Has Andrew Luck's Division Altered the Way We View Him?
The city of Indianapolis hates me. Or, at least that's what the comments section of this article shows. But here I am, just a couple of weeks after saying that Andrew Luck isn't as good as you probably think, giving more reasons why Andrew Luck isn't as good as you probably think.
If you missed last month's article, the overall argument was pretty straightforward: fans see Luck as a top-five option at quarterback when, in fact, he's not. He's brilliant at the position for his age, and his ceiling is as high as anyone else's in the league. But right now, not looking into his future, he hasn't performed like the top-notch players at the position have.
Today's look takes a different angle to the argument. Two days ago on the Twitter machine, daily fantasy sports writer turned DraftKings millionaire, Drew Dinkmeyer, posed an interesting question about Luck, asking, "I wonder how Luck would be perceived if he was in a different division?"
Drew later added that Luck's regular season inter-divisional record is a strong 16-2, while his out-of-division record is 17-13.
You ask casual fans how they feel about Andrew Luck, and most of them will tell you that "he's a winner." That's not false, I suppose -- as Drew pointed out, his record against his division is absurdly good, and he's got an above .500 record against out-of-division teams.
But that's precisely the problem. Andrew Luck's division sucks. A lot. In 2014, the Jaguars and Titans finished 30th and 32nd in our power rankings, respectively. And last year, the three non-Colts teams combined for 13 wins. Playing against these teams six times per year can be a huge boost to a player's production.
And that's been the case for Andrew Luck. Take a look.
If you haven't read about numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, do so now in our glossary. It's important to wrap your head around the statistic before I make bold claims about Andrew Luck -- I don't want anyone throwing their computer out the window.
Let's start the analysis by looking at what Luck's done so far in his career, regardless of opponent.
|Year||Passing NEP||Per Drop Back||Pass Success Rate|
Among 200-plus attempt single-season passers since 2000, the average Passing NEP per drop back has been 0.051. Andrew Luck has essentially hit that per drop back average each year in the NFL. That number, however, has increased through time, as the NFL's become a more pass-friendly league. In 2014, for instance, it was 0.097. So if we're looking at Luck within the context of his era, his per drop back NEP really only hit the above average mark in 2014.
This probably isn't a huge surprise, as this was more or less his breakout campaign. He's been good for his age, but this season, he was really good. As you can see, Luck increased his Passing NEP per drop back to a strong 0.17, which was eighth best in the NFL. Because of volume, his sum Passing NEP ranked seventh.
I presented this information in my last article on Luck, so this shouldn't be anything new. From an advanced analytics standpoint, these numbers -- at a high level -- are why Luck is great, but slightly overrated.
The numbers above reflect Luck's total season -- they're unadjusted for opponent strength, and there's no type of split involved. What happens when you split the metrics into divisional versus non-divisional games?
|Year||In Division Per Drop Back NEP||Out of Division Per Drop Back NEP||Difference|
Andrew Luck, plain and simple, has feasted on his division. Each year since he's entered the league he's seen a significant drop off in Passing NEP per drop back when playing teams outside of the AFC South.
Don't forget that the average Passing NEP per drop back rate in the NFL over the past 15 years has been 0.05, and it was 0.09 in 2014. Andrew Luck, outside of his division during his freshman and sophomore years, was average to below average.
He was still good away from his rivals in 2014, but the difference between the way he played in the division versus out was huge. On 219 drop backs, he compiled a Passing NEP of 64.37 within the division in 2014, good for a per drop back rate of 0.29. Only Aaron Rodgers (0.34) and Tony Romo (0.31) finished with higher rates than that this year.
His raw numbers show the same type of story, too. In the six games against the AFC South this past season, Luck threw 16 touchdown passes to just 3 interceptions (24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions outside of the division). And he had a completion percentage of over 65 percent (60 percent when facing teams outside of the division). His yardage totals were higher when he didn't face Houston, Tennessee or Jacksonville (roughly 14 more yards per game), but then again, passing yards can often be skewed by garbage time and early-game inefficient offensive play.
When Andrew Luck faced teams within his division, per our metrics, he was just as good as any other quarterback in the NFL. When he left his division, his per drop back NEP this season was on the same level as Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford.
Perhaps this is just what happens with elite passers in the NFL? Maybe they just own their division -- isn't that a sign of being a great player?
Tony Romo, for instance, saw a -2.47 per game Passing NEP change when facing his own division this past season. In other words, he played about 2.5 expected points worse against the NFC East versus outside of the NFC East.
Andrew Luck's was 6.13.
The thing, too, is that the quarterbacks I just mentioned haven't seen consistency in these splits each year in the league. Andrew Luck, on the other hand, clearly has, as shown by the per drop back numbers above.
No, it's not Luck's fault that he crushes his division and is able to put up really nice numbers as a result. And no, this doesn't make Andrew Luck a matchup-driven quarterback who can't win big games or contests against non-divisional teams.
But we obviously can't ignore Luck's play within and outside of his division, just like we can't ignore arguments that seem to favor Number 12, like his consistently awful defense. If people are going to yell and scream about an unlovely take that I have on Luck in the comments section because he "wins" and "throws a lot of touchdowns", why shouldn't we also look at who he's facing and where those touchdowns are coming from? The answer is we should -- we absolutely should.
There are excuses made for every fringe elite quarterback and why they aren't elite. Russell Wilson has a great defense and one of the best running backs of this generation. Tony Romo, this season, had the best offensive line in the NFL. Matt Ryan has stud wide receivers. Ben Roethlisberger only won two Super Bowls because he just had to manage games.
Objectively, the opposite seems to happen for Luck -- though you could say I'm wrong about this, because it's certainly not scientific. He is a top-five quarterback to folks because his weapons are horrible and his defense is worse. He is elite because he's made the playoffs each year in the league and got to the AFC Championship this season.
But take a step back for a second and ask yourself if you're looking at the greater picture in the most logical way. If Andrew Luck wasn't in the AFC South, would we be viewing his career the same way we're viewing it right now?