Will Andrew Luck Finally Become Elite in 2014?
It was January 4th, 2014. The day the Indianapolis Colts died.
In the third quarter of their playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ponies trailed 38-10. Adios, Indy, and hello to rumblings of how Andrew Luck inherited Peyton Manning's early-career inability to win in the playoffs.
Then the comeback happened.
In 26 short minutes, Luck channeled his inner Joe Flacco (#ELITE) and helped the Colts put up five touchdowns to claim victory. Out with the criticism; in with the cries that this was Luck's turning point.
Now, as we prepare for a new season, it seems completely fair to ask whether or not Luck is ready to reach an elite level (the real one, not the Flacco/Eli Manning one). So, I wanted to see whether or not numberFire's metrics thought that was possible.
In order to evaluate Luck, I'll be using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). In every situation, there is an expected number of points that a team will score on a drive. A good play increases that, and a bad one decreases it. NEP tracks how many points a player adds or subtracts from his team's expected total through the course of a season. For more, you can click here.
For Luck, we'll be looking at a couple of sub-divisions of NEP. Passing NEP is the points added or subtracted on every drop back of the season (including sacks). Total NEP tracks everything, including rushing attempts, which is huge for Luck.
With all of that out of the way, let's put Mr. Luck through the Elite-o-Meter to see what we can expect this year.
Luck in 2013
When we change that up and look at just Luck's passing numbers, that his 41.73 NEP ranked 15th in the league. Of the 22 passers that dropped back at least 400 times, Luck's 0.07 Passing NEP per play ranked 12th.
Based on Luck's 2013 Passing and Total NEP numbers, it looks like he was near the top of that third tier of quarterbacks. For a guy in just his second year, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It just wasn't elite.
Why Luck Will be Better in 2014
Fortunately for Luck, things change year-to-year. For example, last year, dude lost a Hall-of-Fame wide receiver in Week 7. No matter how old he is, getting Reggie Wayne back is going to help Luck when September rolls around.
Wayne was on a tear last year before he got hurt. In his seven games, he compiled a Reception NEP of 45.42. That's an average of 6.49 points per game, which would put him just beneath Dez Bryant on a per-game basis. Obviously, the Colts shouldn't expect Wayne to be as good as Dez in 2014, but his re-addition into the line-up will be huge for Luck and his progression.
Then there's Hakeem Nicks. Nicks last year became only the third player in NFL history to record at least 850 receiving yards and have zero touchdowns. That won't happen again. If it does, I'll wear a medium Pat McAfee jersey (and nothing else - I'm usually an XL) through the streets of Indy for a day proclaiming my love for punters. It ain't happenin', brudduh.
With the Giants last year, Nicks finished with the 46th-highest Reception NEP at 60.33. Now, his Target NEP (NEP on every time he was targeted) was absolutely putrid at 11.00. Whether that was more because Eli was historically awful or Nicks is secretly a deviant with a turnover fetish we will never know. I'm willing to bet both of those numbers go up this year with Luck tossing the pigskin.
Toss in the returners, and you've got a darn good receiving corps. T.Y. Hilton casually finished 20th in the league in Reception NEP at 89.17 and 15th in the league in Target NEP among those with at least 50 targets at 45.80. Coby Fleener had the 15th highest Reception NEP among all tight ends, and Dwayne Allen returns from injury after a respectable rookie season. They're not going to set the world on fire or anything, but these guys'll get the job done.
Can Luck Make the Jump in 2014?
Here's the million dollar question. First, let me explain what I'm defining as elite, as I assume that's necessary to answer the original question.
In 2013, there were three quarterbacks that topped 150.00 Total NEP - Peyton Manning, Brees, and my main squeeze, Philip Rivers. There were also three that reached that plateau in 2012 and 2011, one in 2010, and four in 2009. I think that seems like a fair bench-mark from which to start the conversation.
In order to get to the 150-NEP mark, Luck would need to up his total 72.19 points, or almost double it. That's quite a jump. Of the players that ended up in the 150-NEP club from 2009-2013, each of them either had a Total NEP of at least 100 the previous year or had recorded 150 NEP in a previous season. A jump this large based on progression and personnel change is one that hasn't been seen possibly since Daunte Culpepper in 2000, his second season in the league and first as starter.
Because of this, I'm going to have to say that, no, Andrew Luck will not be an elite quarterback in 2014. Is he going to be better? Yes. Is he going to be a top-five quarterback? numberFire's Projections say he will be the fifth-best fantasy quarterback. I'm more looking at his real-world abilities, but it's worth noting that the algorithms peg him up there with the other big wigs. I just don't see him posting numbers that fit my definition of elite.
Something I could see for this year is Luck taking another step toward the cream of the crop only to fully establish himself in 2015. It's just expecting an awful lot from a guy to ask him to take such a huge leap in only one season. Make no mistake - Andrew Luck has all of the makings of a great quarterback, and he'll probably make it in the near future. I just don't see that future being 2014.