For my money, Luck’s the best QB of the bunch: the most yards, yards/attempt, and the fewest INTs. In fact, I’ve left out one of the best points in Luck’s favor: his rushing (354 yards, 5.71 ypc; none of the other QBs are even close to being comparable). So he’s clearly the best of his generation—how does he stack up to other great QBs in their first year starting? (only true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, sophomores or redshirt sophomores who play in a relatively pro-style offense count; I think other players are too old/experienced to be a good comparison) This list is necessarily somewhat partial (I can’t remember every relevant comparison)—feel free to suggest other guys to compare to.
I don’t want to make any grandiose statements here, but Luck’s season at least stacks up with these other guys—it’s not ridiculous to compare them. Now, there’s a lot of distance been here and there (future distance), and in many cases Luck had a better team surrounding him. But still. Keep developing and we’ll start comparing second-season statistics.
But the main question to answer in terms of Luck’s development is what his surrounding talent is going to be like for the next couple of years, and whether it will be good enough to keep all the heat off of him (and if it isn’t, whether he’s good enough not to wither). So let’s examine the other guys.
Backs, Half-full, half-empty
Who’s Leaving: I know we’re all broken up about Josh Catron, but they all have to leave. And that Toby Gerhart—he was a gamer, wasn’t he? (I already miss Toby, and he hasn’t even won the Heisman yet. We knew him when, just remember that.)
Who Will Replace Him: Well, that’s a discussion in of itself. First of all, let me just note a minor point of worry: Josh Catron leaving is a problem, seeing as there’s only one scholarship FB left on the roster—Marecic. So it would certainly be bad if he got injured (maybe a move to a Joe Gibbs-type offense, with a ton of H-backs? I don’t know).
Meanwhile, the more pressing/interesting question is, who exactly replaces Toby Gerhart? I guess it’s possible the early favorite is Jeremy Stewart, but his career yards per rush is only 3.9, and he just looks like a stereotypical short-yardage back to me. But I could be wrong. But I see more potential in two of the freshmen, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. The former, Taylor, produced a pretty impressive season for a Stanford freshmen running back (298 yards, 5.4 ypc; compare and contrast with Toby Gerhart, 375 yards, 3.5 ypc and Anthony Kimble 244 yards, 3.7 ypc. Not the best comparison--woeful offensive line those two years; great one this year—but I think it gets the point across: Taylor was pretty good). Gaffney also had some nice, tough runs. Significantly, he was compared to Toby Gerhart coming out of high school, and Toby definitely gained steam as he kept on playing (he put on twenty pounds without losing speed, specifically; it’s something that would benefit Gaffney greatly). So the freshmen to sophomore transition, you’d figure, would be good for at least one of these guys.
But these aren’t the only two guys. There are two freshmen coming in, potentially, and it’s important to note each of them of folk-heroic-esque statistics attached to them: one rushed for 450 yards…on 9 carries in a game; the other once toted the ball 48 times in a game. Promising, perhaps. But for whatever promise these guys have, there’s one player who’s intriguing—maybe the most intriguing player heading into next year—is Usua Amanam. He’s a freshmen who missed the entire year because of toe injury. Heading into the year, running backs coach Willie Taggart referred to him as “special” and offensive coordinator David Shaw said “let’s not define Usua by one position or another” as he is apparently, just a player who can play wideout, slot, running back. And then there’s his recruiting ratings:
Scout.com: #22 RB nationwide
Rivals.com: #71 Athlete
ESPN: #148 RB nationwide
Bizarre, huh? Bizarre…and intriguing? Of course it is. You’re welcome.
(BTW, videos of the potential incoming freshmen: here and here; video of Amanam in high school: here)
Comfort Level: 4. It’s tough to replace a superstar. Unless there’s a superstar lurking here…but we’ll assume there isn’t. 4.
Who’s Leaving: Marinelli and Allen Smith, at a minimum; probably Matt Kopa also.
Who Will Replace Them: The first four linemen are set, and should improve. It’s who steps up to the RT spot and general depth that’s a question, and somewhat worrying. I have no opinions as to which players will step up into that void—Mabry?—who knows. That said, Martin and DeCastro should take big steps up and perhaps even earn some recognition. (As to the linemen depth question—maybe one of the TEs will be converted into a lineman? Who knows? That’s a huge mystery.)
Who’s Coming In: we’ve got a great, great class of linemen coming in. However, only rarely do they contribute as true freshmen. Wait a year.
Comfort Level: 7. Pray for no injuries.
Who’s Leaving: Jim dray, solid player.
Who Will Replace Him: Either Fleener or Reuland or…one of the five tight ends who will be redshirt freshmen….or one of the two tight ends recruited to be freshmen. I like Reuland the most but they’re both good and who knows about those other tight ends.
Comfort Level: 10. There are literally no worries here.
Who’s Leaving: No one.
Who’s Getting Better: well, hopefully Chris Owusu. For how frustrating he can be, he really had a dynamic season in general. But it’s frustrating because he really could’ve done better.
(Also, there are the highly recruited Jamal Patterson, Jemari Roberts and Drew Terrell.)
But what I worry about is this: our passing game is very monodimensional—it’s deep ball, deep ball, deep ball, deep ball all the time. That’s what explains Luck’s 8.94 ypa and 56% completion rate. You’d like to see more working the intermediate routes, and you’d like to see a Wes Welker, Damian Williams-type emerge: someone who can do the crossing routes and run well after the catch. I’m not sure that player’s on the roster. And given that the offense is likely to be more passing-oriented, I’d like there to be. We’ll see how the players develop.
Comfort Level: 5. The wideouts were fine for what their jobs were this year. But they’ll be more of a focal point next year. Can they stand up to the job? I don’t know, and that’s what I’m somewhat uncomfortable.
Overall assessment: The offense was great this year. It likely needs to be just as good next year for Stanford to have a season of similar quality. Is that going to happen? It’s certainly possible—Luck’s a talent (see above)—but since even modest regression would be disastrous, you have to be at least somewhat uncomfortable.