Andrew Luck is going to be the savior of the Indianapolis Colts. The first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft is so prodigiously talented that he’ll step right into Peyton Manning’s shoes and turn the Colts back into contenders. The Colts will transition from one Hall of Fame QB to another without any issues. Luck is the most gifted passing prospect the NFL has seen since, well, Manning. So, of course, Luck will succeed.
So it is written. So it shall be done.
Except for one thing. This is the NFL, a league where heavily hyped QBs often fail miserably. (See: JaMarcus Russell, Matt Leinart, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Heath Shuler, etc.) Making the transition from college football stud to NFL star rarely goes smoothly, even for the best prospects.
Granted, Luck appears to be a lot more Manning than Leaf. Had he come out in 2011, he would have been rated as the No. 1 pick in that draft as well. Luck has almost all the positives you could want in a QB. He is accurate, has excellent mobility, reads defenses well, stays calm under pressure and makes big plays at big moments. He’s nearly as athletic as No. 2 prospect Robert Griffin III, and he passes the eye test.
At his recent Pro Day workout, Luck heard all the whispers about RG3 climbing the charts and potentially overtaking him. He responded by completing 45 of 48 passes with only one bad throw, despite winds that gusted at up to 20 miles per hour.
Luck appears to have all the tools needed for success. But he hasn’t actually stepped onto an NFL field yet.
And when he does, he faces ridiculously high expectations. He’ll be replacing the greatest player and perhaps most beloved player in franchise history. The legendary Johnny Unitas may rank higher on the Colts food chain, but Johnny’s heyday was the 1950s and ’60s. Manning was the modern QB who gave the Colts legitimacy in Indianapolis and turned the team into a perennial contender. And like it or not, Luck will be seen as the man who ran Manning out of town.
“There’s going to be a lot of pressure on him from the start,” says one AFC scout. “More than has ever been on any other No. 1 pick. I don’t have any doubt about his skills, but there have been many highly skilled players who don’t make it for one reason or another. If he can’t handle the pressure, he’s going to be playing catch-up from the start. It could wear him down.”
You’d better hope so, kids.
When you replace a legendary figure, you are expected to produce right away. There will be about one-week grace period, if that, before Luck needs to start throwing touchdown passes by the dozen. And the squeeze will get even tighter if Manning himself proves healthy and produces big numbers for his new team, the Denver Broncos.
Add in the fact that the Colts aren’t exactly the same team as the one that made the playoffs year after year with Manning. The defense has always been suspect, and the surrounding talent on offense is average or worse. How is Luck supposed to succeed if the D is a sieve, he’s swamped with pass rushers and his offensive teammates aren’t making plays for him?
While some quarterbacks, like Carolina’s Cam Newton, can step in and start producing immediately, it’s still better for a QB to have at least a short period to get acclimated. There’s no thought of that happening with Luck. He will be viewed as the franchise savior from Day One.
“I love his accuracy and his pocket presence,” says one NFC scout. “But he loves that short pass to his fullback. That was one of his bread-and-butter plays in college. How will he react if they take that away from him? It could make his adjustment that much harder.”
This kid may have the makeup to be an excellent pro quarterback, but he still has to do it. And facing more pressure than any rookie has ever faced just might mean more misfortune than magic.
Then again, his last name is Luck.