Sports are a labeling business. The media, fans, players and even coaches help handout labels to nearly every athlete.
There are numerous amounts of labels, but perhaps none is bigger or more debated than which quarterbacks deserve the “elite” label. It’s all subjective, but elite for quarterbacks seems to stand for the top-five players in the position.
For years, the overall consensus on which quarterbacks are elite has been: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady — that fifth player seems to change every year.
After having only two seasons under his belt, Andrew Luck has already found himself in this heated discussion. Recently, ESPN analyst and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski said that Luck was indeed one of the top-five quarterbacks in the league. He backed his statement up by saying, “Luck has the most diverse skill set of any NFL quarterback.”
Jaworski’s comments came not too long after a report came out that said NFL executives believe Luck is a top-five quarterback.
The hype is real. But can Luck live up to it as early as this season?
The first thing to ponder is what pushes a quarterback into this top tier. You need to have an amazing skill set, signature moments, team success and many other things, but the main factor to most people might be the stats.
I know….I know, but stats are the easiest way to say, “That guys is definitely better than that other guy.” Well, at least when one individual clearly stands out.
Luck can have as many miraculous throws and comeback wins as he wants, but the sad fact of the matter is he won’t get the “elite” nod from the world until his stats back it up. After all, Peyton Manning was considered the best quarterback last season for one huge reason: His stats were much better than all his peers.
Let’s take a look at the average stats from the already established elite quarterbacks (not taking into account Rodgers since he missed half of the regular season). Between Peyton Manning, Brees and Brady, they averaged: 654.7 passing attempts, 7.7 yards per attempt, 65.8 percent completion percentage, 4,994 yards, 39.7 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Luck isn’t putting up those numbers quite yet.
The first thing I’ll bring up is touchdowns. Why? Well, because that’s the goal — getting touchdowns. Luck started his NFL career with a respectable 23 touchdown passes, but he was unable to grow that number in 2013. Out of all the other 16-game starters, Luck had more touchdown passes than only three other players: Colin Kaepernick (21), Joe Flacco (19) and Eli Manning (18). Alex Smith tied Luck with 23, and 14 other quarterbacks threw more scores than both of them.
Heck, Nick Foles threw for 27 touchdown passes with 253 less pass attempts. Yes, both situations are very different due to their systems, but still. It’s hard to sell yourself as an elite quarterback if you aren’t even throwing for 30 touchdowns.
Luck set the single-season record for most yards thrown in a rookie season with 4,374 yards, but then saw a big drop this year as he only threw for 3,822 yards. The amount of yards you throw for isn’t nearly as important as some of the other stats, but it still matters.
Luck threw for more yards than only five other 16-game starting quarterbacks: Russell Wilson (3,357), Cam Newton (3,379), Smith (3,313), Kaepernick (3,197) and Eli Manning (3,818). In today’s NFL, it seems like every decent quarterback is hitting the 4,000-yard mark. And from the average stats from already elite quarterbacks, they are nearly averaging 5,000 yards. Luck should have no problem piling on yards through the air, though.
Perhaps Luck’s biggest flaw from his rookie campaign was his completion percentage (54.1 percent). Some people were worried that he might just be an inaccurate passer, but Luck proved those people wrong after he saw a quick improvement this year by completing 60.2 percent of his passes.
But even though he greatly improved from his previous year, he still only had a better percentage than four other 16-game starters: Matthew Stafford (58.5 percent), Kaepernick (58.4 percent), Flacco (59 percent) and Eli Manning (57.5 percent). Luck should set his sights on a completion percentage of at least 65 percent. It’ll be interesting to see if he can cut down on the bad decisions and raise his percentage for a consecutive season.
Yards per attempt is probably the most overlooked statistic for quarterbacks. It’s a good stat to look at because it’s an easy way to see how much a quarterback is doing. Like passing yards, Luck saw his YPA go down in 2013 from his rookie season: 6.98 YPA to 6.71 YPA.
Like a lot of things for Luck, this has a whole lot more to do with the system he plays in rather than a flaw of his own. Luck has proven to make good decisions and make amazing things happen. Pep Hamilton just has to let him do it. Luck’s YPA was better than only TWO other 16-game starters: Ryan Tannehill (6.66) and Smith (6.52).
That’s just unacceptable.
It especially hurts when players like Wilson have a YPA of 8.25. Luck needs to get around a YPA of 7.5, and hopefully his coaches let him do that this year.
Finally, the only stat Luck was definitely elite in during 2013: interceptions. After throwing the ball to opposing players 18 times in 2012, Luck was fantastic in 2013 and had only 9 picks in the regular season.
There were only two 16-game starters who threw less turnovers: Smith (7) and Kaepernick (8). Luck even beat the average of the elite quarterbacks (11). A quarterback should always set his sights on having 10 or less interceptions, and Luck doing that in just his second year is impressive. Repeating that feat in 2014 will be a tough task.
As it stands now, Luck doesn’t have elite numbers. Besides interceptions, Luck’s touchdowns, yards, completion percentage and yards per average are well below those quarterbacks who want to be considered elite.
Luck has passed the eye test since his rookie year. It’s now just a matter of the team unleashing the neck beard. Fortunately, all signs point to that happening for the upcoming season.
Even if Luck doesn’t get the “elite” label this year, it seems inevitable that he eventually will. We’re all just wondering when it will happen.