Why Andrew Luck Isn't as Good as You Think

Andrew Luck is one of the league's brightest stars, but let's not confuse his potential with how he's playing today.

I'm fairly certain that some football fans think Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the game. Right now. Not in the future, not that he will be in three years -- people think that Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the NFL right now.

If not the best, I'm sure the majority of NFL watchers would peg Luck as a top-five option. It would probably go something like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and then Andrew Luck. That seems about right.

Except it's not. The other four quarterbacks listed there are reasonable options on a list of top signal-callers in the league, but Luck? I'm sorry, but he's not. He's just not.

This isn't some feeling I have just to be contrarian, either. The fact is, Luck's on-field performance isn't as good as some of his peers, and the perception surrounding his play doesn't equate to the reality of his actual performance.

It seems like a lot of talk surrounding Luck has to do with an unclear separation of "what could be" and "what is". Andrew Luck's been in the NFL for fewer than three years, and the sky is the limit for a player of his ability. But Andrew Luck's been in the NFL for fewer than three years -- there's still a sample we can analyze, and that sample shows a quarterback who's not quite as elite as you'd think.

We need to get over what could be and look at what is.

Andrew Luck's 2014

If you've never been to numberFire, you might not be aware of our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which can tell us how well a player is performing based on how he's expected to perform on each play he's involved with. A 10-yard pickup on 3rd-and-11 isn't the same as a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 -- one converts, while the other doesn't. One adds more NEP than the other.

What's important about NEP is that it shows us what's actually happening on the football field. Yardage isn't created equally -- gaining 17 yards in a close game versus 17 in garbage time isn't the same thing.

Additionally, turnovers aren't created equally. If it's 3rd-and-29 and a quarterback heaves a deep ball that's picked off, that signal-caller shouldn't be faulted the same as one who throws an interception on his opponents' 1-yard line on first down. Except, when it comes to raw data, those numbers are the same -- an interception is an interception, and there's no difference between them in the box score.

This is pretty important for Andrew Luck. His non-turnover numbers are great -- he's got over 4,600 yards, 38 passing touchdowns and a 61.7% completion percentage this year. But the numbers-driven analysis can't stop there.

According to Net Expected Points, Andrew Luck has been the 10th-best quarterback in 2014.

(Luck backers are yelling at their computer right now, already asking for my head.)

(We're just getting started.)

This Net Expected Points number, too, includes rushing totals, but Luck's rushing numbers aren't as impressive as you'd think this season thanks to turnovers. In fact, Russell Wilson, who's having one of the most prolific rushing seasons we've ever seen from a quarterback, has added roughly 57 more points on the ground for the Seahawks versus what Luck's done for the Colts in 2014.

Turnovers, guys. Turnovers. You can't discredit them or think that all of them are the same. Luck's fumbled 12 times this year, tied for the most in the NFL with Jay Cutler. He's thrown 16 interceptions, tied for second-most in the league. You can't turn the ball over and expect to be a top-tier quarterback.

When looking solely at passing numbers -- Passing NEP -- Luck's story is no different. Below is a chart showing the top-10 quarterbacks this season, their Passing NEP and their Passing NEP per drop back.

Passing NEPPer Drop Back
Aaron Rodgers169.630.32
Peyton Manning159.460.28
Ben Roethlisberger147.020.24
Tony Romo134.590.31
Matt Ryan129.790.21
Tom Brady125.680.21
Drew Brees111.840.17
Philip Rivers108.490.19
Andrew Luck101.300.16
Joe Flacco78.760.15

As you can see, Luck's not exactly near the top of this list, even when you look at things on a per drop back basis. Aaron Rodgers has been twice as efficient as Luck this season, while players like Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger are better as well.

Things actually get worse here, too. There's a metric we like to use called Success Rate, which measures the percentage of plays that are positive ones from a NEP perspective. In other words, if a play made a positive NEP impact, it was a success. If not, it was a failure.

Andrew Luck has a 47.44% Success Rate in 2014. Among the 29 quarterbacks who have dropped back to pass 300 or more times this season, that ranks 15th. Alex Smith's is better -- doesn't that automatically disqualify Luck from any sort of elite talk?

In all seriousness, his Success Rate is nothing to write home about. It's an average, mediocre rate that's seen from over a dozen quarterbacks each and every season.

Is that as good as you thought?

Luck's Supporting Cast and Play Down the Stretch

Perhaps the best argument a Luck supporter could make is the fact that he doesn't have the same type of support other quarterbacks do. Russell Wilson has a top-notch defense and one of the best running backs in the NFL. Peyton Manning has receivers that make Tom Brady incredibly jealous. Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo have dynamic wide receiver and running back playmakers to heave the ball to.

Andrew Luck has a short, speedy wide receiver, another pass-catcher with 40-year-old legs, inconsistent tight ends (one due to injury) and a bunch of inexperienced players around him. And Trent Richardson. He also has Trent Richardson.

I would say there's a case to be made here, but only if Luck were close to being as superior as some think he is. He's not a top-five quarterback in any of the advanced metrics we use, and his team's passing offense, when adjusted for strength of opponent, is still just the seventh-best one according to our metrics. There's really no evidence to suggest that he's playing at a higher level than someone like Ben Roethlisberger or Tony Romo this season, let alone the standard elite quarterbacks we see each and every year.

And sure, much of this has to do with his play down the stretch. At the conclusion of Week 13, Luck's Passing NEP was on par with Aaron Rodgers', and his Success Rate was almost two percentage points higher than what it is today.

But isn't this all part of the game? Isn't this the key reason Andrew Luck isn't "there" yet? Aren't the elite quarterbacks in today's NFL so good because they go into each week as the best, and they exit even better?

Andrew Luck just isn't part of that group right now.

Don't Twist My Words

Don't get me wrong -- Andrew Luck is incredible. He's in his third season, and we're already having conversations of him being one of the best in the game at his position. And that's in a league full of future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks.

But right now, in 2014, from an advanced metrics perspective, Andrew Luck is not elite. He's not a top-five quarterback. He's a very, very good passer who has an incredible ceiling. But let's not confuse his potential with what he's doing on the field right now.