Indianapolis Colts 2012 NFL Draft preview: Andrew Luck, then what?


New Indianapolis Colts GM Ryan Grigson made official Tuesday what we all pretty much knew back in January: the franchise will select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in today’s NFL Draft.

Luck is billed as the most pro-ready quarterback prospect to enter the league since Peyton Manning, the man he’s succeeding in Indianapolis. Some would go even further back and call Luck the surest thing since fellow Stanford great John Elway.

While I personally think such opinions are a bit overkill, I do think very highly of Luck, and I believe he can be the Colts’ next franchise signal-caller for many years to come. Given the recent organizational overhaul in Indy, however, quarterback is far from this team’s only thin spot. The Colts could use talent upgrades everywhere.

The fun, analytically speaking, starts with the No. 34 pick.

I always say this around draft time: I get annoyed at the notion of NFL teams’ “biggest draft needs.”

Every team has the same biggest need on draft weekend: more talent. In fact, drafting for need is a big reason why franchises tend to falter during the season. They target specific players who (supposedly) would fill holes on their rosters and thus not consider more talented individuals.

I’m sure the Detroit Lions aren’t too upset about drafting dynamic defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh over offensive tackles Trent Williams and Russell Okung in 2010 when offensive tackle was billed as the team’s biggest need. I’m also fairly certain New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t second-guessing his decision to trade up in the second round of that draft to select record-setting tight end Rob Gronkowski when the Patriots supposedly were most sorely lacking a pass rusher.

It sounds like this “best player available” philosophy is what Grigson will follow during his first draft in a general manager’s capacity. That’s great news for the Colts, who simply need all the young talent they can acquire right now.

I hear all the arguments about how the Colts might approach this crucial draft:

They need to give Andrew Luck some weapons.

Yeah, but Chuck Pagano’s a defensive-minded coach, and the Colts are switching to a 3-4. Gotta get the personnel for the new scheme.

Folks, Grigson has made it clear he’ll follow neither these nor any blueprints. He’ll take whomever is the top player on his board when Indy is on the clock, regardless of position. It’s the most successful draft strategy in the league, and as I’ve made apparent in this post, it’s the only strategy the Colts can use.

Andrew Luck the right man at No. 1 overall?

I believe they have already taken the first step in that process. Luck is darn near the consensus best player in this draft. There exists only a contingent who thinks otherwise; that contingent would favor Baylor’s Heisman trophy-winning passer Robert Griffin III. I love “RG3” and think he’ll have a fantastic career with the Washington Redskins, who traded their second-round pick and their first-rounders the next two years to move up four spots and secure their acquiring Griffin. He indeed owns advantages over Luck in multiple facets of quarterbacking, arm strength included.

Overall, though, I still have Luck as the top guy. While both have comparable career statistics in college, notably completion percentage and yards per attempt, I give the slight edge to Luck because of his experience in a pro-style offense — Griffin mostly played in a spread at Baylor — as well as his vision and feel for the pocket. Luck was noticeably better than Griffin at anticipating where his receivers would wind up and placing the ball in that spot, a skill quite typical of the modern-day NFL quarterback. Since Griffin ran a spread in college, he relied largely on speedy receivers’ ability to break loose. ESPN’s Bill Polian echoed this observation on the Bill Parcells’ Draft Confidential program. That’s not to say Griffin won’t adjust in the pros — I believe he will — but Luck is ahead of the game in that department.

Before moving on — it’s a useless debate as we all know the Colts are taking Luck — I want to dispel two more notions in the Luck-Griffin talk. Firstly, Griffin does have a bigger arm than Luck has, which I mentioned earlier, but I think people might be a bit fooled into thinking Luck doesn’t have that powerful an arm. If you watch his college film closely, you’ll notice a relatively minor mechanical glitch in his delivery. When he is readying to throw, he tends to lift his back foot off the ground. This takes away some of his balance and thus disallows him to drive the ball with as much zip. When he throws from a natural plant, the zip on the ball is fine, and there’s plenty of power in the throw. And that problem generally only arises when he stands in the pocket. He rarely has this problem throwing on the run. I believe this issue is correctable at the NFL level, and Luck will have help from one of the best quarterback mentors in the game in offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, in his element as a position coach, will be valuable in addressing Luck’s delivery as well.

Secondly, enough with the “safe vs. ceiling” argument. The idea out there is that Luck is the “safe pick” and Griffin’s ceiling is higher than Luck’s. Could Griffin have a higher ceiling? Sure. His physical attributes — passing and running — are off the charts, and he’s extremely intelligent and mature. But Luck could just as easily have a higher ceiling than Griffin with what he brings to the table. This was the debate in 1998 when the Colts selected Peyton Manning No. 1 overall instead of Ryan Leaf. Now, this year’s one-two debate is no Manning-Leaf. It’s much closer to John Elway-Dan Marino in 1983. Still, the premise was the same in 1998. Manning was the “safe pick” while Leaf had the “higher ceiling.” The implication was that Manning couldn’t achieve as much as Leaf could achieve. Well, Manning now sits third all-time in pass completions, passing yards and touchdown passes (via Pro Football Reference) and has won four NFL MVP awards while making two Super Bowl appearances with one victory. Is that not a high ceiling reached? I say this without considering how Leaf’s career transpired.

Again, I think both Luck and Griffin will have outstanding, potentially Hall of Fame-caliber careers. One really must nitpick to give one of these guys the edge for No. 1 overall. By my eye test, Luck’s the guy by the tightest of margins.

Beyond Luck…

So who are some possibilities starting at the No. 34 pick, the second selection in the second round?

We could see the Colts take any one of a number of guys here. We hear one of those guys’ names much more often than those of the rest: Coby Fleener.

Fleener, Luck’s teammate at Stanford, has established himself as the most coveted tight end in this draft (honestly, the crop is pretty weak). The 6-6, 247-pound specimen was Luck’s biggest target with the Cardinal, largely because of the losses of the team’s best receivers to injuries, and talk in the media is that he could go late in the first round. If he falls to No. 34 on Friday, he surely would be a welcome addition in Indy, especially for Luck. In all likelihood, though, Fleener have to fall to the Colts there because it’s difficult to imagine Grigson trading into the first round and trading away multiple picks to secure him.

Who else could be there?

  • Peter Konz, center, Wisconsin: A promising center — the most promising in a thin crop of them — that eventually could be the Jeff Saturday to Luck’s Manning.
  • Stephen Hill, wide receiver, Georgia Tech: The 6-5 specimen has shot up draft boards as yet another prospect in a deep wide receiver class. He’d provide a tall, fast (4.36 40-yard dash) option for Luck opposite Reggie Wayne.
  • Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, North Alabama: No one’s denying the former Florida Gator’s talent, but his off-field issues are giving everyone pause. Will the Colts’ new regime follow the old guard in avoiding troubled players or dismiss Jenkins’ past enough to take him in the second round?
  • Reuben Randle, wide receiver, LSU: The quarterback play in Baton Rouge held him back a bit. Randle made plenty of big receptions for the Tigers. Could a passer as highly touted as Luck be just what this guy needs to flourish?
  • Jerel Worthy, defensive tackle, Michigan State: An ideal five-tech defensive end in a 3-4 scheme and an on-field meanness about him. Were the Colts to select Worthy, he’d make a solid bookend down lineman opposite free-agent pickup Cory Redding.

These six guys are just some of the best talents projected to be available when the Colts go on the clock Friday. I could go on and on as this team just needs talent in any way, shape or form. It really goes without saying for big-time Colts followers: it’ll be interesting to see what Grigson can do in his draft debut as GM.

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