Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
RS Sophomore, 6’4″, 235 lbs.
Luck has earned a great deal of respect among the scouting community after only a season and a quarter of starts. Russ Lande at the Sporting News even went so far as to call him the best QB prospect he’s seen in over ten years. Watching Luck, it’s easy to see what the scouts are getting so excited about. It’s rare that a prospect possesses the kind of savvy and level of NFL preparation that Luck does, features made all the more astonishing when you realize how young he is as a player. I sat down this season, curious as to what the hype was all about. Needless to say, I came away impressed by Luck’s body of work this season. I understand the praise media scouts like Lande, Wes Bunting, and Greg Gabriel are lavishing on Luck. Frankly, I don’t entirely disagree with Lande’s wild claim. Sure folks might be getting a little carried away, but credit that to Luck because he’s a lot of fun to watch. Simply put, Andrew Luck and Blaine Gabbert (his likely rival to be the top QB in the class), are two of the most thrilling quarterbacks I’ve seriously evaluated. Between them, they make for one of the most compelling QB classes of the decade.
Don’t just take my word for it though. Fortunately for us, youtube user AloAloysius has made two fine videos of cutups on Luck’s Wake Forest and USC games from last season.
vs. Wake Forest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yCvZcZFmzE
One of Luck’s greatest strengths is his mobility, as he’s one of the most mobile prospects I’ve watched. It’s not just about his impressive footspeed either. He’s the best prospect at moving around in the pocket in the country. He does a phenomenal job of feeling and avoiding pressure while keeping his eyes downfield, and he can step up and reset better than a lot of NFL quarterbacks do. From a footwork standpoint, his movement is very rapid and compact. At 6’4″, he’s got a big frame but he’s not a leggy athlete and can work in small pockets. His drops are textbook and executed with both smoothness and urgency. He consistently plays with proper weight distribution, but is also capable of throwing with good placement and touch when off balance. He already looks extremely comfortable running play action. Watch the playfake at the 0:50 second mark in the USC video. Luck executes a smooth seven step drop, whips his head around quick, and then makes the quick read and deft pass to his fullback who runs for a first down. On the playfake before that one, he executes a nice drop, immediately recognizes the pressure, sinks his shoulder to avoid it and extend the play, and then makes the correct read for the smooth shovel pass to his RB who takes it for a tough first down. Not many college QBs have the arsenal of skills that Luck showed off on that single play. Yet Luck makes those kinds of chain moving plays all of the time. The Stanford line is pretty ordinary, and it doesn’t always give him a consistently clean pocket. But Luck is so good at recognizing pressure and moving his feet and he’s got such a blazingly fast release that he almost never gets sacked. In 436 attempts, he’s only been sacked 8 times.
And I just went for that entire paragraph without talking about how impressive he is when he actually leaves pocket and decides to run with it. Luck has some wheels and is an impressive natural athlete in space. He’s also a big quarterback with a strong lower half capable of running through tackles, which he shows off at the 4:16 mark of the USC video. Luck is an extremely instinctive football player that has great vision as a runner and you see him show it off when he winds his way through a defense. He’s someone that the defense has to account for on third and long, because he’ll be able to pick up those first downs on broken plays in the NFL too. I like that he knows when to pull it down and lower a shoulder to fight for yards, when to slide, and when to slip out of bounds after he’s done his job. He’ll be one of the most athletic QBs in the league one day. My favorite play of his in the game against Oregon this past weekend came after a turnover. The Stanford receiver fumbled the ball after a vicious hit and it looked like the Oregon defender who recovered it was off to the races. Instead Luck chased him down inside the five yard line and made an impressive, bone jarring tackle that saved the touchdown and actually knocked the ball lose. That’s not a play you typically see a quarterback make. It showed a lot of athleticism and balls.
Luck isn’t just an athlete though. He’s a mechanically polished passer with a lot of arm talent, who reminds me a lot of Jay Cutler as a passer. Like Cutler, he’s got an extremely rapid, compact, throwing motion and his capable of making throws from multiple angles. You’ll see him make a lot of off balance throws, but he’ll complete them easily. He just doesn’t need to set and wind up to get the ball out. His arm strength isn’t anything to write home about at this point, and it’s one area where he differs from Cutler. But I’d say it’s about as strong as Sam Bradford’s was and Luck shows off a couple of passes in those videos where he steps up and drives the ball down field into tight windows. The pass at the 2:50 mark of the USC video is a beautiful example of his ability to drive the football and attack the safeties over the middle of the field. At the 4:02 mark of the same video, Luck runs playaction, steps up, and then sticks a beautiful deep comeback across his body on a rope to Whalen–an NFL caliber throw. Plus, as Greg Gabriel has pointed out, Luck’s arm will get stronger as he gets older. He’s still only 21 years old and hasn’t finished filling out. He’ll get into an NFL training program with NFL QB coaching and strengthen his wrist snap and add upper body bulk. I don’t think he’ll have a limited passing repertoire in the NFL. Luck is also an accurate passer who generally throws with very good ball placement and timing. His receivers make a ton of plays after the catch because Luck throws such a catchable pass, especially when passing underneath and on the run. He can get a bit erratic over stretches of a game, but I think you can chalk that up to a young quarterback being a bit excitable from a lack of experience.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, Luck excels at making progression reads and he plays in an NFL style offense where he’s asked to read the whole field. His decision making has generally been good, evidenced by his low interception totals, although he does force the ball into double coverage at times. For a player so young and inexperienced, Luck sees the field extremely well, and it’s obvious he’s an intelligent guy that processes information very quickly. I love his ability to manipulate safeties with his eyes and open things up for his receivers. I also love how easily and naturally he keeps the chains consistently moving on offense by finding his late options underneath. Best of all, there is no question of Luck’s physical and mental toughness in my eyes like there has been with other top prospects like Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez. Going back to that tackle in the Oregon game, Luck is a surprisingly physical player who thrives under pressure and making positive plays after the timing has broken down.
What he entails for the Redskins
I think Luck is going to be a very successful quarterback in the NFL provided he finds a home with a decent franchise. I think he’d be a terrific fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense and would be the type of rookie that could probably come in and start some games before the end of the year despite only being 21 years old. If the Redskins are looking for a quarterback in the offseason, Luck would be a great choice and offer tremendous value in the first round. The trouble in projecting luck to the Redskins is that he’ll probably go much earlier than we’ll be drafting. If a team in need of a QB like Buffalo or San Francisco ends up finishing with the first overall selection, it’s not a stretch to project Luck being drafted there. Also, with Donovan McNabb likely to sign an extension sometime before free agency begins, the priority for the FO might become finding weapons on offense and defense to support McNabb rather than finding and selecting his successor. I think there is also a very good chance that Luck might decide to return to school for his junior season and then this will all become a discussion for next year. But if he does come out, and he does slip into a manageable draft range (say 10-15) I could certainly see Mike Shanahan either selecting him or trading up to take him (depending on where we end up drafting). After all, the NFL player I’d say Luck resembles most as a passer at this point is Jay Cutler, who Mike Shanahan traded up to draft in 2006. And he did this despite going to the AFC championship game with Jake Plummer four months earlier. I honestly wouldn’t care what Shanahan gave up in order to draft Luck, current draft picks, future picks, his soul, etc. Luck is a special prospect with rare talents. I’ve currently ranked him slightly ahead of Gabbert as the best QB prospect in a special class.