You know you’ve hit on a good draft class when it’s starting to get compared to the now legendary 1983 class of quarterbacks that spawned Dan Marino, John Elway, and Jim Kelly. And yes, perhaps it’s a tad bit premature to start putting the class of Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck up there with those greats, but undoubtedly these three quarterbacks are having some of the more impressive rookie seasons the NFL has seen in sometime.
As such, the battle for NFL offensive rookie of the year is down to those three men, as they’re all coming off strong performances and have put their teams in playoff contention. And of course, I will be the first to say that Robert Griffin III should be Offensive Rookie of the Year. But, if I was going to see another quarterback take those honors, Seattle’s Russell Wilson would be my second guess.
As for Andrew Luck…Luck has become something of an anomaly for me. Namely (and I am in the small minority of people who think this), I don’t think he’s played that well.
As for Week 13, Robert Griffin III has thrown for 2,660 yards, 17 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, completion percentage of 67.1% and a quarterback rating of 104.4. Russell Wilson has thrown for 2, 344 yards, 19 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, completion percentage of 63.1%, and a quarterback rating of 95.2.
Andrew Luck, however while throwing for more yards (3,596), has thrown 17 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, completed 55.5% of his passes, and a quarterback rating of 76.1. He leads the league in turnovers with 21.His completion percentage has been worse than 60% 8 times this season, and has 5 games where more than one turnover (interceptions and fumbles).
The Colts are 8-4, and Luck is the first rookie quarterback to lead his team to an eight win season after starting every game. But the Colts have only faced 3 teams that (as of now) have a winning record. The four losses the Colts have were all huge blowouts, versus the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots, and shockingly, the New York Jets. In the losses to the Bears and the Patriots, Luck turned the ball over four times, while turning the ball over three times in the loss to the Jets.
Much of Luck’s struggles have been passed off, because the Colts are winning, and when it comes to the Colts, sometimes it doesn’t matter how you win; it just matters that you win. But when it comes to individual season awards, those things do matter.
Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson are often criticized because they play in run centric offenses where the onus isn’t completely on them to make all the plays. Luck, the story goes, is all on his own; offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has always been a throw first coordinator, and the Colts don’t have a back on the roster that can take the heavy burden off Luck’s shoulders.
There is some merit to that observation; Luck has already thrown the ball 505 times, compared to Griffin III with 325 and Russell Wilson with 317. Luck is on pace to attempt an astounding 679 passes.
Even taking that into consideration, however, Luck has not played well. Though more onus is placed on Luck to make plays in the passing game, Luck often makes plain bad decisions.
Robert Griffin III is often criticized for throwing too many short passes, which inflate his completion percentage and gives the apperance of better play, and Russell Wilson is criticized as playing a highly conservative, run first offense. But Griffin III and Wilson both know where and when to take their chances. They are better at manipulating coverages by using their eyes, they’re betting at looking off safeties.
They are better than Andrew Luck when blitzed, better than Luck on off schedule plays, and better than Luck at keeping the chains moving.
Luck simply refuses to take a checkdown. In some circles that’s looked at as a plus, but it’s part of the problem with his rookie season; his refusal to check the ball down or come back to a secondary option puts the team in a bad spot, putting the Colts defense on short fields. Luck may have five game winning drives, but he likely wouldn’t need five game winning drives if he doesn’t turn the ball over at the rate he does.
Right here, we have a third and seven play from when the Colts faced the Lions in week 13. The Colts line up with an empty backfield set with three wide receiver, a tight end, and running back Donald Brown (circled in yellow) split out wide. This is a makeable 3rd and 7. The Lions are playing a zone coverage and will rush four.
Donald Brown runs a short curl route right at the sticks, right in the soft spot in the zone. If the ball was thrown to Brown, the Colts get an easy first down and continue their drive. Luck, however, has pre-determined where he’s going to throw this football, and it’s not to Brown.
Instead he nearly gets picked off by the linebacker, trying to force a ball into coverage to Donnie Avery. On top of that, even if he had managed to throw the pass over the linebacker, he’d likely get Avery lit up coming over the middle.
Here, we have an even more makeable first down; 1st and 5. Luck has speedster T.Y Hilton in the slot in this empty set with 4 wide receivers and the tight end. Once again, the Lions rush for and drop 7 into coverage. But Luck barely waits for his routes to develop, predetermining that he’s going to throw the ball to T.Y Hilton.
Luck even sends T.Y Hilton in motion to declare the coverage. But he wants to throw the ball to Hilton. He stares it down, and cornerback Drayton Florence picks it off, and Andrew Luck has to make a tackle.
These are indicative of the kinds of plays Luck makes on a week in, week out basis, regardless of how much he has to throw it and how much he doesn’t. It’s not about the number of throws he’s making at this point; it’s about his decisions to throw certain passes that simply shouldn’t be thrown. Even in his game winning drive, Luck threw to a triple covered Reggie Wayne who had to make a hell of a catch to keep the drive alive, and then threw to a double covered Reggie Wayne and nearly got intercepted for the fourth time trying to do it.
You could say that’s just one game, but, as LL helpfully illustrated, these are the same sort of mistakes Luck makes a lot. These are the kind of mistakes that you’d expect from a Brandon Weeden or Ryan Tannehill, but from the greatest prospect since John Elway?
Yes, Luck has taken the lowly Colts from 2-14 to 8-4. But the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins weren’t exactly conference powerhouses. Perhaps the reason Luck has gotten so much praise is because the sports media basically doomed the Colts to be horrible during the offseason.
Several times it was said that the move to draft Robert Griffin III and give up the picks they did to get him was a “win now” move– as in the Redskins were ready to win now, and anything less than playoffs would be a disappointing season. Meanwhile, the Colts were a truly rebuilding organization that had no shot at winning anything, so it was just time for “Luck to learn”.
Now, Luck (and him alone, apparently) has his team in the playoff hunt, which is supposed to be shocking to everyone.
But that still doesn’t make up for Griffin III pulling his team from the depths of a season that looked like it was going so bad, even his coach declared it was all but over. Robert Griffin III not only has his team on three game winning streak, but has thrown 9 touchdowns, 1 interception, completing 75.2 percent of his passes, in the division, with two of those games coming in front of national television audiences. And in so doing, he’s led his team to being within one game of the division lead, facing down (arguably) an easier road than the current division leaders.
And Russell Wilson’s incredible comeback versus the Bears highlighted a great 5 week stretch in which they Seahawks have gone 3-2, he’s completed 68.3 percent of his passes, for 11 touchdowns and one interception. That win versus the Seahawks may have potentially locked up the sixth seed.
Maybe you want to say it’s on offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, and that the system is more “complicated” than the one that Wilson and Griffin run. That is flat-out, fundamentally untrue; I’ve seen Luck thrown more bubble screens this year than Griffin has this season. Many of the pass concepts are prototypical, West Coast Offense style concepts that Luck ran as a Stanford Cardinal; a lot of three-step and 5-step drops with slants and crossing routes. Perhaps you could say they try to strike down field more often, but even if that were the case, sometimes the best thing to do is just throw it out-of-bounds. Live to play another down.
A more aggressive downfield passing attack is no excuse for not being judicious and smart with the football.
And yet, people have not only said Andrew Luck should be the rookie of the year, but league MVP. Because he’s elevated a bad team to playoff contention.
If we are going to judge the play of Andrew Luck, then let’s actually judge his play. Yes, he has helped a bad team get to a playoff position. But then again, so have RG3 and Russell Wilson. Yes, he’s lead some solid game winning drives, but it’s been, in part, his bad play that has made those drives necessary. And when it comes to individual awards, particularly ones that usually go to the most outstanding rookie performance in a season, it might be better to give it to the rookie who has played the most outstanding football.
And as for Most Valuable Player, the player most valuable to a team is the player that puts his team in the best position to win football games. And while Luck’s performance in the clutch has been admirable, it’s hard to not notice that he wouldn’t have to be clutch if he played a bit better, a bit earlier. Luck put together four straight up bad quarters of football until the end versus the Lions, and that’s been much the case all year.
My vote is for Robert Griffin III to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He went to a bad football team that gave up the world to move up to get him, and through injuries and adversity, he still has his team on the cusp of a playoff spot for the first time since 2007.
If he doesn’t win, I’d accept Russell Wilson. Who can forget Jon Gruden and Mel Kiper loudly arguing about whether Wilson could ever be a starter? Not only is he the starter, but through his work ethic and body of work he displaced not one, but two highly paid quarterbacks to become the Seahawks starter.
Both men have shown poise and maturity beyond their years. Both men have raised their football teams to levels no one imagined. And while they’ve done that, they have produced on a consistent and persistent basis.
Andrew Luck will be a solid NFL quarterback. But regardless of the Colts’ eight wins, he has not yet—keyword, yet—played up to his status as the first overall pick. His game winning drives are impressive, but they camouflage bad, inefficient play. It’s not his scheme, or his offensive line, or the receivers; its him. His decision-making, the throws he makes (and doesn’t), the inaccuracy; that’s Luck.
Do not ding Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson for playing in “simpler” offenses with better running games. They are operating within their schemes at a high level, and are making good decisions, and throwing accurate passes to the open guy. They have led clutch, game winning drives.
Rookie of the year is a two-horse race. If Andrew Luck does win, it only proves that the media created version of Andrew Luck—the next John Elway, the next Peyton Manning, the can’t miss prospect, the damn near perfect quarterback—matters more than the real Andrew Luck who’s playing on the field.