Every year hundreds of college football athletes declare their intentions for the NFL draft, immediately adhering to the "prospect" label and scrutiny from NFL personnel departments. A prospect can be identified as an athlete that has the potential to become a contributor to an NFL team.
However, not all prospects are created equal, as some are short, lacking athleticism and slowly developing while others are tall, mobile and have developed skills necessary to compete at a high level in the infancy of their NFL careers. The latter describes Stanford's Andrew Luck, an athlete who has captured the attention of NFL personnel men with his geeky smile, rugged neck beard and, more importantly, great throwing ability.
But what makes Luck one of the—if not the—top prospects in the 2012 NFL draft? Is it great pocket presence or accuracy? What about mobility? Join me in a full breakdown below of the Stanford quarterback.
Unlike Robert Griffin III, NFL scouts have no concerns over the size of Stanford's Andrew Luck. Luck is expected to check in at nearly 6'4", which gives him the size to see over defensive linemen and linebackers while under center and dropping back to pass. He also should have no issues seeing down the field.
Quarterbacks also have to have the necessary weight for their body to be able to hold up while taking on contact from defenders while they drop back to throw the ball or scramble for extra yards. The desired weight for an NFL quarterback is ideally around 220 pounds and the brainy Cardinal quarterback is likely to meet this requirement as he is expected check in over 230 pounds at the NFL Combine. Luck's body is well proportioned with his weight balanced in the upper and lower body.
Andrew Luck is mechanically sound as any quarterback coming out in recent years because his throwing motion has no wasted movement as the ball is "up and gone," like the late Bill Walsh would say.
He does a great job of going from his pre-pass triangle set to a quick over the top throwing motion that is reminiscent of Drew Brees'. As seen with Brees, Luck does a great job of securing the ball with both hands in the aforementioned triangle set before slightly dropping the ball and getting it over the top of himself to make the throw.
Footwork is arguably the most important aspect of quarterbacking at all levels of football because of its significant impact, positive or negative, on every throw. An underthrown pass is likely the result of poor footwork while quality footwork can give a downfield pass great accuracy and velocity. This is where Stanford's signal caller stands out from his competition, with various dropbacks from under center and out of shotgun.
While watching Luck, it is evident that he has complete knowledge of how to dropback, as he takes the necessary steps to complete not only a three-step drop, but five- and seven-step drops. This area of his game is very eye-opening because it is not something that quarterbacks coming out of college offenses often do, which I'll get into more later.
Moreover, he does an excellent job of transferring his weight over from his plant foot to his lead foot as he steps up into the pocket to deliver a throw. One of the issues that quarterbacks have is that they will erect their front leg, consequently becoming off-balance and decreasing their accuracy of their throw in the process. The goal is to have flexibility in the knee by bending it, thus having an open area between the lower thigh and upper rear of the leg and throwing a quality pass.
Speaking of accuracy, it is what separates the great quarterbacks from good ones, and this is another aspect of Luck's game that shines. Although critics will state that Luck has some open passing lanes to throw through, he has shown in the past that he can throw passes with high degree of difficulty such as through a tight window between two defenders or across the field from the opposite hash mark.
Furthermore, he's able to deliver passes with quality ball placement while understanding the leverage of the defender. This has been seen on numerous occasions throughout his collegiate season but one particular instance where this stood out was against Duke in the second week of the season. Luck stepped up in the pocket and threw a quality pass behind his intended target.
The reason for this is because if he led him, he would have either led the pass catcher into a collision with the deep safety or possibly thrown an interception. However, because of his high football intelligence, Luck delivered the ball behind his target for a completion while avoiding the aforementioned two possibilities.
To be able to throw a quality pass against defender leverage with accuracy, you must be able to avoid the defenses pass rush by either breaking contain, meaning stepping outside the pocket, or stepping up into it with the use of hitch steps.
Many young quarterbacks will be blindsided by a pass rusher in this case and take the sack or at times, leave the pocket altogether despite there being no pass rush, as can be often seen done by Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
However, this is not the case with the best quarterback in the 2012 NFL Draft class in my opinion because he shows the ability to step up through the pocket and deliver the ball to his pass catchers whether he is attacked by a defender from the blindside or up the middle, which we witnessed against Oklahoma State in Monday night's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and last years Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech.
Touch passes are a must have for quarterbacks because they do one of two things: drop the ball over and in between defenders in tight areas or throw an easily caught pass that doesn't require the pass catcher to break his stride, thus giving him a better chance of acquiring yards after the catch.
Examples of a quality touch pass can be seen on slant routes, which previously mentioned former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh often taught his quarterbacks. Touch passes to slant routes are important because it allows the pass catcher to haul in the pass and immediately set his sights upfield while a bullet pass would come at a faster speed, thus making it a difficult adjustment despite it being a short pass and potentially forcing the receiver to break his stride. This is simply one example as there are others that can be seen, but it is an attribute that Luck possesses.
Going from a touch pass to a bullet is not always easy, but that is something that I look to do in an effort to asses Luck's arm strength. This trait is one that is questioned the most by scouts because Luck does not have a great arm.
He is not going to throw the ball with great velocity fifty yards through the air like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will, but Luck's arm strength is good enough to complete all the required passes in an NFL playbook. These passes include deep Post routes, Corner routes as well as Out routes to the opposite hashmark. As Peyton Manning told Sports Illustrated's Peter King when asked about Luck's arm strength at his QB camp, "it gets there."
Perhaps an overlooked ability of his, the Stanford Cardinal quarterback has excellent mobility within the pocket as well as outside of it. He does a great job of using his feet to pick up first downs or when there is a heavy interior pass rush that flushes him out of the pocket. He is often able to pick up unexpected long gainers once he turns up the field.
Although he is not the quickest laterally, he has shown in the past that he's able to put some moves on a defender in the open field before eventually running through him, as witnessed in the video above.
Throwing On the Run
Having a quarterback who can move the pocket and distort coverages in the process is very important in today's game because of the schematic multiplicity on the defensive side of the ball.
Although Luck looks to run at times, he often aims to move the pocket, stay behind the line of scrimmage and deliver a pass. He often does this with success and one reason why is because he's patient in letting routes develop as he keeps his eyes downfield. While this may seem like an easy task to some, it is difficult for a quarterback to keep his eyes up while keeping in mind that he has to complete a pass with the use of fundamentals taught to him in practices.
One may ask, what are the fundamentals of throwing on the run? For a quarterback to complete a downfield pass while moving, he must keep in mind that he has to make sure he throws off his correct foot (the right) as well as square his hips before rotate them to get his belt buckle turned to his target. By doing all of this, he is able to successfully complete a pass.
This last aspect is one that leaves many NFL personnel men asking, "can he transition to our pro-style offense?" And in Luck's case, the answer comes with an emphatic "yes!"
He operates in a scheme that often has him under center and executing various drop backs. These drop backs include 5 and 7-step drops that were noted earlier. These two dropbacks are important to note because they are a part of all NFL playbooks and most importantly, they require the quarterback to go through more than one or two reads.
As stated earlier, collegiate quarterbacks often spend time in a spread offense that simplifies their reads to one or two receivers. Because of this, they are a step behind others at the NFL level where quarterbacks are often going through double the reads. Andrew Luck is able to drop back in the pocket by planting his back foot and finding his first read, then going through a second and a third with hitch steps up into the pocket before finding his outlet (or "checkdown") receiver in the flats or over the formation. This is not a one time thing, its something he does multiple times in each game.
The quarterback position is one that is very difficult to grade due to the various aspects of the game that must transition to the NFL level. However, because of Luck's arm talent as well as football intelligence, he makes the transition to the NFL smoother as he is able to immediately step in (if needed) and have his team be competitive in the league.
I strongly believe that Luck is the top prospect in the 2012 NFL draft by a wide margin, and I expect him to go first overall to the Indianapolis Colts, who are in dire need of a future quarterback.