As a football scout, you are taught to have a standard to which incoming prospects are held. For linebackers, you can look at Ray Lewis or Patrick Willis as prime examples of the best possible outcome for a middle linebacker. You grade players to the standard set by Lewis and Willis—hoping for the day you come across a player who exceeds those expectations.
Every position has a “gold standard” that scouts compare players to. For quarterbacks, that player has been Peyton Manning. Until now…
Manning’s reign as the best draft prospect ever seen by these eyes has ended, thanks to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
You may wonder why Manning is the gold standard and not a player like John Elway or Dan Marino. Reason being, those players were not available for me to scout and it would be unfair to use them without seeing enough college film to grade them.
In my years covering the NFL draft, Manning has been the most impressive college quarterback I’ve seen. It’s also relatively easy to find clips online of Manning’s days at Tennessee, making it easier to grade him as a prospect based on his college career.
Grading Scale Requirements
All college players who are scouted during the regular season are graded on a fixed scale. Players must hit requirements before I write a scouting report—minimum three games viewed live or on film, at least a redshirt sophomore and they must be in my top 200 players. Each player is graded overall and per the traits that make up his position. For example, quarterbacks are graded on accuracy, arm strength, size, etc.
The Grading Scale
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Luck vs. Manning: The Breakdown
What makes Andrew Luck the new standard for quarterback play? Using available footage and scouting reports from Peyton Manning’s college career, I’ve done a side-by-side comparison of Manning and Luck.
Luck: 9.1 | Manning: 9.4
Luck and Manning played in two very different offensive systems, which skews the pure statistics in regard to accuracy. Manning, while completing 62 percent of his college passes, has better overall accuracy than Luck, who has completed 64 percent so far.
The difference here is that Manning’s accuracy trumps Luck’s current abilities on throws going more than 15 yards. Manning had a great feel for the ball and knew how to put it in a tight spot when throwing to short, middle or deep planes. I have to note that in 1995, Manning did post the lowest interception ratio of any college quarterback ever, with 1.05 percent of his passes being picked off.
Luck: 8.9 | Manning: 8.7
Neither Luck nor Manning are known for having a rocket, “Jay Cutler-style” arm. That’s because they don’t need it. Both quarterbacks are able to distribute the ball to every corner of the field. The separation from Luck to Manning here is due to Luck’s ability to rifle the ball harder and farther on the run.
Manning has never had issues with velocity, so this is not a criticism of his arm, it’s just to say that Luck’s arm strength and velocity are slightly better when you look at the two players ability to throw deep, middle, short and on the run.
Luck: 9.4 | Manning: 10.0
Manning has the best mechanics I’ve ever seen. If you want to teach someone how to throw a football, find a reel of Manning chucking the football and duplicate Manning’s motion to the best of one’s ability. Luck has a nice delivery of his own, but I would like to see him follow through more with his right foot when throwing the ball.
Luck, at this time, depends too much on arm strength and isn’t getting his full body into the pass. When watching the two players side-by-side, you will see Manning has a full carry over of his back leg, while Luck tends to slightly kick the leg up, but not through. This could cause problems for Luck when he needs to deliver a ball faster and harder than he’s had to in college.
Luck: 9.2 | Manning 9.0
The difference here is small on the grading scale, but it could pay off big in the NFL. Peyton Manning has never been the type of quarterback to limit his interceptions, averaging 11 interceptions per year over his final two seasons at Tennessee. Luck, on the other hand, delivers more high-accuracy passes and has thrown just 12 interceptions in two years.
Luck: 9.8 | Manning: 10.0
Both players are incredibly intelligent, and if anyone can come close to the level of Football IQ that Manning showed at Tennessee, it’s Luck. Both have run complex offensive systems that require more from the quarterback than your average college spread option. Luck and Manning have learned to be thinkers on the field.
Luck: 10.0 | Manning 10.0
Through two years, Andrew Luck has yet to be injured. Manning made it four. Neither player has any injury issues worth noting.
Luck: 9.5 | Manning: 8.9
Stanford’s offensive scheme allows Luck to distribute the football as he sees fit. Luck has done a great job of not favoring any one receiver during his time running the west coast offense. Manning, on the other hand, would at times lock in to receivers Marcus Nash and Peerless Price. Luck has the upper hand over Manning in his ability to locate the receiver.
Luck: 9.4 | Manning: 9.1
Peyton Manning is a very good play-action quarterback in the NFL, but in college he needed work on this aspect of his game. Manning had a nice fake, but would struggle to locate intermediate receivers coming out of his fake. Luck, on the other hand, does a great job of locating the receiver and brings another level of play action due to his outside pocket mobility.
Luck: 9.7 | Manning: 8.9
Peyton Manning is known as a pocket magician—he slides up and out of the pocket with quick, choppy steps and delivers a strike. More so than anything, Manning’s quick strike mentality and ability to locate blitzers at the NFL level has romanticized his ability to do this as a college player. Frankly, he wasn’t great in the pocket, and there were legitimate concerns about his ability to ever get better.
Luck is a complete player in the pocket. He can move inside the pocket to elude blitzers as well as tuck and run if needed. Luck is strong enough to shake off pass rushers, where Manning was too thin in college to stand up against blitzers.
Luck: 9.3 | Manning: 9.8
Andrew Luck has played just two years compared to Peyton Manning’s four at Tennessee, so there is still time for Luck to further develop in this regard. Manning’s knack for coolness under pressure and ability to rally the team from behind were legendary by the time he left Knoxville. Luck has room to grow here.
Luck: 9.0 | Manning: 10.0
When it comes to the college production of Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning, we can only look at Manning’s first two years in comparison with Luck’s first two seasons. Even grading on a curve, Manning is the more productive of the two.
Luck: 8.5 | Manning: 5.5
With a timed 40-yard dash of 4.9 at the NFL Scouting Combine, Peyton Manning ran better than you might have expected, but it was no surprise that Manning did not show the athletic ability of other players at the position. He was known as a pocket passer at Tennessee. Luck, on the other hand, has been timed and estimated in the low 4.7 range. He has also picked up over 800 yards rushing in two seasons.
Luck: 10.0 | Manning: 9.5
Remember, this is based on Manning during his college days, when he was rail thin and chicken legged. Manning’s height is wonderful, but his lack of bulk was an issue back in 1998. Andrew Luck, on the flip side of things, is tall and thick. He’s built more like a safety or linebacker.
Luck: 9.6 | Manning: 9.2
The ability to place the ball in a catchable position can be one of the most underrated aspects of any quarterback’s toolkit. Knowing where to put the ball, and how hard to throw it to make the pass as catchable as possible cannot be overlooked.
Both Manning and Luck are exceptional at this, but my preference is Luck. Manning too often threw the ball at his receivers in college, rather than placing the ball where the receiver will be. This small difference, usually less than one yard in distance, makes a huge difference in run after catch ability and limiting dropped passes.
Luck: 9.38 | Manning: 9.14
The final tally, the average of all 14 quarterback traits, shows that at the end of the day, Andrew Luck is simply a better prospect.
Luck, who enters the 2011 season as a redshirt junior, is no lock to enter the 2012 NFL draft. While it does seem highly likely, many also thought that Peyton Manning would enter the draft after his stellar 1996 junior season. Manning returned to Knoxville.
Luck is ready to make the jump from college to the NFL after this season, and he will be one of the most sought after college players since No. 16 was leading the band to the tune of Rocky Top.