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Jan 11

The Case Against Andrew Luck

The 2012-2013 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year race comes down to three quarterbacks: Robert Griffin III of Washington, Russell Wilson of Seattle, and Andrew Luck of Indianapolis. You can make very strong, well-founded, convincing arguments for the first two of them, and no matter which candidate you support, it’s tough to argue that either one of them doesn’t deserve it. However, one of the candidates does not belong anywhere near the conversation, and in fact his performance has been one of the worst in the league this season. That candidate is Andrew Luck.

Luck has had an absolutely terrible season. That’s not entirely his fault, as I’ll explain later on, but the fact remains that he has not produced anywhere near the level of the other two. (I’ll be comparing Luck predominantly to Wilson throughout this article, since Griffin outperforms Wilson in pretty much every stat and I’m more familiar with Wilson’s performance this season. Griffin is also probably the stronger candidate, and should be the favorite to win, even though he’s not.)

If Andrew Luck wins Rookie of the Year, I’ll be appalled. His statistics in every single category besides pass attempts (which are absolutely meaningless; I could throw 700 times in the NFL, albeit mostly interceptions) and net yards (which are largely meaningless and correlate very weakly with victory, as I’ll get to in a minute) are terrible. Every measure of efficiency puts Wilson above Luck, and for the most part, it isn’t close. And the arguments for why Luck transcends the statistics are, for the most part, bogus. Let’s start with statistics, and Luck’s phenomenally bad season by the numbers.

Seriously, pick your favorite metric and check. Completion percentage? Wilson, 64.1%-54.1%. (That’s right, Wilson completes 10 percentage points more passes than Luck. In other words, Luck has 87 more completions on 234 more throws. Oh, and Luck didn’t break 50% in any of his last five regular season games, during the Colts’ 4-1 stretch to end the season. Don’t give him too much credit for the Colts’ strong finish.)

Yards per attempt? Wilson, 7.9-7.0. ANY/A (an advanced version of yards per attempt taking into account a few more factors)? Wilson, 6.8-5.7. Touchdown percentage? Wilson, 6.6-3.7. Interception percentage? Wilson, 2.5-2.9 (lower is better). Passer rating? Wilson, 100.0-76.5. QBR (questionable though it may be)? Wilson, 36.7-27.2.

Suffice it to say Luck’s been pretty bad this year. How bad, you ask? Well, just based on passer rating and completion percentage, he just had one of the 25 worst rookie seasons ever.

Well, that’s not that bad. Let’s compare him to his contemporaries! Same criteria, all qualifying quarterbacks, this season only.

Oh. According to the results, Luck is the third-worst qualifying quarterback in the league this year (there were 29). I think that stat speaks for itself, but in case it doesn’t, let me say this: When the only other QBs in the league performing as badly as you are Mark Sanchez and Chad Henne, you probably don’t deserve a major seasonal award.

The common arguments made in Luck’s favor are that “he is asked to do more with less”, and that “he turned the Colts around”. I have brief responses to both these points.

First, that “he is asked to do more with less”. That may be true. In fact, I don’t doubt that the Colts need Luck more than the Seahawks need Wilson or the Redskins need Griffin. But the fact is, no matter how much Luck may be asked to do, he’s playing really badly. He may be asked to do more with less, but he’s not actually doing more with less. He’s not even doing slightly less with less. He’s doing WAY less with less. If that’s enough to win an award like this, then you might as well give MVP to Henne; he’s playing slightly worse than Luck playing with a far worse team.

But wait! you might exclaim. Luck is winning games, and Henne isn’t! In other words, Luck “turned the Colts around.” Right?

Well, kind of. If you follow advanced NFL team stats at all (FootballOutsider’s DVOA, Pythagorean wins, etc.) you know that the Colts aren’t exactly as good as their record indicates. In fact, by many metrics, they’re well below average as a team. But they’ve won games, and Luck’s passed for a ton of yards, and that’s enough for most fans.

But it shouldn’t be. All research indicates that passing yards are basically uncorrelated with wins. In other words, quarterbacks passing for a lot of yards are about as likely to win games as lose games, and the same is true for QBs passing for only a few yards. It’s not quite fair to say that this means that Luck’s high yardage numbers aren’t doing his team any good, but it’s also not unreasonable.

So why are they winning so much? Part of it is strength of schedule – SoS is calculated different ways by different people, but regardless of how you slice it the Colts had one of the easiest schedules in the league this year. But honestly, they’re probably just lucky (pun not intended). 9 of their 11 wins have come by 7 points or less, and games that close are basically coin flips, just due to the sheer number of impossible-to-control elements that decide a game that close. That’s why they had net negative points (-30) and yards (-189) on the season (not to mention performing terribly in most advanced metrics) and still won 11 games.

They got lucky in 9/10 close games they played (four losses were by >7 points, as were two wins). If you say on average they’ll win five of those close games, but leave the blowouts the same, this season should be somewhere around 7-9 for the Colts, give or take a game or two. Still decent, but certainly not amazing, and probably about what you’d expect from a rookie like Luck, considering the improvement he offers over the Colts’ QBs last year, and considering the Colts’ incredibly easy SoS this year. Is Luck the magical X-factor that enabled this team to beat ridiculous odds? Again, probably not. He’s just lucky (pun intended that time).

The Rookie of the Year race comes down to two guys who had two of the best rookie quarterback seasons in NFL history, and one guy who played about as well as Chad Henne and Mark Sanchez and happened to get incredibly lucky (seriously, 9/10? Are you kidding me?). The decision may be anything but clear, but this part of it shouldn’t be hard to agree with: Andrew Luck doesn’t belong remotely close to the ROTY conversation.

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