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Top 10 QBs 25 or under: Andrew Luck
No. 1. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Why he's here
Luck showed it all as a rookie. He was asked to do more than any young quarterback in the league, and he responded. It's not about the numbers. Luck racked up yardage because he threw the ball a ton, but his efficiency waned late in the year. This ranking is about Luck's traits that will allow him to be a dominant force in the NFL for the next decade.
I'm a sucker for pocket movement. Luck is a virtuoso at avoiding the rush, buying extra time and then completing passes down field. He has the most innate feel for this skill than any quarterback to come in the league since Tom Brady. But Brady, unlike Luck, doesn't also have the athleticism to match Cam Newton. (Just check their NFL Scouting Combine numbers; Luck and Newton couldn't be more similar physically. Luck is a big, fast man.)
These examples were primarily culled from one half of one game. Throw on any of Luck's rookie starts and the skill shows up. It's one that he had to display plenty because the Colts' pass protection was awful last year. It's a skill that helps set Luck apart.
Luck also adds value with his running skills. Despite only 62 rushes, there is a strong argument to be made that Luck was one of the most valuable rushing quarterbacks in the league. He gained a first down on 55 percent of his runs. He converted more third downs on the ground than RG3. Luck had an uncanny ability to know just the right time to run.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians threw Luck into the deep end of the pool right away because Luck handled it. More than any young quarterback, he looked like a veteran going through his progressions. He played his best in the hurry-up, two-minute offense. He was not afraid to throw the ball into tight windows.
The game never seemed too big for Luck at the NFL level. He acted liked he had been around for a long time. Where many quarterbacks saw dangerous throws, Luck saw opportunity.
What he can work on
Peyton Manning's skill set is very different than Luck's. But their biggest rookie issues were similar. Luck still needs to learn what risks are worth taking. He sometimes was too confident, too desperate to put a flawed team on his back. He could force throws that weren't there.
As quarterback flaws go, having "too much confidence" is a little like the guy who says in the job interview that his greatest flaw is "trying to do too much." That's ultimately what you want. Luck will learn his own limits and the strengths of NFL defenses as he matures.
There were mild concerns about Luck's arm strength coming into the draft. Those worries have been erased, even if he doesn't quite match up with Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III in this department. The bigger worry is Luck's overall accuracy, especially deep. Luck made an incredible amount of difficult throws, but he also had stretches where he missed plays. This was especially true late in the year when he did not play his best. Russell Wilson peaked in December. Luck played his worst at the end of the regular season.
No young quarterback completed more "wow" plays than Luck last year. He finds a way to turn low-percentage situations into big plays with individual effort. He throws from any "platform" while moving to the left or right. The Colts allowed Luck to stay aggressive in nearly all situations.
I wanted to choose one of Luck's better last-minute drives to highlight before realizing there were at least five great ones to choose from. Whether it's the end of the first half or the game, Luck shows onions and intelligence in hurry-up situations.
A worst-case scenario for Luck's career involves the Colts organization struggling to build around him. It involves Luck failing to develop as expected and remaining a risk-taker that runs hot and cold. Even that scenario should make Luck a top-10 quarterback for a long time with many Pro Bowls, but the hope is that he'll be much better than that.
Placing Luck No. 1 is a projection. It's not about 2012; Robert Griffin III had a slightly better rookie year. It sounds strange to say, but RG3 and Russell Wilson almost feel like safer options. I believe Luck has the highest ceiling of the group, by a fraction.
You can make a strong argument that any of the quarterbacks in the top five of this list will be a future legend of the game. Luck is my favorite choice because he's already displayed all the attributes you want. It's easy to imagine how those skills will translate once Luck refines his game. I expect that rapid improvement to hit this season.
This young quarterback crop will help define the league in coming years. The debate over which young quarterback is the best will not be static. They are all talented enough to win MVPs and titles. They are all composed enough to take turns at the top of the mountain.
No matter what you think of Luck's placement at No. 1, this much is not up for debate: The NFL is in very good hands for the next decade.
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Kentucky Derby week is one NFL Lines of the most thrilling times of the year. This race is known as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" for its approximate time length.
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