Luck3

The reverse-standings draft order of the National Football League was implemented to create parody. Teams with poor records have higher picks, which in turn are supposed to result in better prospects, so that bad teams get better… hopefully. With the first pick, one would presume that the best prospect would be taken.

A perfect example of this was in the 2012 NFL Draft, when the consensus number one overall prospect, quarterback Andrew Luck, was taken by Ryan Grigson and the Indianapolis Colts. Luck immediately proved his worth, helping the Colts to an 11-5 record, nine wins better than the previous season. With 23 touchdowns, 4,374 yards, and a league-leading seven game winning drives, flashes of greatness were observed around the league. The next year, Luck continued to impress with 11 more wins, while cutting his interceptions in half. His third year put him in the “elite” group of signal callers, when he led the league in touchdowns (40), threw for 4,761 yards, and took his team to the infamous “Deflategate” game, the 2014 AFC Conference game. Not only did Luck perform at a higher level each year, he continuously brought his team further and further into the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Colts came up short each time, losing to the legendary Ray Lewis once, and falling to the New England dynasty twice.

Football, existing as the ultimate team game, would reveal the story of a balanced team who happened to come up short; when in reality, it was a tale of one man, carrying a franchise that seemingly did not want to win. Ryan Grigson, the prior stated general manager, struggled in putting a team around his franchise cornerstone. Whether it be whiffing on draft picks, trading away imperative draft capital for a bust of a runningback, or fumbling multiple free agency periods, the Colts could not put together a team around Luck. Andrew Luck’s play almost single-handedly took this team to the playoffs in three consecutive years, before Grigson’s fallacy of a team fell apart.

The Colts’ prized quarterback would eventually get hurt, leaving the porous Indianapolis roster to watch as the Texans stole the AFC South. As recent as last season, the Colts exemplified their inability to build a team after Luck’s elite performance left them at 8-8. Unfortunately, Luck could not successfully carry the weight of the Colts’ world on his shoulders as he desperately spectated the lavish landing spots of Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Derek Carr. In a way, Luck “broke” the parody system, carrying a terrible team to unexpected heights, and reaping the consequences of an awful front office not having a top pick.

Furthermore, the surrounding cast around Luck in each year of his career can be described in a plethora of words, none of which have a positive connotation. Here is how the Colts ranked around Luck over the course of his career (so far):

Defense (YPG) Offensive Line (QB Hits) Rushing (AVG/A)
2012 26th 31st 22nd
2013 20th 30th 20th
2014 11th 29th 22nd
2015 26th 31st 29th
2016 30th 31st 23rd

As you can see the Colts gave their best player, their franchise quarterback, practically nothing to work with. Five years, only one unit was above average, and that was the defense, once. Everything else is far below average or close to dead last. Franchise quarterbacks are rare to find, and even more arduous to acquire. Andrew Luck, a player with his fair share of injuries on his record, has a limited window, and through a half decade, the team around him has produced three postseason victories.

Truthfully, Andrew Luck’s career is being wasted in Indianapolis. How can someone be expected to win when the defense cannot hold anyone, the run game produces next to nothing offensively, and the lone superstar is left bruised and battered because his offensive line couldn’t stop a small toddler from getting to the quarterback? The fact that Luck bought into the franchise with a large contract, trusting, at that time general manager Ryan Grigson, and putting his faith into the embarrassment of Jim Irsay is flattering. Colts fans that believe Luck is the problem could not be more incorrect, as he is the lone bright spot on an organization who was once carried by Peyton Manning, and is now hauled by Andrew Luck himself.

Just a side note: Andrew Luck’s injuries include a lacerated kidney (and rib cartilage damage) from the Denver Broncos’ linebacking core, knocking him out of more than half of 2015; a concussion, which sidelined him for 2016’s Thanksgiving loss, and a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. This last injury was inflicted in 2015, but was both hidden and endured/played through until the end of his 2016 campaign. Andrew Luck had yet another elite season… with a torn shoulder labrum. This injury causes weakness, instability, and pain when moved. It is in fact recommended that the damaged arm is held in a sling for weeks at a time. Again, he had a major injury in his throwing shoulder, and played some of the best football of his career, including an elite deep ball, the most strenuous of throws. To say he has been taken for granted is a massive understatement.

Additionally, we have seen his injury history. Now almost fully recovered, Luck looks to remove the stigma of permanently being listed on the injury report. To the disbelief of Colts fans around the country, Luck won’t be around forever. After five injury riddled seasons, one would figure we are about a third of the way through Luck’s career. A third of it wasted by a terrible front office, completely unwilling to put a team together. After another shortcoming in the 2016 season, the Colts knew that Andrew Luck’s prime has to be their window, and that changes had to be made in order to maximize success during an amazing quarterback’s best years of football.

Thankfully, the Colts acted on the running threat of an expiring window. Ryan Grigson was ousted as general manager, and the transition was underway. Soon after, Jim Irsay made an informed and well thought out decision (surprisingly) and hired former Chiefs execute Chris Ballard. Ballard, a draftnik who helped put together an impressive Kansas City roster, was the perfect man for the job. Ballard and the rest of the front office got to work, producing the blueprints of a structure to build this team. Of course, this plan had to revolve around Andrew Luck, and it did, but in a surprising manner.

Chris Ballard immediately started to craft a defense through free agency, most notably adding Jabaal Sheard and former Giant Johnathan Hankins. Ballard’s defensive plan attempts to maximize a very telling stat about both the superstar quarterback and the Colts defense. Andrew Luck is 25-0, undefeated, when the Colts allow less than 19 points. To think that in only 35.7% of Luck’s starts, the defense allowed less than 19 points is not only saddening, but it further proves the notion that Luck has not received any help. With a defense, and eventually an offensive line and run game, the possibilities are endless. Houston, one of the Colts’ biggest rivals possess the “Warriors of pass rushers”, so  building an offensive line to protect Luck is also a large priority. In a division with sky-high potential QB-WR combos and strong run games, building a defense is the only way the Colts will see divisional success.

Moreover, the NFL Draft arrived, and it was time for Chris Ballard to flaunt his work. In his first draft as general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, he selected Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson, and six other rookies that will certainly contribute to a winning Colts team in the future. With six drafted rookies, the defense is beginning to take shape under Ballard’s reign, and this will only continue in following years. The abundance of talent and value in Ballard’s picks may be a new discovery for young Colts fans that were introduced to this team during the Grigson era. Aside from the draft, numerous undrafted free agents were brought in through the Ballard regime, and a multitude of them will add to the roster as well.

RELATED: Expectations for Indianapolis Colts Rookie Class

To continue after a shameless plug, one can only imagine what the Colts can do with an actual roster. Put Luck on the Raiders, Cowboys, or any team of competence and they are almost a lock for the playoffs. If Ballard can put together a top ten roster in football, watch out because the AFC South might have another divisional dynasty. Also, improved rosters only make Luck v. Mariota more entertaining, but that’s a piece for another day. With a bolstered roster, Luck and the Colts will accomplish great things. If his elite play continues, and Ballard brings a Lombardi trophy (or more) to Indy, is it that farfetched to put Andrew Luck in Canton? I understand that we are five years into his career, he still has flaws to pan out, he doesn’t have any real accolades, and the Colts haven’t won too much with Luck at the helm, but a good team around him gives him as good a chance as any to join football immortality.

To add, what a supporting cast can do is often overlooked, but boy, what a difference it would make. Let me be clear, I certainly am not guaranteeing anything, and even if Ballard does build a nice team, who is to say that injuries, poor play, or better opponents won’t stop them? Personally, I am willing to bet that Luck continues to play at an insane level, probably becoming the face of the league once Brady/Brees/Rodgers clear out, and if a respectable team is around him, who knows?

Coming back to Earth after a high of optimism, Ballard and Luck together is exciting in itself. If there is one thing not to do, it is to look at Luck or Ballard as the savior of this team, as it can only end up letting you down. It is still all too possible that Luck fizzles out due to injuries, or Ballard recreates the mess that he inherited, wasting even more of this former Stanford quarterback’s career. On the other hand, it is exceedingly difficult to look at the state of the organization and imagine what they can accomplish. We saw how amazing Luck was with no team, so there seems to be unlimited upside. As of now, it looks as if the Colts have a stable front office that knows what they are doing; and after dealing with Grigson for what seems like forever, there isn’t much more a Colts fan could ask for. A franchise quarterback, good front office, and a nice, young team coming together, it will most definitely be fun to watch unfold.

To continue, Chris Ballard may have an impact on the Colts passer also. It has already been exhibited that defense will be the first area of rehabilitation, especially the secondary, where two top 64 defensive backs were added in Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson. As seen earlier through the statistic of QB hits, the offensive line needs work. Contrary to the tone of this article, the Colts’ offensive line is underrated.

The newly injured Ryan Kelly was great last year and looks like he will be the center in Indianapolis for a long time to come. To his left are guard Jack Mewhort and veteran tackle Anthony Castonzo. Mewhort is on the rise as a strong left guard with a ton of upside. Castonzo, needless to say, is steadily regressing and is turning into a liability. This group played well towards the end of the 2016 campaign, but with Kelly out for the first few games of the season, these two will have to step up to help their quarterback. On the right side is guard Joe Haeg and tackle Le’Raven Clark. I like what I saw from Clark last year, and I expect to see him grow. Haeg seems to be an area to upgrade for Indy, and rookie Zach Banner may take his starting role sooner rather than later.

The pieces may already be in place for a solid offensive line, accelerating the process in which Ballard attempts to rebuild this team. Whether the pieces are here currently or are yet to be acquired, an improved offensive trench will 100% help Andrew Luck. Not only will the risk of injury plummet with a consistently clean pocket, but his play may impress even more.

The one main flaw with Andrew Luck is his decision making. After successfully going through his reads the first time, pressure is already upon him, and senseless interceptions occur. With more time, Luck is given more of an opportunity to manipulate defenses and make plays with his arm or athleticism. In terms of Luck performing at a higher level, the defense helps as well. When allowing less points, the Colts will get out to more leads. Not only will this let Indianapolis pound the rock more often, it prevents more incoherent turnovers forced by an existential sense of urgency.

The effects of an improved roster on its quarterback can be seen through a significant drop off in interceptions. Less turnovers usually equates to more points on the board, more leads, and eventually more wins. In addition to an improved defense and blockers, a quality run game can have a lasting impact on a game. Frank Gore is a Hall of fame back who is not playing at, or near, that level at this time, and a running back change is apparent and necessary. Whether Marlon Mack, a rookie, or a free agent signing is taking the handoffs from Luck next year, their role will be paramount to Luck, and the Colts’, success. First off, an efficient run game can set the pace in the beginning of a game, or close out a close victory. It also opens up the play action pass to be more effective, as well as other passing options in Indy’s scheme. It is quite unequivocal what a supporting can do, and how it may affect a quarterback.

In conclusion, Andrew Luck is going into his sixth year as the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, and so far, his career has been wasted. Amazing play without a supporting cast has its limits, which were observed over the course of the last half-decade. Thankfully, Ryan Grigson is out and Chris Ballard is in, so Luck and the Colts are most likely on the upswing. While it certainly will not be immediate, the team around Luck will improve, and the win total will reflect that. When teams empower their franchise quarterbacks, defining moments occur, including divisional titles, playoff wins, and potentially even a Lombardi trophy or two. Now a seasoned veteran, Luck knows that he does not have forever, and the Colts realized this and acted. Their new general manager has already exemplified flashes of brilliance, and more will be seen as these rookies develop and the roster improves. Colts fans, things are changing in Indianapolis, and this transition is most definitely a positive one. With a new man in charge, Andrew Luck, and the Colts, will be lifted to new heights.

About The Author Anthony Licciardi

Anthony is a die-hard Mets, Jets and Knicks fan who's always willing to blame the owners. He's been playing sports since he's been able to walk and following the NFL Draft since 2012. Anthony covers the NFL Draft, along with the Indianapolis Colts.