Is Andrew Luck Elite?

Entering the fourth season of his NFL career, Andrew Luck has amassed a sufficient sample size of statistics and tape for people to analyze. Yet there still remains a discrepancy about where he ranks among the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

While most wouldn't doubt Luck's immense potential, there are still some who believe he is a step behind elite quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and even his predecessor Peyton Manning. 

With expectations at an all-time high for the Indianapolis Colts this offseason, and a massive contract extension on the horizon, now seems like a good time to analyze if Luck is truly among the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

What do the Statistics Say?

INTs  CMP %   
Pro Football Focus
Pro Football
ESPN's Total QBR
201323 (15th)9 (22nd)60.2% 

*Rankings are shown in parenthesis.

The table shown above statistically analyzes the last two years of Luck's career. You might be asking why does 2013 matter when we're trying to determine what type of quarterback Luck is right now?

Well, I'm glad you asked. The NFL has a relatively short schedule compared to other sports, and suffers from small sample sizes with only 16 games to look at from year-to-year.

You wouldn't say Teddy Bridgewater is a better quarterback than Philip Rivers, just because statistically he played better than him the last five games of the season. Past performances matter; it helps us eliminate fluky seasons (I'm looking at you, Josh McCown).

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The first thing that pops out when analyzing the table are the significant increases in touchdowns, interceptions and yards per attempt from 2013 to 2014.  These increases could have direct correlations to an increase in pass attempts and more specifically deep pass attempts, and Luck just becoming more confident as a passer.

The 40 touchdowns Luck threw in 2014 are a huge plus in his favor; there's no denying his ability to put points on the scoreboard. This was especially prominent in the red-zone, where Luck improved substantially from his 2013 campaign and emerged has one of the NFL's best in this regard, throwing 25 touchdowns to one lone interception.

Now the interceptions are an interesting topic to discuss because usually those who believe Luck doesn't belong in the elite discussion will bring up the 16 interceptions as evidence against him. And while this is a discouraging figure, it's not as significant as it seems.

Luck's career interception percentage of 2.4% is actually the ninth lowest of all time. This puts him ahead of notable quarterbacks such as Drew Brees, Joe Montana and Manning. Now these interceptions do show up on tape as lapses in judgement from time to time, but Luck's interception percentage proves that it's not as frequent an issue as it is made out to be.

Luck's completion percentage is concerning, but it doesn't take into account things out of a quarterback's control like dropped passes, which Luck's receivers led the league in. Pro Football Focus has a Quarterback Accuracy Percentage that tries to eliminate these types of factors, and while his percentage increases substantially to 73.3%, this still puts his rank at 16th compared to the other quarterbacks for the 2014 season.

Another reason for his completion percentage could be the amount of deep passes Luck attempts and also just the sheer amount of pass attempts in general, but there's only so many excuses you can make.  If we were keeping score, this would definitely be a minus against Luck.

Interestingly enough, the advanced statistics, shown underlined, place Luck's rank in about the same range performance-wise, right around 9-12.  Furthermore, you will notice that Luck has mostly improved, by numbers or ranking, in those three categories.

The conclusion you'd make by analyzing the advanced statistics is that it seems to agree with the assessment that Luck is a step behind the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

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You probably wouldn't put Luck in the elite echelon of quarterbacks by analyzing the table. The most appropriate spot would probably be either just inside or outside the top-10. 

However, analyzing statistics is a subjective process no matter how much you yell about your favorite player's Pro Football Focus Grade.

Nick Foles set the record in 2013 for the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history, but if you even mentioned him in an elite quarterback discussion, well then you were probably an Eagles' fan.

Numbers are useful, but they don't tell the whole story; that's why it's important to watch these quarterbacks in action.

So What Does the Tape Say?

  • Luck has the ability to throw into tight windows.

This first clip shows Luck complete a 28-yard over the shoulder fade; Naturally, Luck puts it in a perfect spot for wide receiver Reggie Wayne to make the catch.

This is one of the most difficult throws in the NFL, but Luck has the ability to squeeze throws into the tightest windows.  

  • Still not convinced? Here's a couple more examples of Luck doing just that in the video below.

The statistics say Luck has average accuracy, but by analyzing his tape you come away impressed by the sheer ease he displays at making even the most difficult throws. Exceptional accuracy is what separates the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL and with his above average-arm strength, Luck is right up there with them in this regard.

  • Luck has above-average arm strength.

Luck's arm strength isn't to the level of a Matthew Stafford or Jay Cutler, but make no mistake about it; Luck can make all the throws, and he isn't afraid to throw the deep ball.

Luck led the league in passes of 20 yards or more, and coupled with the touch Luck has on the football, it's easy to see why.

  • Luck has the athleticism to make plays with his feet and the awareness to know when to use them. 

In the video above you see Luck have the awareness and athleticism to scramble to the outside for a touchdown.

This play highlights something very underappreciated about Luck: his ability to know when it's appropriate to take off. Many might not consider this a valuable trait, but when you watch a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick, who will run if his first target isn't open, you appreciate Luck's ability to attack opponents in this way.

Luck is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the NFL, and he knows how to give defenses headaches with his ability to take off only at the most effective times.

  • Luck is a progression passer that can read the whole field.

While watching the video above you see Luck going through all of his progressions. There are five wide receivers available for Luck to throw to on that play, but he successfully read the coverage and made the right decision to run.

Luck can ruin a defense's day by slicing through coverages.

  • Luck has great pocket movement and toughness.

In the clip above, Luck evades two pass rushers while doing a great job of keeping his eyes down-field and throwing a strike to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a positive play.

Not many quarterbacks show this type of athleticism to evade defenders, while simultaneously remaining confident enough to make an accurate pass. Since the start of his NFL career Luck has had to deal with a mediocre offensive line, so his success has been predicated on his ability to make plays with defenders in his face.

Luck isn't afraid to stand tall in the pocket and take a hit, and this is a testament to the toughness he displays on the field. In terms of NFL quarterbacks, Luck is as tough as they come. Need more evidence? Luck has consistently been one of the most abused quarterbacks in the NFL since the start of his career, and he has yet to miss a start.

Luck's pocket movement has evolved into the best in the NFL, and this, coupled with his ability to stand tall in the pocket amid pressure, adds for a dangerous combination for defenses.

  • Luck has the ability to make jaw dropping plays.

When you combine all of the attributes mentioned (above-accuracy, athleticism, arm strength, great pocket movement, and toughness) you get a quarterback who is capable of making unbelievable plays like the ones in the video above.

The only other quarterback who is comparable to Luck in this regard is Rodgers, and that's high company to be placed with. So while other quarterbacks might appear to be ahead of Luck statistically, Luck is leaps ahead of these same quarterbacks on tape.

The Verdict:

Mark Twain once said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." And this seems to embody the argument against Luck being elite perfectly. The statistics don't begin to tell the whole story about Luck's exceptional ability as a quarterback.

Point blank: There are only a handful of quarterbacks in the NFL that can do what Luck does regularly on a football field, and that is what makes him elite.

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