"Friday Toss Up." "Friday Toss Up."

Sam Bradford Versus Andrew Luck: A Ramblin’ Fan Debate

May 22, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) looks at his play chart during organized team activities at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
May 22, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) looks at his play chart during organized team activities at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

Last Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke chose this No.1 overall pick match-up for his “Friday Toss Up.” In his series, he gives a brief analysis of each player in the comparison, then picks a side, describing why he would take one over the other in the upcoming season. While Burke was pretty “spot on” in his breakdown of the two players, his rationale behind his selection was lacking in substantial and accuracy in the some of his declarative statements. So, we at Ramblin’ Fan figured we would give our best shot at comparing the two young quarterbacks.

Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck was far and away the best rookie quarterback in the class last season. Maybe not in terms of flashiness and individual production, but in getting the job done when it comes to the bottom line… winning. Luck took a no-talent 2011 squad that finished 2-14 in the league and drove them to a 11-5 record in 2012, including a spot in the playoffs. However, to be fair, the team wasn’t completely void of talent, at least on the offensive side of the football. The Colts pass-first offense was bolstered by a pair of dynamic receivers, one future Hall-of-Famer, Reggie Wayne, and another that Rams Nation knows quite well, Donnie Avery. They also found a stud trio of rookies in T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, and Luck’s former college tight end, Coby Fleener. While the latter four players have arguable value, Reggie Wayne is a perennial Pro Bowler, and has consistently been a Top 10 receiver in the NFL, often overshadowed by Marvin Harrison. Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 3rd best in the league, praising not only for his ability to catch the football, but also his ability to block for other receivers (i.e. Donnie Avery) and not commit mental mistakes (i.e. zero penalties).

Luck was a stud in his own right, destroying the rookie record for passing attempts and yards, ranking 7th overall in passing yards at the end of the year. He also threw an impressive 23 touchdowns passes, not to mention five more rushing touchdowns. However, his most impressive statistics is undoubtedly linked the Colts’ record, with Luck leading his team to four 4th quarter comeback victories in 2012, more than any other rookie in the league. For his efforts, Luck would finish second in Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, and would even get a “replacement” invitation to the Pro Bowl, filling in for Tom Brady who opted out of the game with injury concerns.

However, the positives of Luck’s rookie year seem to be vastly overshadowing the negatives of his game. Andrew Luck ranked 37th out of 38 quarterback who played at least 25% of the team snaps in 2012 in terms of completing passes, finishing the season with an abysmal 54.1% completion percentage. And, while he did score a combined 28 touchdowns last season, he also committed 23 turnovers, not including an additional five fumbles that were recovered by his own teammates. On top of that, Luck had some trouble with quick decision making, often leading to unnecessary hits and, occasionally, sacks that were not attributed to poor offensive line play. In fact, Luck was marked as “primarily responsible” for 9.7% of his total sacks in 2012. Lastly, Luck had  five games with at least 2 interceptions, and seven games where he completed 50% of fewer of his attempts.

Sam Bradford

Unlike Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, and even Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford both share the likeness of being drafted first overall… that is, to the worst team in the NFL. Bradford has had his ups and down, especially in 2011, when a severe high ankle sprain suffered in Week 7 should have sidelined the sophomore, but he was instead forced into the lineup by the desperation of a failed coaching regime. However, this is a comparison of the present, where Bradford just finished his best season yet in his young career; both statistically and in terms of winning.

The St. Louis Rams finished 7-8-1 in 2012, which might not seem impressive. However, they were 4-1-1 in the NFC West, the undeniably toughest division in the NFL. Sam Bradford, like Luck, tallied four 4th quarter comeback wins, not including several instances where the Rams’ defense failed to hold a lead given by the offense at the end of the game (i.e. Detroit, Miami). Statistically, he managed 21 touchdown passes and only 13 interceptions, including one rushing touchdown on a QB sneak at the goal line. Bradford also tallied 3,702 passing yards in the Rams’ run-oriented offense, although he completed only an average 59.5% of attempts (24th in the NFL).

Much like Luck, the Rams’ overall team was severely lacking in the talent department. However, unlike Luck, Bradford had no Hall-of-Fame receiver to rely on in “tight” situations. Danny Amendola and Steven Jackson were both hurt for a majority of the season, leading to Daryl Richardson (2012 7th rounder) and Chris Givens (2012 4th rounder) being his best offensive weapons for the middle half of the season. The Rams’ offensive line situation was just as deplorable as the Colts’, with the starting left tackle (Rodger Saffold), left guard (Rob Turner), and center (Scott Wells) all being absent for the vast majority of the season; so much so that at one point there was a third-string tackle, fourth-string guard, and backup center all starting in the same game on the left side of the line. In all fairness, Bradford did have a fringe Top 15 defense and a handful of other moderately reliable offensive weapons to work with (i.e. Brandon Gibson, Lance Kendricks), but nothing that truly helped him succeed in winning games.

With that being said, Bradford was not without his weak spots. He was 2nd in the league in “penalties,” namely delay of game. Bradford, like Luck, also went through a phase at the beginning of the season where he would hold the ball for longer than needed, leading to him being attributed with three of the team’s sacks. However, he was solid in terms of turnovers, and was fairly consistent throwing the football, tossing 2 or more interceptions in only one game last year.

The Pick?

Despite my intuition that Andrew Luck will go on to be an “elite” quarterback in the NFL at some point in the near future, there is absolutely nothing that would press me to take him over Sam Bradford next season, at least in terms of their individual play. Andrew Luck will likely end up with more attempts, passing yards, and likely more wins, but that will not necessarily be due to his performance on the field. The Colts play the Raiders, Dolphins, Jaguars (twice), Titans (twice), Chargers, Chiefs, and Cardinals; all of which should be considered “easier” wins. That means Luck will face off against nine teams that held a losing record in 2012, not including their game against the Rams in Week 10. On the flip side, the Rams play the Falcons, Cowboys, Texans, Seahawks (twice), 49ers (twice), Saints, Bears, and Bucs. Bradford will play seven games against playoffs teams from 2012, and 10 games against squads that had a winning record… again, not including their game against the Colts. Long story short, Indianapolis should have a better record at the end of the season.

To start, the St. Louis Rams went out in free agency and the Draft to grab Sam Bradford some genuine difference-makers in the offense. The snagged the best pass-catching tight end (Jared Cook) and left tackle (Jake Long) in free agency, then drafted the most explosive skill player in the 2013 class (Tavon Austin) and the most productive receiver in college football last season (Stedman Bailey). On top of the acquisitions, they will finally get to see a healthy Rodger Saffold and Scott Wells return to the offensive line, both of which are Pro Bowl talents when actually on the field. Chris Burke fails to make this point in his piece, even incorrectly stating “[Bradford’s] two leading receivers from last season, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, now wear other uniforms.” Chris Givens was the leading receiver, and he will be certainly be coming back, joining a new group of dynamic, young offensive playmakers.

Conversely, the Colts’ biggest offensive moves were signing a right tackle, Gosder Cherilus, and guard, Donald Thomas, both solid free agents for the offensive line. However, their biggest weapons upgrade was the addition of the “busted” Darrius Heyward-Bey. Worse, aside from a couple of mid-rounders, the team failed to find a fix for the returning Mike McGlynn or Anthony Castonzo who allowed a combined 13 sacks, 20 hits on the quarterback, and 67 hurries on Luck last season.

Secondly, Bradford will starting the 2013 season with the same head coach, offensive coordinator, and offensive playbook… Luck will not. If you think that doesn’t make a huge difference, just ask Bradford himself. Or, take a nice, long look at Alex Smith before San Francisco found some consistency among players and the coaching staff.

Lastly, the departure of Steven Jackson has allowed the St. Louis’ offense to shift back towards the quarterback-focused, shotgun, spread offense that Sam Bradford dominated with at Oklahoma. The team will finally shift out of their tradition “run, run, pass” offensive playcalling, cutting down on the predictability of the offense, which will inevitably lead to better offensive production. Less predictability would logically lead to fewer turnovers on forced or anticipated throws, and more scoring opportunities with longer drives.

Chris Burke made the unsupported statement in his article that “Luck proved more consistent than Bradford” last season.

Games w/ %LuckBradford
50% or Lower74
Under 55%107
Under 60%128
Over 60%48
Over 70%02

If consistency has anything to do completing passes on a regular basis to receivers, than Luck was no where near “consistent” last season. A majority of his games were under 60% passing, including a five game stretch at the end of the season where he did not complete over 50.0% in a single matchup. Luckily, those games were against Tennessee, Detroit, Kansas City, and Houston, who was on a down-spiral at the end of the season, losing 1-3 in their final four games of the regular season. On the other hand, Bradford’s sub-60% overall average was drastically skewed downward by a 33.33% game against the Arizona Cardinals, where he attempted only 21 throws. And, despite only 7 completions, he did manage two touchdowns in that 17-3 win to halt the Cardinals four-game winning streak. Maybe, consistency is in turnovers…

 TD/INT Diff.LuckBradford

Doesn’t appear that Luck was consistent in this area either. To put this table into context, there were only two games last season where Sam Bradford threw for more interceptions than touchdowns: one in the loss to the Chicago Bears; the other in the win over the Seattle Seahawks. Andrew Luck had five of those games: three led to Indianapolis Colts’ losses; the other two were in wins over the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars.

In 2013, Bradford should have better offensive weapons, a better offensive line, and an offensive system that is finally suited to his skill set as a passer. Luck will have the exact same offensive weapons, a slightly improved offensive line, and a new(ish) offensive coordinator and, thus, a new playbook to install in the offseason. Bradford proved last season to be the more consistent passer, even playing a significantly harder regular season schedule, in the superior NFC conference. With that said, Luck should elevate his game next season, and will likely lead the charge of the next generation of elite quarterbacks into the future. However, in terms of next year alone, the elder signal caller should have the better season.

Go Rams! Go Colts… except in Week 10!