Five Plays and the Draft – Andrew Luck.

Greetings. Having finished my allotted work for the term, it’s time to get back on the bandwagon with a new Five Plays. Greg has most courteously asked me to focus on the draft, and as such, here we are. We’ve all heard the platitudes and praise which refer to Luck as the ‘greatest prospect in decades’ or the ‘best since Elway’. Is there truth within such statements, or is it another example of an over-excited media getting too far ahead of themselves? In due course, I’ll explain what I think of Andrew Luck and will hopefully show a few plays which prove demonstrative in terms of where Luck is strong and where he isn’t.

Let’s begin.

 

Play #1 – Stanford vs Virginia Tech – Orange Bowl 2011.

The following is the sort of play which just makes you go ‘wow’. I’ve got real questions about Luck’s arm strength from a static position, but the following does do something to help in that it displays his arm strength on the move, which is above average.

The play is run from a heavy formation, namely the 1WR 3TE 1RB set. The routes run are all fairly shallow, allowing for a quick checkdown in the event of a blitz.

In the event, the protection doesn’t hold up overly well and Luck does a poor job in making his reads, in my opinion.

The pressure eventually comes to bear, and Luck is forced into an impromptu roll out. Watch the notable athleticism in terms of escaping the pocket and the pressure along with it.

He keeps Coby Fleener in mind all the while, and has the confidence to try and make an absolutely outrageous throw across the field.

He throws the ball as he’s being dragged down to the floor, and he somehow releases it with adequate power despite working from a decidedly shaky base.

And bear in mind this is a throw 30 yards downfield. The throw is absolutely immaculate, and it’s one of the best I’ve certainly seen in recent years.

It’s complete, and from a 3rd and 3 situation – and one in which Luck appeared to have certainly been sacked – the Cardinal are able to move downfield and resume their drive. Absolutely top quality.

Play #2 – Stanford vs Virginia Tech – Orange Bowl 2011.

The following play is almost as outrageous.

Luck lines up in the 3WR 1TE 1RB formation. He has a few checkdown routes both to the left and the right, though from the design of the play he’s going to roll right post-snap. Watch Coby Fleener (again) in red.

As mentioned, Luck rolls right and is always seeking his safety blanket, Fleener. The protection from the OL is absolutely fantastic, which enables Luck to concentrate his efforts on going downfield.

Working from an unsteady base as appears to be the norm, Luck puts everything onto the throw.

Fleener’s speed allows him to create separation in a fairly short window of time, which further enables him to look back for the ball and anticipate the flight and speed of the pass.

Luck leads his receiver perfectly, and Fleener is able to turn on the jets and accelerate away for the touchdown.

If asked to elaborate on which element of Luck’s game I’m most enthused with, his ability to lead the receiver is prominent. He’s excellent at anticipating routes and windows, and it shows on the field.

Play #3 – Stanford vs Notre Dame – 2011.

I promise this isn’t intentional – again we are to focus on the Luck-Fleener relationship.

The Cardinal line up in a 1WR 3TE 1RB set, which indicates both the nature of the Stanford offense as well as the receiving capabilities of the TEs in question, with emphasis on Coby Fleener. In this instance, Fleener is split out wide to the left and is in motion.

As Luck snaps the ball, he’s already looking over to the flat to consider a possible throw to the fullback, while also using his peripheral vision to note Fleener downfield. It’s a very small play-fake, and it’s executed fairly smoothly.

In the event, Luck sets himself after a suitable drop and steps into the throw in the prescribed fashion, having briefly scanned the field.

He throws the ball 15 yards downfield to the open Fleener, who has managed to use his quickness and agility to create separation. The ball is placed exactly where it has to be placed – it’s both reasonably in-stride and shielded from the defender – and it allows Fleener the possibility of maintaining momentum.

Note: this piece may well reflect as many of the positives regarding Coby Fleener as it will Andrew Luck. Fleener makes the catch, swivels his hips and begins a charge to the endzone. The hapless Notre Dame defender can do little to prevent him from making the ground.

It’s all rather embarassing, but the point to be made is that the ball was delivered on-time and in a fashion which enables this sort of thing to happen.

To emphasise the simple nature of the play, these images do it best.

Fleener looks, he puts his hands out, and the ball arrives with precision – a skill which is clearly necessary and transferrable to the NFL.

Play #4 – Stanford vs Oklahoma State – Fiesta Bowl 2012.

The following play exhibits the primary concern I have with Luck – his arm strength.

The Cardinal line up in a 2WR 2TE 1RB set, with a play action on their mind.

The play-action is fairly convincing and certainly does enough to throw the Oklahoma secondary into disarray.

Luck gives himself enough room to step into the throw, while the pass protection holds up sufficiently.

Luck exhibits the form which scouts everywhere have been drooling about, releasing the ball from a high point.

The separation obtained by Ty Montgomery is absolutely huge, and displays the importance of the play action. The issue I have is displayed here – Montgomery has the separation and has to slow down for the ball to reach him. Against NFL defenders, he’d either have direct competition for the reception or at least the defense would more adequately transition into deep pass defense.

Montgomery eventually reaches back for the completion, and it ends up as a touchdown. Nonetheless, my concerns aren’t so readily dismissed.

From a wider angle, you can examine just how much separation Montgomery obtains, primarily due to the effectiveness of the play-action.

The completion has little to do with a great throw, and while the effectiveness of the play-action is certainly a laudable element in Luck’s play, I just don’t see anything more than average arm strength.

Play #5 – Stanford vs Oklahoma State – 2012 Fiesta Bowl.

The following is a fairly simple pass, but it does highlight the success of Luck and the Stanford Offense in the redzone – success which resulted in 67 scores out of 69 possessions, for a 97% conversion rate – and to my knowledge, Luck did not turn the ball over himself in that span.

The Cardinal line up in a 2WR 2TE 1RB set, with Zach Ertz lined up in the slot to the right. He’s being covered by Markelle Martin, the consensus top ranked FS in the class.

Martin backs off far too much, and I have no idea why he would. Ertz is a TE and has the accompanying limitations on athleticism which usually come with the position. It’s a quick slant, and Luck displays a quick release reminiscent of one Peyton Manning.

Martin even has the courtesy to fall over upon Ertz making the reception, and he’s allowed to progress unimpeded past the first down marker and towards the endzone.

The other safety in the defensive backfield makes a token effort to come over and make a play, but Ertz displays a hitherto unacknowledged athleticism.

He dives over the safety for a touchdown. Though I wouldn’t advocate a torpedo style landing face first particularly frequently.

Here the camera focuses on Ertz and the ease with which the touchdown is scored.

The ball is again placed exactly where it needs to be, and Ertz is able to continue running, maintaining his momentum for the moment of the catch.

Touchdown. Redzone efficiency is a key tool I use to evaluate quarterback play, and Luck is flawless in that respect. Just as we had with Peyton Manning, we can perhaps look forward to consistency in the redzone.

Conclusions:

What do I think of Andrew Luck? I think he’ll be a Pro Bowl Quarterback for many years. He displays above average skills in pretty much every area of quarterbacking, aside from arm strength. His anticipation, intelligence and ability to lead the receiver will undoubtedly lead him to success in the NFL, and I’m thankful that it’s likely going to be for the Colts. He clearly possesses the intangibles necessary to lead an NFL franchise, and his adaptibility and success while throwing on the run bodes well for a young player playing behind a shaky OL. That said, my concerns over his arm strength are fairly considerable. Most of the long passes made by Luck from a static position in the pocket invariably have the receiver waiting for the ball downfield, and as well as that, the ball tends to flutter in the air, which will create opportunities for opposing DBs to break on the ball and get pass deflections and INTs.

I’d look for Luck in a Colts uniform to develop a rapport with Austin Collie, as was the case with Coby Fleener and Doug Baldwin in previous years. One element to further hone in on is the run-first mentality exhibited at Stanford while Luck was QB. The Colts may well seek to mirror this in the first couple of years, and combined with Chuck Pagano’s desire to run the football, don’t be surprised if the offense becomes more simplistic.

Whether he can overcome the arm strength question will define his NFL career. If he can, All-Pro honours and potential candidacy for the Hall of Fame may well beckon, if I may make such a projection. If he cannot, then he’ll be a consistent quarterback at the Pro Bowl sort of level, but perhaps not much more. My loose NFL comparison would be to Aaron Rodgers, though with the caveat that Luck’s arm is much weaker, slightly mitigated by his clearly superior athleticism.

My course of action were I in the same situation as Irsay would likely have been to trade the pick (we can safely assume now that this would’ve brought in a yield of at least 3 first round picks and 2 second round picks) and build around one of the greatest of all time, for reasons of immediate success and posterity, in seeing out the end of the Manning era. As it is, we’re likely left with the best prospect in recent years, which slightly softens the blow.

Let me know what you think of Luck and the course of action you would have taken, in any case.

Go Colts.

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