Analysis: Did Andrew Luck exceed hype or fall short?
Special to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
(Editor’s note: This article is the latest in an ongoing series looking at quarterbacks’ achievements that have aged well over the past 80 NFL seasons.)
Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, many considered Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck the finest prospect at the position since PEYTON MANNING. Other invoked the name of another Cardinal standout: JOHN ELWAY.
With sky-high expectations already, the Indianapolis Colts’ decision to release Manning following four neck surgeries to make room for his heir-apparent didn’t do anything to slow down a hype machine in full throttle.
Would lightning strike twice for Indianapolis? Was Luck already a Top 10 NFL quarterback before taking a professional snap? Surely he would be destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, right?
While that might seem a bit hyperbolic more than 11 years later, this was the kind of talk surrounding sports bars, water coolers and social media at the time and in the early years of Luck’s short but spectacular run in the National Football League.
Like Manning, Luck was the son of an NFL quarterback. Oliver Luck, a former president and general manager in NFL Europe, spent five seasons (1982-86) with the Houston Oilers. During two of those seasons (1982-83), he backed up Manning’s father, Archie. Oliver appeared in 20 games, notching nine starts, completing 233 passes for 2,544 yards and 13 touchdowns.At Stanford, Andrew Luck turned a program that had averaged only 3.6 wins per season from 2002-08 into a program that won 23 of 26 games in 2010 and 2011. He finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy twice and entered the 2012 NFL Draft as one of the highest regarded pro prospects in NFL history.
Off to a fast start
As a rookie with Indianapolis, Luck helped lead the Colts to 11 wins. He set an NFL rookie record with 4,374 passing yards, an AFC rookie record with 28 total touchdowns and tied an NFL single-season record with seven game-winning drives.
The Colts would go on to win 11 games every year from 2012-14.
In 2013, Luck’s 229-yard, two-touchdown, zero-interception, 104.0 passer-rating performance gave the Colts a 34-28 win over the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and the “Legion of Boom.”
In 2014, Luck (40) edged out Manning (39) to lead the NFL in touchdown passes. His 5,034 total yards set a Colts franchise record and led all quarterbacks that season. After upsetting Manning and the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the postseason, the Colts advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 2009.
In 2015, Luck tore his labrum in September before lacerating his kidney against the Denver Broncos in November. In that final act of the season, Luck’s two-touchdown, zero-interception, 98.4 passer-rating performance gave the Colts a 27-24 win over the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Luck bounced back in a big way in 2016. He led the AFC in both total yards (4,581) and total touchdowns (33) despite missing a full game. His 7.8 yards per passing attempt were second in the conference, trailing only Tom Brady (8.2). The Colts finished 8-7 in games Luck played, no small feat for a team whose defense surrendered 6.0 yards per play (31st in the NFL).
Injury kept Luck out for the entirety of the 2017 season.
Luck returned in 2018 and compiled what many considered his best season. He led the league in sack-percentage (2.7%), threw for 4,593 yards and finished second in the NFL in both pass completions (430) and touchdowns (39). He led the Colts to another double-digit win season (10-6) and another playoff victory (21-7 vs. Texans) before falling short to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs 31-13 in the final game of his NFL career.
End of the road
Luck retired before the start of the 2019 regular season, a move many criticized. Consider, however, that he started 57 consecutive games (including the postseason) before missing a game, and the list of quarterbacks who battled through hits, injuries and pain to sacrifice for their team more than Luck is an awfully short one.
Although his career came to a close earlier than most would have anticipated, it’s important to look back on his 5½ seasons as a starter and realize the full scope of his on-field accomplishments. Luck not only lived up to the hype, he exceeded it.
At the time of his retirement, Luck’s 293.8 total yards per game was the highest mark of any player in NFL history (minimum 75 starts). During the 2010s, Luck averaged more total yards and total touchdowns per 16 games with the Colts (4,700 and 35) than Tom Brady did with the Patriots (4,532 and 34). He didn’t walk away from football with the rings or individual awards that many hoped to see from a player of his caliber, but how many others could have put up the numbers Luck did with the teams he played for? How many others could have won as many games?
It’s something to consider.
Ryan Michael is statistician, sportswriter and contributor to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You can follow him on Twitter: @theryanmichael .
This article is the latest in an ongoing series highlighting noteworthy quarterback play over the past 80 seasons. Information from Pro-Football-Reference.com’s database helped make the research possible.
More of this series
- Analysis: Charlie Conerly’s giant accomplishments hold up as eras pass
- Y.A. Tittle’s journey from San Francisco to New York
- Analysis: An appreciation of Sammy Baugh’s historic 1943 season
- Legendary seasons for Sid Luckman, Peyton Manning separated by 70 years
- Looking back at TB12’s historic 2011 season 12 years later
- Russell Wilson’s decade of dominance in Seattle remains elite
- Roger Staubach’s 1971: The greatest season you’ve never heard about
- Silver anniversary: Randall Cunningham’s solid gold season with Vikings
- 50 years since Unitas’ last pass: Some things you might not know about No. 19
- Race to the top: Brady’s battle with Brees for the NFL’s most hallowed record
- Analysis: Did Andrew Luck exceed hype or fall short?
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