Not long ago, an argument could have been made that Andrew Luck was the best quarterback in the NFL. In 2014, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback threw for 4,761 yards, 40 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His Colts won the AFC South while he led a passing offense that finished first in yards.
Luck, the 2012 first-overall pick, established himself as an elite quarterback. He was no longer the next big thing — he was what every franchise wanted.
Then his shoulder injury happened in 2015 when he played just seven games. He was excellent in 2016 while his health digressed more. Despite the injury, he finished with 4,240 yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Then he sat out for all of the 2017 season. He hasn’t played football since Jan. 1, 2017, the final regular-season game of the 2016 season. If he plays in Week 1 of 2018, he’ll will return after 21 months without playing in a meaningful game (that excludes this preseason).
He’s surely primed to be the next big thing (again) in what should be the comeback story of the season. He’s traded in his familiar neck beard for a pencil-thin mustache, but he will again be the beloved face of the Colts and the quarterback every franchise dreams about. The 28-year-old will play in the 2018 preseason on Monday night as he returns from the mysterious shoulder injury.
He’ll get a chance to remind the football world just how good he is.
For context, let’s dive back into the 2014 season. Running back Trent Richardson, one of the most profound busts in draft history, was the lead ball-carrier with 519 yards and three touchdowns at 3.3 yards per carry. His leading receiver was T.Y. Hilton, a legit No. 1 pass-catcher. The second receiver, however, was Reggie Wayne, who was in his final season in the NFL. Wayne managed 779 yards in 2015 before retiring at the New England Patriots’ training camp the following year. Luck helped tight end Coby Fleener have a career-high in just about every category including yards (774) and touchdowns (8).
Luck had help in 2014. But he probably helped them more than they helped him. Luck did what only the best quarterbacks can — he made his skill players better. Yes, it’s cliché. That doesn’t make it any less true.
Luck is a risk-taker and has his warts. He had 12 games where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. But those games were fewer and further between in his more recent seasons. His last game like that was against the Green Bay Packers in 2016. Luck had 281 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 31-26 win at Lambeau Field. For every one of those mixed performances, he had many sterling ones. Later in that season, he completed 79 percent of his passes for 278 yards, four touchdown passes and zero interceptions in a 41-10 win over the New York Jets.
Beyond his passing prowess, Luck is a gifted runner. He ran for five touchdowns in his rookie season, and moved well despite having a big frame at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. He ran a 4.67-second, 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and has rushed for chunks as long as 33 yards. And even while he was dealing with a shoulder injury, Luck never shied away from contact. In fact, he embraced it. He complimented his opponents when they hit him particularly hard.
Luck flashed potential to someday be the league’s best quarterback. He was in the running to be the face of the NFL. This season, with a hopefully-healthy shoulder, he may just recapture that momentum.