Should Andrew Luck’s Decision Affect His Status As A Future Top Pick?

Posted: January 6, 2011 in NFL
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See this article with photos on Bleacher Report

A week ago, we first heard rumblings that Stanford quarterback and certain number one pick Andrew Luck was leaning toward going back to school.  I immediately assumed it was a bargaining ploy aimed at the Carolina Panthers, who own that top pick.  Well, now Luck has officially announced that he is, indeed, staying in school, so I need to rethink my position.  Of course, there are still 10 days left before the deadline to declare for the NFL Draft, so Luck may yet change his mind.  But the way the decision was handled, with Luck issuing a short statement through the school and not being available for comment, seems to indicate that this is his final answer and there’s no discussion.

Fair enough.  But that won’t stop a little speculation.  It’s a free country, after all, and everyone is free to make their own mistakes.  And, boy, is this a whopper.  Not only is Luck risking the loss of potentially tens of millions of dollars to injury, he’s risking his draft position as well.  He’s a sure-fire number one pick.  Maybe he can maintain that until this time next year, but there literally is nowhere for him to go but down.  Given the fact that his coach, Jim Harbaugh, is as good as gone to the NFL himself, that makes this decision particularly puzzling.  Harbaugh runs the pro-style offense that Luck thrived in, making him into the top overall pick material he has become.  Will Luck find the same success with Harbaugh’s eventual replacement?  Again, there’s nowhere for Luck to go but down.

According to Luck’s prepared statement, this choice was made because, “I am committed to earning my degree in architectural design.”  Let’s see, stacks and stacks of money to play football or a degree in architectural design?  This is even a choice?  And for those who say that this is the right choice, that an education is the most important thing and the money will be there later, there’s a reason the phrase “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” exists.  You don’t throw away a fat check today thinking it will still be there tomorrow because sometimes tomorrow never comes, or at least not the tomorrow you were expecting.

It may yet turn out to be there for Luck, but it may not, as well.  Why even take the chance?  And I challenge anyone to show me one thing that degree will enable him to do in life that the wads of cash the NFL will throw at him right now won’t.  In fact, the scores of dollars, along with the fame of being a star NFL QB, will provide infinitely more opportunities than an architectural design degree ever could.  Maybe if he was studying to be a surgeon, this would make sense.  But not architecture.

If I were an NFL GM, I would have to seriously reconsider my position on Luck.  He certainly has all the physical tools to be a first-rate QB for years to come.  But where is his head?  The way I see it, this choice could have one of three meanings:

The first is that Luck really isn’t smart enough to understand how obviously wrong-headed this choice is.  Provide for the rest of your life, and your families lives, today or take the risk of losing all or a big chunk of it by putting it off for a year for a degree that has 1/1000th of the earnings potential for a lifetime than you’ll garner in just your first pro contract.  If a guy can’t even see the clear right and wrong decision in this case, what happens during the struggles of the long NFL seasons, both on and off the field?  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a QB, but you do at least need a modicum of common sense.  This choice shows none.

The second option is that he’s going back to school because he can’t or doesn’t feel ready to handle the pressure and expectations being the overall number one pick would generate.  In retrospect, this may have been the underlying reason behind Matt Leinart’s decision to return to school at a time when he would have been the likely top pick.  Looking over his career to this point, Leinart has never handled pressure well.

In Luck’s case, especially being certain to lose his coach, it can almost look as though he’s purposely trying to sabotage his draft stock and lower expectations.  Next season will almost certainly not be as good as this one, and the scouts are notoriously fickle, just ask Jake Locker.  Have an off year, and all of a sudden, we’re watching cutaways to you sitting in the green room at the draft wondering when your name will be called.  I don’t know about you, but if I’m drafting a guy number one overall, I want someone who will step right into the role and take the challenge head on.

The third option, and perhaps most damning from an NFL team’s perspective, is that maybe he’s just not really committed to football.  If he can pass up the honor of being the top pick, having an NFL franchise hand him the equivalent of the keys to the convertible, and turn away millions of dollars because he’s committed to a degree in architectural design, that really shows where football ranks in importance to him.

There’s nothing wrong with that, if it were indeed the case, but it can also be seen as a slap in the face to the Carolina Panthers.  He can be the starting QB for an NFL team this fall or take some architecture classes.  If he’s not truly committed to football, there is no way I would draft him at all, let alone number one, no matter how talented he is.  And the more talented he is, the greater the eventual disappointment will be.

Ultimately, however, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is, be it simply poor decision making, fear of taking that risk, or not being committed to the game.  Any option here would preclude me from making him my quarterback of the future.

Luck may have actually done Carolina a favor with his choice to stay in school.  Nothing kills a franchise as severely or for as long as taking a high-profile bust at QB with the top overall pick.  Now, if I’m the Panthers, and there is no sure-fire franchise QB available, I trade down and get multiple players.  I may even pull a Jimmy Johnson or a Bill Belichick and trade down two or three times and turn that one pick into four or five players.

This is the real secret to why guys like Belichick and JJ always looked like such amazing judges of talent.  The play the law of averages; get more draft picks, bring in more players and some of them are bound to stick.  Keep the top pick and you get one player who may or may not succeed.  Flip that pick into several others and now you’ve got five players.  Even if you cut two of them, you’ve still  added three quality players to your roster instead of one.  In the NFL, that’s how winners are built.  They’re not built by drafting guys who spit in the face of common sense, good fortune and opportunities that most of us could only dream of.

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