Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Annals of Underestimated Genius

Is it possible, after all this while, after all this delightful brilliance, that Andrew Luck is still underestimated? It’s a commonplace that some people’s brilliance manifests itself as normality: that is, being so brilliant that everything looks normal, routine, easy, preordained. Perhaps this is Andrew Luck: he does things so perfectly—passing, running, intelligence—that it’s hard to realize or compare the extent of his accomplishments. I wonder this because Tim Kawakami released a list of the top twenty QB prospects of the last decade, at the time of their being drafted (i.e. no retrospective saying that clearly Tom Brady wuz the awesomest), and it seems to me Kawakami underestimates Luck extensively. The quarterbacks Kawakami ranks above Luck are: Michael Vick, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers.

Now, while stats aren’t everything in judging how a player will transition from college to the pros, they are something, aren’t they? I’ve decided to list the stats of the players Kawakami ranks above Luck during their second season in college. (I’ve also decided to throw in one Peyton Manning.) The contrast will be enlightening:

(Or not. Let's just say Luck wins, shall we? I screwed up the HTML and can't find the original code. Vick had 1500 passing yards with about 8 ypa and 560 rushing yards with about 5.6 ypc; Eli Manning went for 2900+ yards but with 9 INT and 7.2 ypa; negative rushing yardage; P. Manning had 2500 yards, 4 INT and 7.7 ypa; Rivers went with 2500+ yards, 7 INT and 7.0 ypa. Luck is, right now, 2500+ yards, 8.4 ypa, 7 INT with 373 rushing yards and 8 ypc.

Note that Luck’s stats are only through 10 games; given 3 more games to increase his stats, he might well end up absolutely destroying his ancestral peers as opposed to merely equaling them. Note that Luck has the highest yards/attempt passing-wise and the highest yards/attempt running-wise. While not being a connoisseur of mid-90s-mid-aughts college football, it seems unlikely that any of these quarterbacks operated at a massive talent deficit relative to Luck; indeed, I suspect many of these teams had greater talent than Luck’s. Luck has faced a tough schedule—the Sagarin ratings say Stanford’s faced the eighth most-difficult schedule in the country. The offense has neither been dumbed down for college player nor is it radically unlike anything you’d see in the NFL: it is, at its best, reminiscent of the Saints’ Super Bowl-winning team’s offense, in its emphasis with multiple looks, multiple formations, spreading around the ball to a wealth of receivers, and attacking the defense from short completions to long balls. Luck has therefore been asked to show nearly every possible skill he’ll need to show at the NFL, and has succeeded superlatively. Based on the comparison between Luck and these other garlanded quarterbacks, Luck is at least the equal and probably the better of them all at an equivalent age. The one difference between Luck and these other quarterbacks is the matter of the draft. Michael Vick left college after his redshirt sophomore season, as Luck might (and as Matt Sanchez did), and it took him a long time to adapt to the league as something other than a superbly gifted running quarterback. The other quarterbacks chose to stay until their senior season, which seems like an unrealistic wish on the part of Stanford fans. I suspect Luck will declare for the draft, if only because Harbaugh sounds like someone who has already discussed the matter thoroughly with Luck and reached a decision; and also because large sums of money are generally difficult things to turn down. And of course he’d be right to: that money won’t be around forever, for several reasons (injury; the possibility of a new CBA in the NFL limiting rookie wages NBA-style). The wildcard is the possibility of a strike or lockout, which might lead Luck to think about the coolness of leading a darkhorse national contender in 2011. The last question, of what would be best for Luck as a quarterback, rather than Luck as a person, is interesting also: the quarterbacks who come out early—Michael Vick and Mark Sanchez—often look a bit fuzzy, indecisive and confused when they first enter the league, and the lack of college experience surely has something to do with it. I suspect it’s also not an accident that most of the league’s best quarterbacks have chosen to go to school for four years; in fact, I’m pretty sure there’s a study that shows there’s a correlation between the number of starts and the success of a quarterback drafted in the first round, which is a more interesting result than you’d think.* But this is just wishing: here’s hoping Andrew Luck avoids the football Siberia known as the Buffalo Bills. *The reason it’s a more interesting result than you’d think is this. At first, you’d think, “duh”: if you start a lot in college, chances are you are a very good player and very good players tend to be more successful than many of the alternatives in the NFL. But I think the “drafted in the first round” qualifier is very interesting here: this means that the players have all been judged to be super-talented and yet the experience is still very important. So I think this is important, though I don’t think it’ll be an issue for Luck because he’s Andrew Luck. I generally think it’s a bad idea to draft a QB with the first pick because they are so very expensive, but this is Andrew Luck we’re talking about: he’ll probably be fine.
Pass Yds YPA TD INT Rush Yds YPC
Vick 1439 8 9 7 636 5.6
E. Manning 2948 7.2 31 9 9 .3
Rivers 2586 7.0 16 7 -26 -.6
P. Manning 2954 7.77 22 4 N/A N/A
Luck 2511 8.4 22 7 373 8.1

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