There has been a lot of consternation this morning about whether Indianapolis has ruined their chances at the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, but frankly I am not sure I would be nearly as concerned. Even if Indy should lose out on the #1 overall selection, there is a good chance they may still wind up with Andrew Luck and even if not, end up with a player who might be better able to turn this team back into a contender in 2012.
I don’t need to list the quarterbacks taken #1 overall since Peyton Manning went in 1998, but I will anyway. They include a few gems like Michael Vick (though he needed a prison stay to get his mind straight), Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Matt Stafford, and Cam Newton (Sam Bradford will need to turn things around next season). But just as often, they include duds like David Carr, Tim Couch, and JaMarcus Russell (jury is still out on Alex Smith). Even among the gems, only Michael Vick and Eli Manning could be considered among the elite NFL quarterbacks right now; Palmer hasn’t been close to elite in years. But Andrew Luck is different, right?
Maybe. Probably, in fact. He may very well be the perfect heir for Peyton Manning or some other struggling franchise. He played behind an excellent offensive line and had a great running game, which allowed him to showcase his skills in an ideal environment. Perfect, except that the NFL is not an ideal environment and certainly not in Indianapolis. No team goes from 10+ wins in 9 consecutive seasons to a 2-12 record because of one player, even if he is the best quarterback in the NFL. Defense, the running game and some talented skill position players should be enough to eke out 6 or 7 wins with a talented core. That means that Indy’s problems likely run much deeper than who the quarterback is. This offseason they will likely lose the effective Robert Mathis, putting even more pressure on Dwight Freeney. Reggie Wayne may depart given his age and likely contract demands, along with the increasingly effective wideout Pierre Garcon and versatile lineman Ryan Diem. This team has a lot of places it will need work even without these exits, and being that the Colts are already one of the most capped-out teams in the league, they won’t have the money to rebuild on the fly.
But this isn’t an Indianapolis blog. The point is that Luck could slip past Minnesota and St. Louis, should it fall that way, since both have young starting quarterbacks they have already invested in and feel pretty good about. Then again whoever winds up with the #1 overall pick should happen to trade it to a quarterback-desperate team like the Redskins (who have no qualms about trading their picks away), Dolphins, Jaguars (Gabbert is not the answer), or even Seahawks. In fact, one thing I love about this draft is the utter depth at quarterback. Beyond Luck however there are a half-dozen quarterbacks who could be taken in the top couple rounds and become legitimate stars in the NFL, from Heisman winner Robert Griffin III to Landry Jones (if he comes out), Russell Wilson, or even Kellen Moore, Case Keenum or Brandon Weeden. In fact, odds are good that at least one of these players will emerge to have a better career than Luck. That isn’t a knock on Luck, it’s just how these things tend to shake out.
At this point in the season it is far more important to put your team in a position to win in 2012 and determine what tire fires on this team need to be put out first. Sometimes when everything has gone bad, as it has for the Colts, it is tough to see where your biggest needs are. Quarterback is certainly the most glamorous position, but it is also the one most dependent on how other positions perform. If you lack a decent offensive line it is near impossible for a quarterback to be successful, and if you lack a running back with good vision the defense will be able to sell out on the pass. Quarterbacks need to be in the right situation to be successful. Look no further than Matt Cassel in Kansas City. He was around all kinds of playmakers in New England and had a good deal of success, and now only able show flashes of that brilliance with the Chiefs. On the opposite end of the spectrum Kurt Warner was taken apart in New York to be declared washed up by everyone except for the Cardinals, who offered him the right system, talented receivers, and enough of an offensive line to showcase his abilities.*
Sure, there are quarterbacks who can see through those years and take the beatings until their team can improve, quarterbacks like Peyton Manning when he joined Indy. But by and large quarterbacks aren’t much good without a supporting cast. So play on and go for the win, cellar dwellers. Top QBs are like the star on the top of a Christmas tree- you need one for the tree to be complete, but without a strong tree they are bound to come crashing down.
*How well would Tebow be doing without a stellar defense that allows him to keep games close?