IPPOLITO: Andrew Luck’s Career Comes Under Scrutiny
The Water Cooler

No player in the National Football League wants to be considered a bust. No fan wants to acknowledge that the player once thought to be the future of the franchise is now just another player condemning the team to additional years of mediocrity.

No team wants to draft a player who becomes known as a bust — cheers to you, Cleveland. However, in reality, there is no set criteria for what makes a player a bust.

There are obviously players who fit this mold, like disgraced quarterback of the Chargers Ryan Leaf or the Cardinals’ 2006 first-round pick, Heisman winner Matt Leinart. What, then, to make of Andrew Luck?

By standard numbers, it would seem absurd to say Luck has been a bust through his four seasons in the NFL. He has three playoff victories, wins 61 percent of the games he starts and has made three Pro-Bowls. No, Luck is not a bust – yet.  Given his 2015 season and the start to the 2016 season, it is possible he is headed down that road, in some ways through no fault of his own.

Most teams would kill to have three playoff appearances in the last four seasons and have a quarterback with Luck’s natural talent. Luck had enormous expectations coming out of Stanford, and back in 2012, ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Luck as the highest-rated draft prospect since John Elway in 1983.

Compound that with the fact that Luck was replacing Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and that the Colts were willing to let Manning — who had productive seasons left him — become a free agent. Luck was essentially expected to walk on water and part the seas, on top of making the Colts perennial super bowl contenders.

Fair or not, given the astronomical expectations, the numbers and performances that may be great for most NFL quarterbacks are considered busts for Luck , as he was never supposed to be just another quarterback.

Luck’s biggest issue has been with turnovers and sacks. Through 59 career regular season games, Luck has thrown 58 interceptions and fumbled 34 times. While not all of those fumbles were lost, being directly responsible for over one turnover per game is alarming.

Not every turnover is Luck’s fault, but the larger issue for him may not be his play per se, but the talent with which the Colts surround him.

The Colts became notorious around the league for failing to address what was arguably their biggest weakness and critical to Andrew Luck’s success: the offensive line. Luck absorbed 332 hits in his first three seasons and did not even make it halfway through his fourth after lacerating a kidney and tearing cartilage in two ribs.

Though the Colts attempted to address those issues in the 2016 NFL Draft, things have not improved much this season. Through four weeks, Luck has been sacked the most out of any quarterback in the league and is being sacked on an unprecedented 8.2 percent of pass attempts.

To put this in perspective, Luck’s previous highest sack percentage was 6.1 percent in his rookie season when he was sacked 41 times and took 122 total hits. Given the fact that Luck is on pace to attempt more passes this year than he did in 2012, he could be in for a serious beating.

Another problem facing Luck, one he has little control over, is the defense. In the simplest terms possible, Indianapolis is bad at defense and has been mediocre at best throughout Luck’s tenure as a Colt.

According to Football Outsiders, the Colts’ defense is currently ranked No. 30 out of 32 teams, and Indianapolis is constantly playing from behind. All of this means more passing situations for Luck and more opportunities for opposing defenses to ratchet up pressure.

During his first four seasons, Indianapolis never had a defense ranked higher than 13ths. In many ways, the fact that the Colts have had success with such a porous defense is a testament to Luck’s ability to make plays and find ways to win.

Something, however, has to give, and banking on a quarterback with a porous offensive line and average defense is an unsustainable model for winning.

The Colts were fortunate enough to get a once-in-a-generation player, but unfortunately, they have not done their part to surround Luck with the talent necessary to seriously compete for championships. If that does not change, Luck may be spared the ire of being labeled a big-game bust because he won’t be playing in many big games.

MichaelIppolito_SketchMichael Ippolito is a senior in the College. The Water Cooler appears every Friday.

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