Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Luck: Football’s version of Derek Jeter is still the NFL’s best young quarterback

As a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees, I have had the privilege of following Derek Jeter’s career since his rookie season in 1996.

Jeter is, by far, the single athlete that I appreciate and admire most, in any sport.

Forget the five World Series championships and seven American League pennants that Jeter helped the Yankees win from 1996 through 2009. Forget Jeter’s 13 All-Star Game appearances. Forget his five Gold Glove awards. Forget the fact that the 2006 AL MVP award should have been his, not Justin Morneau’s.

No, Jeter’s accolades–though he has plenty–aren’t what have me in awe. What has impressed me most–and still impresses me most–about him are the intangibles, the aspects of his game that can’t be measured.

Jeter has a sixth sense on the diamond, allowing him to see plays develop before they actually do. It’s why he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. It’s why he has the ability to pull off the most improvised plays imaginable, such as the famous ‘flip’ play in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS. (For those less familiar with the Flip, as some like to call it, Jeter–running from shortstop–had the presence of mind to cut off an overthrown ball that was dribbling down the first base line, pick it up, and flip it to Jorge Posada at home plate to gun down Jeremy Giambi of the Oakland A’s.)

The play was, in my opinion, the perfect representation of Derek Jeter as a shortstop. Is he the quickest, the strongest, or the most skilled player at the position? No, no, and no. He is, however, the most intelligent shortstop that I’ve ever watched.

And, outside of Michael Jordan and maybe Joe Montana, Jeter is the greatest clutch performer in the history of sports. “Captain Clutch” is a lifetime .351 hitter in the World Series and a .308 hitter in postseason play. Whether it was his walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series or his sixth-inning, game-tying homer in Game 5 of the 2000 World Series, Jeter has always had a knack for producing when the Yankees need it most. It’s just what he does.

So, why exactly am I gushing about Derek Jeter’s greatness? Because one NFL quarterback reminds me very much of a young Derek Jeter. One NFL quarterback who has orchestrated no fewer than 11 game-winning drives in just two seasons as a pro. One NFL quarterback who, similarly to Jeet, is a consummate winner.

That quarterback, of course, is Andrew Luck.

I’ll admit it: Off the field, Luck and Jeter are nothing alike. Jeter has donned the cover of GQ Magazine; Luck is often ridiculed for his neck beard and for his overall appearance. It’s widely known that Jeter has dated multiple women over the years; Luck has been with the same girlfriend since high school. Jeter grew up in Michigan; Luck grew up in Texas.

But, just as pure athletes, I see irrefutable similarities between the two. Like Jeter did early in his career, Luck has quickly emerged as the most clutch–yes, most clutch–player in his respective sport. Sorry Tom Brady, sorry Drew Brees, and sorry Aaron Rodgers, but each of you has taken a back seat to the former Stanford quarterback.

As I noted earlier, Luck has manufactured 11 game-winning drives in just two NFL seasons. He had a Super Bowl era-record seven of them in his rookie season, including one against Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers and another against the Detroit Lions in which–after trailing 33-21 with 2:48 remaining–he threw two late-game touchdown passes to earn a 35-33 win.

This season, Luck had four more game-winning drives, one of which was against the NFL’s best defense and the eventual-Super Bowl XLVIII champions (the Seattle Seahawks) in Week 5. And, of course, his final and most memorable game-winning drive was against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round, when Luck led the Colts all the way back from down 38-10 early in the third quarter to win 45-44.

Time and time again throughout his first two seasons, Luck has been Jeteresque with his late-game heroics.

And also like the Yankee captain, the Colts’ signal-caller has that rare sixth sense, giving him the ability to see plays happen before anybody else can.

I, along with so many others, witnessed that sixth sense first hand during the Colts’ Wild Card round win over the Chiefs, when–with fewer than 11 minutes remaining and his team trailing 41-31–Luck made what I considered and still consider to be the play of the season.

With the ball at the Kansas City two yard-line, he handed off to running back Donald Brown, who quickly had the ball jarred loose by Eric Berry. Before anyone–myself included–had enough time to understand what had just transpired, the second-year quarterback picked up the ball and dove into the end zone, pulling his team to within three points.

If Luck doesn’t make that play, the Colts lose and are eliminated, just like the Yankees would have likely been eliminated had Jeter not made the “flip” play. The fumble-recovery touchdown was, in my opinion, Luck’s very own “flip” play.

I know it might seem like I’m paying him too high of a compliment, but in many ways, Andrew Luck is Derek Jeter. He’s just that special.

In fact, he’s so special that I have found myself becoming increasingly displeased throughout this week, as some NFL experts and many fans have begun to suggest that Russell Wilson–the Super Bowl XLVIII-winning quarterback–has now surpassed Luck as the best young quarterback in football.

Usually, I would take no issue with that type of praise for the most recent Super Bowl-winning quarterback. If you wanted to argue that Joe Flacco was the league’s best quarterback after last year’s Super Bowl XLVII, I wouldn’t have been able to deny it. If, after he beat Tom Brady with a game-winning drive on Super Bowl Sunday for the second time in four years, you had claimed that Eli Manning was the best of the best two years ago, I likely would have agreed.

But, sorry, the same cannot be said for Russell Wilson, who doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as one Andrew Luck.

I like Wilson–he has a great work ethic, he’s mature, and winning seems to be all that matters to him. But on a team with the NFL’s best defense and the league’s sixth-leading rusher in Marshawn Lynch, Wilson is a glorified game manager.

Over the final seven weeks of the season (including playoffs), Wilson never threw for more than 215 yards in a single game, and he averaged just 173 yards passing per contest. In the six games leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII, he fielded an average QBR (scale of 1 to 100) of just 33.3.

Even in the Super Bowl, when Wilson’s QBR was a near-perfect 88.1, his performance didn’t blow me away. After being awarded a 22-0 advantage almost instantly, he was never forced to play under any amount of pressure. He simply did what he had to do. And, as was the case throughout the season, “what he had to do” didn’t include anything extraordinary. 

I mean, seriously, do fans realize that Wilson was just 11-of-27 for 108 yards passing and an 11.5 QBR in a Week 16 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals? Do fans realize that in a Week 2 win against the San Francisco 49ers, Wilson was 8-of-19 for 142 yards passing and a 25.9 QBR? Do fans realize that Wilson completed only nine of 18 passes for 103 yards and a 25.9 QBR in the Seahawks’ Divisional round win over the New Orleans Saints?

It was the story of the season: Wilson piled up mediocre game after mediocre game, yet the Seahawks–because they have such a deadly defense–continued to also pile up win after win, making Russell’s individual performances mostly irrelevant.

Luck, unfortunately, doesn’t have that luxury. The Colts, who ranked 20th overall in both rushing and total defense in 2013, have consistently asked him carry a load that I’m not sure Wilson–or any of the other young quarterbacks–could handle.

That the Colts even made the playoffs was, to some degree, a miracle. During the season, Luck lost asset after asset and offensive weapon after offensive weapon to season-ending injuries, including his best playmaker and security blanket (Reggie Wayne), his two most talented running backs (Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw), and his tight end (Dwayne Allen). As a result, he spent much of the season throwing to two undrafted players (Da’Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen) and one sixth-rounder (LaVon Brazill), and he did it all behind one of the more dreadful offensive lines in football.

Still, the Colts won 11 regular season games and were even able to beat three of the four teams–San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver–that played on Championship Sunday, and in those wins, Luck’s QBR’s were–in order–79.5, 80.4, and 65.4.

The Colts finished just one win shy of a trip to the AFC Championship Game, and if it weren’t for several questionable no-calls in the Divisional round loss to the New England Patriots, Andrew Luck and company could have potentially had a date with Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos for the right to go to the Super Bowl.

Really? Luck came this close to the AFC Championship Game without Reggie Wayne, Vick Ballard, Dwayne Allen, or Ahmad Bradshaw, and with one of the league’s worst offensive lines? He did more with less than any other quarterback–yes, that’s including Tom Brady–in the league, and I still believe that he–not Brady, Jamaal Charles, or anyone else–deserved to finish second in the MVP voting, after Manning.

There’s simply no chance that–in a hypothetical world–Russell Wilson could have quarterbacked the 2013 Colts and did with them what Andrew Luck did.

When Luck and Wilson actually went head-to-head this season, in that Week 5 showdown, I thought it was very telling that–against all odds–the Colts’ quarterback severely outplayed the visiting quarterback. Luck threw for 229 yards to Wilson’s 210 yards passing; Luck had an 80.4 QBR to Wilson’s 67.1 QBR; and Luck led his offensive on the game-winning drive moments before Wilson threw the game-ending interception.

Advantage: Andrew Luck.

Again, I’m not–in any way–trying to diminish the accomplishments of Russell Wilson. He’s just not Andrew Luck. And, trust me Russell, that’s no crime.

Next Colts Game View full schedule »
Saturday, Aug 2323 Aug8:00New Orleans SaintsBuy Tickets

Tags: Andrew Luck Indianapolis Colts Russell Wilson

  • Rick Goddard

    I’ll give Michael credit in producing a well thought out analysis of today’s QB’s, but Luck is only a contender for the best young quarterback, not the leading candidate. There is a problem when all you look at are stats when it comes to evaluating a player’s contribution to the team. Too many intangibles, some of which were mentioned, are discarded in the discussion when it is statistically based. For instance, didn’t Peyton Manning throw for the most catches and Thomas catch the most receptions (13) for Super Bowl records? How well did those records help the Broncos on Sunday? Meanwhile, Wilson’s pedestrian 18 for 25 day at roughly 200 yards statistically looks weak, except he never put the ball in harms way and the Broncos didn’t come close to receiving any stray passes. You have to look at what the quarterback DOES not just how it adds up on the stat sheet.

    Luck and Wilson both have amazing qualities – they both work hard at their craft, they make generally good decisions, and they run when they HAVE to instead of doing it in lieu of passing the ball. And, yes, the Seattle defense does do a lot to give Wilson the ball at better field position. But I would contend that every member of the Seahawks is motivated by Wilson’s work ethic, leadership, and positive belief in themselves as a team. You can’t measure the effectiveness of those qualities. To be honest, if I was in charge of a new team, I don’t know which QB I would take because they both would be amazing. However, I would never consider swapping Wilson for Luck because it takes time to build that locker room camaraderie, which right now, is formidable.

  • Leon Shuttlesworth

    Wilson 52 tds 19 ints vs. Luck 47 tds 34 ints….. Wilson Regular Season QB Rating 100.6 Playoff QB Rating 102.3… As far as stats is concerned Luck is not in the same league with Wilson… And as far as Wilsons number down the stretch. Lucks wasnt any better vs. easier comp. Wilson plays in the NFC West and has to go against the Rams, Cardinals and 49ers 6 times per year… yet he has has produce more than Luck has. Luck is careless with the ball often throwing horrible ints and fumbling something Wilson doesnt do… And as far as comebacks is concerned… Wilson has comebacks vs. the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, Patriots (Tom BRady) and top flight 2012 Bears defense on the road… A on the road comeback from behind victory vs. the Redskins… and nearly had the greatest comeback in playoff history vs the Falcons his rookie year… And as far as when Luck played vs Wilson… The Seahawks had a huge lead in that game until they had a FG blocked for a TD and a KO return for a TD> Wilson also had almost 100 yards rushing….. I think people better go check the stats of Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson… Luck 57.0 comp% 8196 yards 46 tds and 27 ints… 81.5 ratings Wilson 63.4 comp% 6,475 yards 52 tds 19 ints 100.6 rating… Game Managers dont put up 52 passing tds in their first two years…… And Game Managers dont take a team who previous won 13 games the previous two seasons to 28 wins the next two….

    • Brandon Olinger

      Who let the child behind the keyboard? I don’t know why I sat through that painful load of lies. You are the one who said not to look at stats but are spitting out stats. Andrew Luck was the most pressured QB in the league and had one of the fewest amount of interceptions and led the Colts to have the least amount of turnovers. Andrew Luck does not fumble the ball that often, but when he does, he prevents it from becoming a turnover. Andrew Luck had so much less to work with. The Colts had one of the worst defenses and worst offensive lines and worst rushing yards. When Luck was on the field, he had to let Pep Hamilton (the Colt’s offensive coordinator. thought I should tell you that because you don’t seem to know much about sports) make Andrew Luck hand the ball off. Pep Hamilton kept trying to get the rushing game started, which failed time and time again. But when Luck was off the field, he had to watch one of the worst defenses give up so many points. Then he had to go on the field and work with inexperienced WRs. When Reggie Wayne was out, Luck had no one to rely on. TY Hilton was excellent but he was almost always double teamed on 3rd down and was 5’9, making it hard to be a go to guy. If you put Russell Wilson in place of Andrew Luck, the Colts would not be able to make it to the playoffs. Russell Wilson wouldn’t be able to handle a bad O-line or a bad defense, or a bad rushing team. He would be putting up mediocre numbers, and on a team like the Colts, that will lose you games. You said that Russell Wilson had one of the best playoff comebacks but Andrew Luck came back from a 28 point deficit in the playoffs which was better than theirs. Now that the Colts have Reggie Wayne, Ahmand Bradshaw, Vick Ballard, and Dwayne Allen back from injuries, and Hakeem Nicks, Arthur Jones, and D’Qwell Jackson from free agency, the Colts are going to be serious Super Bowl contenders. Andrew Luck will be put in Russell Wilson’s position this year and when the Colts win the Super Bowl, you will see why Andrew Luck is better.

    • J.M. Nicholas

      We need writers, guys….would be nice to see some of these opinions on paper…if any of you are interested…check out how to apply on the website homepage…

  • Leon Shuttlesworth

    I think Wilson could do more with the Colts for several reasons.. Wilson college career was mostly in the wide open passing attack that Luck is struggling to run effiecently with the Colts… Wilson has fit his game to the strengths of the Seahawks which doesnt have a Reggie Wayne or TY Hilton type speeder… Nor is the Seattle pass blocking line as good as the Colts Oline, Wilson played mostly with 3rd stringers at line and protected the ball something that Luck struggles to do when pressured….. But back to why Wilson would do better in Indy than Luck is doing… Luck has a piss poor TD to INT ratio and a horrible comp% which is a trademark of GREAT QBs… Luck is coming from a system in Stanford that covered up his flaws with a superior offensive line that has produced several number 1picks, talented heisman running back Toby Gerhadt and Super Bowl winning WR Doug Baldwin… Luck had all this talent around him at Stanford and could not produce anything remotely close to the career of Wilson who played with inferior talent than what Luck had in college yet when you compare Luck and Wilsons numbers in college you get: Luck 67% comp 9430 82 tds 22 ints 162.8 rating… Wilson: 60.9 comp % 11, 720 109 tds 30 ints… and in his senior year in Wisconsin Wilson also set the single season FBS record for passing efficiency (191.8).;. The Colts have struggled and not achieved as much as they could have because of Lucks lack of efficiency which based on his career in College and NFL Career are his strengths…

    • chad smith

      Stopped reading when you said Wilsons O line was better than Lucks. Lol. Idiot.