Suck for Luck: Week 11

BY Peter Schrager • November 21, 2011

When we started this weekly column back in early October, Andrew Luck was the most popular name not only in college football circles, but NFL ones, too.

With a slew of bad teams in obvious need of a quarterback, it appeared as though Luck was some sort of golden goose, the light at the end of the tunnel for one extremely “fortunate” NFL team. With a new collective-bargaining agreement that would pay first overall picks handsome — though not absurd — salaries, Luck was built into some larger-than-life myth: a cannon-armed, experienced, boy-next-door pocket passer at one-third the cost of the top quarterbacks from the previous decade.

It was Luck, Luck, Luck for a few weeks, there. But that's not the case anymore.

In front of an undivided nationally televised audience for the first time all season, Luck looked awfully mortal against Oregon two Saturday nights ago, throwing two interceptions in a bad 53-30 loss. He didn't dazzle in a win over Cal this past Saturday night, either.

As Luck failed to bowl anyone over with his quarterback skills the past two weekends, a pair of other young quarterbacks seized their prime-time TV stages and made the very most of them on Saturday night. USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley was everything Luck wasn’t in his opportunity against the Ducks, lighting up the very same Oregon defense that confounded Luck for 323 yards and four touchdowns. Playing on the road in Eugene — with Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in the house and millions watching at home — Barkley was poised and confident, guiding the young Trojans to a 38-35 victory and the biggest conquest of the Lane Kiffin era.

Down in Waco, Baylor junior quarterback Robert Griffin III quite possibly catapulted himself into the top 10 of the NFL draft while all but locking up a trip to New York for the Heisman with a Herculean effort against the Oklahoma Sooners. Capped by an NFL-caliber 34-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds, "RGIII" led the Bears to their first win over the Sooners. He threw for 479 yards, tossed four touchdown passes and didn’t throw a single interception. He also ran 18 times for 72 yards. The drama of the wins, paired with their calm under pressure, left a lot of casual fans and viewers wondering why there was such a fuss over Luck, and such little national buzz around Barkley and Griffin. To be certain, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker — three top-15 selections in the draft this year — never had performances like the ones either Barkley or Griffin had on Saturday.

The “Suck for Luck” craze was mighty fun while it lasted, but this is no longer just a one-man quarterback draft class. In fact, if Barkley and Oklahoma junior Landry Jones (who, by the way, threw for 447 yards on Saturday, too) opt to leave school early, we can very well be looking at five quarterbacks drafted in the top 20 picks of the 2012 draft: Luck (also a junior), Barkley, Jones, Griffin III and Texas A&M wide receiver-turned-quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

With strong workouts, Houston’s sixth-year senior, Case Keenum, and Oklahoma State’s 28-year-old Brandon Weeden could sneak into the first round, too.

Just weeks ago there was real talk of the NFL needing a draft lottery and whispers about teams “tanking” seasons. I scoffed at it, then, but now there’s even less legitimacy toward either notion. Why the change in conversation?

There are several reasons — the Dolphins' latest three-game win streak, Luck's "struggles" and the Colts separating themselves from the rest of the league's basement dwellers are some. But more than anything else, there are simply too many good college quarterbacks out there to make this draft solely about one player. We'll keep with the "Suck For Luck" theme, but I think those days are behind us. This QB class could end up being right up there with the '83 and '04 ones.

Let’s dig into this week’s “Suck for Luck” outlook:

The suitors

1. Indianapolis Colts: 0-10

Week 11 performance: Bye week: The good news? The Colts didn’t lose over the weekend. The bad news? Vegas says there’s a 20 percent chance they’ll finish the season 0-16. Their Week 10 loss to lowly Jacksonville, coupled with Houston's 37-9 victory over Tampa Bay, mathematically eliminated the Colts from the AFC South title chase.

The quarterbacks:

The guy: Curtis Painter

On the shelf: Peyton Manning (injured), Kerry Collins (injured), Dan Orlovsky

Would they take Luck? Yes, they would take Luck. Will Manning still be around to see Luck wear the Colts blue and white next season? That’s a far better question to analyze. Peter King eloquently broke the situation down in his MMQB this week, but here are the basics. Ego, locker room issues and loyalty to Manning aside — here are the numbers:

    As I’ve said for weeks, it’s the most fascinating player personnel decision, arguably ever.

    2. St. Louis Rams: 2-8

    Week 11 performance: Lost to Seattle 24-7: After taking an early 7-0 lead, the Rams surrendered 24 straight points in a bad divisional loss. The Seahawks sacked Sam Bradford five times and forced two fumbles. One fumble led to a touchdown.

    The quarterbacks:

    The guy: Sam Bradford: 20 of 40, 181 yards, one TD, one INT

    On the shelf: A.J. Feeley, Tom Brandstater

    Would they take Luck? No. Sam Bradford’s their guy. Recent, pre-2011 first-round draft picks such as Bradford, Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Ryan — guys who signed mega-contracts prior to the new CBA rookie wage scale was put in this summer — are all pretty much unmovable assets until their contracts expire. If the Rams were to end up with a top-three pick, they would have to consider Oklahoma State’s dazzling, star receiver Justin Blackmon or an elite left tackle such as USC’s Matt Kalil.

    3. Minnesota Vikings: 2-8

    Week 11 performance: Lost 27-21 to Oakland: The Vikings jumped out to an early lead, but Adrian Peterson’s second-quarter injury was too much to overcome. A late, fourth-quarter flourish wasn’t enough to notch the third victory of the season.

    The quarterbacks:

    The guy: Christian Ponder: 19 for 33, 211 yards, two TDs, three INTs

    On the shelf: Donovan McNabb, Joe Webb

    Would they take Luck? No. Though Ponder hasn't had the success either Cam Newton or Andy Dalton have had this year, he has shown enough flashes in his first year to show that he's the guy for the future. The Vikings have a ton of needs — primarily, along their offensive line — and quarterback isn't one of them.

    4. Carolina Panthers: 2-8

    Week 11 performance: Lost 49-35 to the Lions: The Panthers' offense isn’t bad, but the defense — crushed by injuries to Jon Beason and Thomas Davis early on — is the worst in the entire league.

    The quarterbacks:

    The guy: Cam Newton: 22 of 38, 280 yards, one TD, four INTs

    On the shelf: Derek Anderson, Jimmy Clausen

    Would they take Luck? Nope. Newton has been fantastic, and there’s nothing but optimism for the future. With a $22 million contract, he’s also one of the most valuable players in the sport. The Panthers would go defense with their first pick — if not first, second and third picks.

    5. Washington Redskins: 3-7

    Week 11 performance: Lost 27-24 to Dallas in overtime: The Redskins led by seven late in the regulation, only to give up a big touchdown pass to Jason Witten, miss a field-goal attempt in overtime and lose on a Dan Bailey field goal the next drive. Washington has lost six straight games and doesn’t appear to be turning the sinking ship around any time soon.

    The quarterbacks:

    The guy: Rex Grossman: 25 of 38, 289 yards, two TDs, one INT

    On the shelf: John Beck

    Would they take Luck? Absolutely. And if they can’t get Luck, they’ll gladly “settle” for Matt Barkley, Landry Jones or Robert Griffin III.

    Also in the running

    6. Miami Dolphins: 3-7

    7. Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-7

    8. Arizona Cardinals: 3-7

    The other guys

    The second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-ranked quarterbacks on my “Big Board”:

    2. Matt Barkley, USC, junior

    3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma, junior

    4. Robert Griffin III, Baylor, junior

    5. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M, senior

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