Did We Anoint Andrew Luck ‘Elite’ Too Soon?

Andrew Luck

The next great quarterback. The second-coming of Peyton Manning. The best quarterback prospect since John Elway.

These are just a few of the statements that have surrounded Andrew Luck since his senior year at Stanford, leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft, and as he currently leads the Indianapolis Colts.

High expectations don’t do him justice.

Luck has been an excellent young quarterback since entering the league. He was very much in the conversation for 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year, and a year later took the Colts to the second round of the playoffs.

But with great expectations comes a need for greater results. In 2014, Luck and the Colts have started out 0-2. It’s not exactly a lost season just yet, but it puts the Colts behind both the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South after two weeks.

Luck is hardly to blame for Colts’ loss to Philadelphia on Monday Night Football. Chip Kelly inserted Darren Sproles to jump-start the Eagles, and the Colts offense was stalled in its attempt to keep pace.

After Indianapolis took a 27-20 lead, Luck threw an interception to Malcolm Jenkins, which five plays later led to an Eagles game-tying touchdown. In the ensuing Colts possession, the offense went three-and-out. Philly capitalized, with Nick Foles engineering a four-play drive culminating with a game-winning field goal.

If I’m being a prisoner of the moment, Luck threw a pick and went three-and-out in the two most important offensive drives of the night. In his career, he still has eight fourth-quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives. Last night is just one blemish on an otherwise impressive resume.

But while I don’t have the opportunity to watch Luck week in and week out, every time I do have that pleasure it feels like Luck disappears for large stretches of the game. Luck leads the Colts to 14 or 21 first-half points, but after his defense coughs up a lead or the opposing squad makes a run, Luck is forced to deliver in a big-time spot. Fair or not fair, it’s his job to succeed in those situations — so long that he’s wearing that “elite” tag.

But speaking of that tag, his potential as an NFL quarterback should not be solidified at 25 years old entering his third professional season. It should not even be mentioned, to be fair.

Luck may have an “elite” ceiling, but that discussion needs to be tabled until he’s at the age and point in his career where legacy conversations are somewhat acceptable — after a Super Bowl victory, an NFL record, or in 10 years when he decides to hang up his cleats.

For now, Luck is exactly what I labeled him as in the beginning of this article. He’s an excellent young quarterback. He’s already set a handful of marks previously held by Peyton Manning with the Colts and for rookies, and he most certainly is on track for an exceptional career. But did we expect Robert Griffin III to fall from grace in a matter of months? Did we expect Russell Wilson to win a Super Bowl his sophomore season? Are we discussing either one of them as elites or bust right this second?

But when the conversation turns to Luck, it immediately focuses upon the next elite quarterback. Those are lofty words to describe a quarterback, the most scrutinized position in football, especially one who often has to put his entire team on his back just to win games. It puts added pressure on Luck, which eventually — if it hasn’t already — weighs on him. And in the worst case scenario, could force us to judge a truly amazing career as just good because it never lived up to the “elite” status.

He could be elite. He may not be. But he could still be great. Let’s not judge a career or force labels, and incidentally ruin a career.

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Sam Spiegelman
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.