When Peyton Manning held up that Denver Broncos' jersey with his name on it, reality hit hard for fans of the Indianapolis Colts. Manning stated in his press conference how difficult his transition to a new team would be since the Colts were "the only team I've ever known." For many Colts fans, Manning is the only quarterback they've ever known, so there's a difficult transition facing the Colts' faithful as well.
While Manning's spirits will certainly be lifted when he begins play with his new team, so too might the spirits of Colts' fans when they begin to watch Andrew Luck perform. For as consistently great as Peyton Manning was as the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, definitely the greatest to play in Indianapolis if not the greatest ever in the NFL, there's reason to believe that Luck may be even better.
Peyton Manning's greatness has largely been due to his unbelievable consistency. Few quarterbacks have even begun to approach Manning's levels of success game in, game out over the course of 14 seasons. Success at quarterback in the NFL has always depended on consistency at quarterback and nobody has done that better than Manning.
Manning's success hasn't been entirely his own, however, which he would be the first to point out. Manning's job over the years has been to put the playmakers that have surrounded him on offense (Marshall Faulk, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, etc.) in a position where they could use their considerable talents to make big plays.
If you could boil down NFL success to one formula, it might be just that: the ability to make big plays on offense and defense versus the ability to limit big plays from one's opponents. The teams that successfully win the battle of the big plays win more often than not.
Former Baltimore Ravens' head coach Brian Billick quantified that phenomenon a few years ago when he started charting teams' big plays on offense (runs of more than 15 yards and passes of more than 20 yards) and compared those to turnover numbers which are essentially big plays for the defense.
It is in that area, when we compare the collegiate statistics of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, where Luck holds a distinct advantage over Manning. When we examine the factors that go into making big plays, it can be argued that Andrew Luck is a better professional prospect than was Peyton Manning.
For our comparison, we'll look at three sets of numbers: completion percentage (accuracy gives playmakers more chances to make plays), yards per attempt (an aggregate measure of big play capability) and interceptions (giving one's opponents big play opportunities). In all three of those areas, Andrew Luck was superior during his college career to Peyton Manning.
Manning completed an impressive 62.5% of his passes during his four years at Tennessee for an efficiency rating of 147.7. His average yards per attempt over his career was 8.19, again, very impressive. Manning threw 33 interceptions in 49 career games.
For Luck's three years at Stanford, he played in 39 games. Luck completed 67% of his passes, giving his playmakers an even greater opportunity. (It should also be pointed out that Luck's skill players have been vastly inferior to those Manning had around him at Tennessee). Still, for his career Luck averaged 8.9 yards per attempt with an efficiency rating of 162.8. He threw but 22 picks in 39 games, a lesser percentage than Manning when factoring in their overall pass attempts.
To summarize, in college Andrew Luck was more accurate, more prolific and less prone to turnovers than Peyton Manning. Given Billick's index, Luck would be deemed the more explosive player of the two on passing alone.
But one other statistic unquestionably tilts the scales in Luck's favor: rushing. Peyton Manning lost 183 yards during his college career and scored no touchdowns on the ground. Andrew Luck rushed for 957 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per attempt and scored seven touchdowns with his legs. While Luck isn't primarily known for his running like a Michael Vick or Robert Griffin III, his career shows him more than capable of providing explosive plays with his feet as well as his arm. That was confirmed at this year's NFL combine when Luck ran a 4.67, good enough for fourth best among quarterbacks. Luck is more than just a statue in the pocket.
What can't be measured is how many explosive plays Luck allowed to develop with his feet. How many times during the course of Luck's career did his ability to elude a sack allow a play to open up for a completion? That's one skill we've seen of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers: the ability to keep a play alive. Manning never had that.
So what do you get when you combine Peyton Manning's arm strength, accuracy and field vision with Aaron Rodgers elusiveness? Andrew Luck, and if he stays healthy and his college skills transfer over to the NFL, quite possibly the greatest quarterback of all time.
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