alone, Luck is better than his Stanford counterpart. In four seasons as the Cardinal starting quarterback, Elway threw for 9,300 yards, 77 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. Through nearly three seasons as a starter, Luck has thrown for 8,800 yards, 76 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
Of course, Luck has had more surrounding talent than Elway did when he was under center in Palo Alto. The Cardinal are primed to appear in their second consecutive BCS bowl game under Luck’s guidance, while Stanford had only one winning season in Elway’s career.
Still, if you can match Elway even from a statistical standpoint, you must be doing something right.
Luck Could Thrive in the Right Situation
I can already hear the Bleacher Report community bashing me for making such an unambiguous, cookie-cutter statement about Andrew Luck. But hear me out for a moment.
Obviously, Luck has elevated Stanford from the outhouse to the penthouse in his three years in Palo Alto. Once left for dead after a 1-11 season in 2006, the Cardinal have won 10 games in back-to-back years under Luck.
However, those around Luck have played just as big a role in Stanford's resurrection on the gridiron. Former Stanford and current San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is quickly proving that he can turn teams around, and provides unparalleled quarterback tutelage (see: Smith, Alex).
It’s hard to not argue that Harbaugh didn’t somewhat make Luck into the quarterback he is today. And Stanford has had one of the best running offenses in the country the past two years, allowing Luck the luxury of shredding opposing defenses via play-action passes.
If Luck lands with a pro team of a similar build (astute coaching, potent running game), why can’t he match John Elway’s NFL success?
The NFL's Parity Favors Luck
In the salary cap era of the NFL, the dregs of the league aren’t confined to the basement forever. Thanks to free agency and equal revenue sharing, a losing team can bounce back quicker than ever these days.
So it wouldn’t be that inconceivable to see Andrew Luck immediately transform a team from losers to winners in the NFL. Winning early would put Luck on the fast track to matching John Elway’s five conference titles and two Super Bowl victories.
Obviously, Luck will have to actually play like Elway if he hopes to match that kind of success. But in a league where even perennial bottom feeders like the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals can find success, there’s no doubt that the NFL’s parity will provide Luck ample opportunities to thrive.
The NFL Loves Quarterbacks
Since the inception of the forward pass, the quarterback has been an integral part of football. But with all of the NFL rules so lax towards the passing game these days, there has never been a better time to be a professional quarterback. That’s good news for Andrew Luck.
Expect Luck to take full advantage of the beneficial rules when he starts playing on Sundays. You hit the quarterback high? It’s a penalty.
Hit him low? Penalty. You rough up one of his receivers after five yards? Expect a yellow flag. You hit him when he’s “defenseless?” More yellow.
Of course, Luck doesn’t need to hide behind a referee’s flag, considering how well he can dish out the punishment. Nevertheless, the NFL’s love for quarterbacks these days puts Luck in a position to have more success than John Elway ever could’ve dreamed of in his era.
The Transition Is Easier Than Ever
It’s tough to put a finger on exactly why certain quarterbacks who thrived in college—but were expected to struggle in the pros—haven’t missed a beat in their transitions from playing on Saturdays to Sundays. Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and even Tim Tebow have found at least moderate success as pro quarterbacks.
Whatever the reason, the NFL has become so QB-friendly that even marginal passers are doing well. So if the NFL is good to decent quarterbacks, it has to be great to polished, prototypical passers like Andrew Luck. And it is.
That’s why the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger constantly have their teams smack dab in the middle of the Super Bowl conversation. If Luck truly is the quarterback everyone thinks he will be at the next level, then he should have no problem entering the Super Bowl conversation himself.