Why Andrew Luck ranks outside our top 10 QBs (for now)

Andrew Luck's omission from our top 10 quarterbacks wasn't very well-received. Gordon McGuinness explains why Luck is on the outside looking in.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Why Andrew Luck ranks outside our top 10 QBs (for now)

After releasing our top 10 quarterbacks article yesterday, the biggest objection we heard from fans was about the inclusion of Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill at No. 10, and Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck.

This wasn’t a surprise to us, and the truth is that the ratings of the two QBs are incredibly close – with Luck coming in just behind Tannehill at No. 11. Luck is without question one of the best quarterbacks in the game, having led the Colts to the playoffs in all three of his seasons, including the AFC championship game last season. He recently ranked No. 5 in a poll of league coaches and executives by ESPN’s Mike Sando on the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

But while his physical talent is unquestioned and we certainly expect him to be a top-5 QB in the league very soon, his performance hasn’t yet matched that projection on a consistent basis.

While Luck has shown himself to be capable of impressive late-game drives, he still has too many plays every season that simply leave you scratching your head – mistakes that put him in position to have to lead comeback attempts in the first place. He has improved on this with each season, but he still has room to grow to become the quarterback he is capable of being – and frankly, the quarterback he is already credited with being.

The AFC title game against the Patriots provides us with a good example of what Luck needs to improve upon, despite coming so far already. In that game he made several key throws, but nullified them with some absolutely terrible ones, too, with none worse than the interception by Darrelle Revis with 2:24 left in the third quarter. When Luck can reduce these types of errors even a little bit further, he’s going to be pushing the top 5 in our rating system, not just the top 10. But it’s those types of throws right now that keep him on the outside looking in.

Another area that matters in our rating systems is a QB’s performance when facing pressure from opposing defenses. Luck finished with a negative grade against pressure last season, completing just 47.8 percent of passes – a fact that was likely obscured for most by his 14-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio when under pressure.

As for Tannehill, he needs to become more consistent, too. As we mentioned, he barely edged out Luck in our ratings, so it’s not as though he’s a finished product, either. But based on how they’ve played to this point, the gap between these two players is much smaller than what is generally perceived. In fact, during thee 2014 seasons, Tannehill’s highest-graded game of the year was better than Luck’s, while his lowest-graded game of the year was also better.

Both of these guys have top-5 QB potential, and we won’t be at all surprised if we see both of them  there in our ratings very soon. But to this point, Tannehill’s performance has been slightly better.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • Jack

    GO Dolphins!

  • bebe rebozo

    The need for pre season content leads to bold predictions and headline material. Ready for September.

  • Scott

    Breath of fresh air to hear someone finally tell it exactly like it is.

    • Jay

      The reason the PFF felt the need to explain why he didn’t make their top 10 shows just how overhyped he is by most football and sports media.

      • crashby89

        Yet even PFF said very soon he will be in the top 5. Knowing his potential and how good he already is are there 10 QB’s you would take over Luck right now? That is a different question than who ranked as the 10 best last year, which is what their list was.

        • LightsOut85

          The the questions (to these analysts, coaches, whoever) need to be more specific. The linked article seemed to be “right now” (with a noticeable bias towards body-of-work, given the QBs those people ranked high). So it would still be odd Luck was that high “right now”. (Obviously if it was “who are you taking to start a franchise with?”, Luck would be the best choice given the combo of talent/potential + age).

          • crashby89

            The PFF list was based on last years performance. They said it was very close and I understand the logic behind having Tannehill above Luck. I truly believe that this year is the year Luck makes the leap to undisputed top 5 QB maybe even top 3. What I like about Luck is how aware he is of his mistakes. Many times this off season he said his number 1 priority is to eliminate the boneheaded mistakes. Thats what separates the Rodgers’ and Luck’s from the Cutler’s and Stafford’s

        • DEV00100000

          PFF is fairly clear that these grades are about how a player is performing right now… they do not account for the future.

          • crashby89

            Im aware of that, I was simply giving my opinion for why Luck is so high on many people lists. Maybe I should have worded that better.

          • DEV00100000

            Gotcha, no biggie!

            That makes more sense, I agree.

      • The Mysteries of Bob

        People wanted Wilson’s head after he threw 4 INTs in the NFCCG (after the game ending pick in the Super Bowl as well).

        Luck goes 12/33 in the AFCCG and loses his 4th straight game to the Patriots by 20+ and his stock goes up.

        The part of the article when they say Luck only chas a lot of comebacks only because he put his team in a hole pretty much tells why he isn’t top 10. Every time the Colts play New England this shows up since the Patriots are actually a team that finishes games (you rarely come back against them when down by 10, let alone when they are up by 3 TDs), but the Browns aren’t, so Luck plays like garbage against them for three quarters, Cleveland blows a 4th quarter lead losing by one point and he is the comeback kid.

        Meanwhile, most people see Tannehill as a young Alex Smith because of his deep passing woes (aka receivers dropping the ball) and Miami’s average record (Philibin should have been fired already) but he has overcome all of it, including his offensive line made of paper.

        People place a lot of stock on #qbwinz, but the Colts have at least 5 free wins playing in the worst division in football, since 2013 they are undefeated against the AFCS and .500 against the rest of the league, yet thanks to the perception that Luck is a top 5 QB already, people treat them as a top Super Bowl contender while teams like the Eagles or the Ravens are better but don’t get hyped. Not to mention the road they took to the AFCCG was easy, beating the Bengals (which is the same thing as having a bye) and a Broncos with Manning playing his worst football.

        But this is how the media works, they choose the golden gooses before they make the pros, no matter how good or bad (*cough* Hackenberg) they are.

        • eYeDEF

          To be fair, seeing how two of Wilson’s picks bounced off the hands of his receiver into the defender’s arms in the NFCCG and he threw the game winning TD, no one was really “calling for his head”.

    • Dave

      Luck took a 3-13 team in 2012 to 3 straight playoffs which includes the AFC championship game last year….hummmmm…. has Tannehill won over 7 games in a season yet? Nope. Enough said. Drops the mic.

      • KWS13

        So you’re just going to completely ignore the obvious improvement he has shown just like Luck, with the complete lack of support he has had in the run game until last year, no real weapons in the passing game with Brian Hartline and Charles Clay the top options along with headache Mike Wallace, the revolving door offensive line and the average at best defense supporting him? Luck HAS dealt with an average at best defense and a struggling run game last year (it was decent before last year) but after drafting Luck the Colts brought in TY Hilton, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and had future HOFer Reggie Wayne and worked to repair the offensive line, luxuries Tannehill didn’t have.

        • LupeX

          You’re over-inflating what the COLTS have, they also have nothing. These are rookies you’re talking about but Luck made them into household names. Fleener drops too many balls, Hilton also drops balls. COLTS O Line is shite! Trent Richarson was the starting RB last year … just let that sink in lol

          • KWS13

            For one thing my point about the run game up until last year was that for instance SEA and IND tied at 12th 4.3 rushing YPA 2013, MIA was 20th at 4.1. QB rushing altered that since Wilson added a lot of volume but Luck and Tannehill were more efficient, and last year Miller broke out and helped MIA while IND regressed a bit but my point merely was that all around the board Luck has had more help around him, Hilton>Wallace, (healthy) Wayne>Hartline and Fleener/Allen are probably both as good as Clay even though he’s only had 1 good year. The whole point is, last year the “Luck has no help” and “on a decent team he’d have 3 SBs already” arguments are ridiculous. The organization has made a concerted effort to help him as much as possible and hasn’t exactly been Aaron Rodgers out there, while this is the first offseason MIA has done that for Tannehill, I guess we’ll see what happens

      • Dangerd

        Miami’s record the past two years: 8-8.
        Maybe you should stay away from the microphone, moron

      • Rex Grossman

        Luck took a 2-14 team that had a zillion injurries and Charlie Whithurst as the QB to 3 11-5 seasons where they got 6 wins each year from their cupcake division. Luck last year threw half of his touchdowns in these 6 games. The rest of the year he is .500.

        Ryan Tannehill on the other hand has to play the Jets and the Bills, who each have incredibly punishing D lines and amazing overall defense while also having to play against a top 5 QB and top 2 HC all time twice a year. Ryan is above .500 vs teams outside of his division and 2 games below .500 vs teams in his division. He went 0-2 his rookie year vs the Pats and 0-2 two years ago. against the Bills where the o-line gave up 15 sacks between two games. Context is key.

      • corners

        a 3-13 team? Only because manning was injured, what was their record the 10 seasons before that, and after luck was drafted? Colts had a good team, in a weak division.

      • JohnPaul Sein

        it was 2-14 team and before that was 10-6 and always in the playoffs.. dont make it sound like Luck is the 2nd coming of Jesus.. he is the AFC’s version of Tony Romo… a choke artist

      • Euphy Mism

        How has Luck done against the Pats? The Dolphins face them twice each year. How about the Bills? The Jets? The DIVISION that Luck is winning is terrible.

  • chimmy fallon

    Philip RIvers #4 over Brady and Manning, and Luck outside top 10, huh. Was thinking of joining this site too

  • Alex

    The interception you mention against the Patriots might be bad, but the score was 31-7 to the Patriots. It was desperation time. I suppose he should have just gone 3-and-out, then he would have scored better with PFF. In other words, your grades don’t seem to take into account the situation. I would much rather have a QB who goes down trying to succeed.

    • KWS13

      All QBs have to deal with these situations, just because Jay Cutler plays from behind a lot doesn’t excuse all the terrible decisions and bad throws he’s had trying to get back in the game, so why should Luck get an excuse? They just used that pass as an example of the poor aspects of his game because he didn’t force the ball 30 yards downfield and was off target, he threw it right to Revis on a 3 yard flat route. Most of the top QBs have INTs that are slightly off target, the fault of the reciever, a great play by the defense, etc… whereas bad decision of lack of vision INTs are the ones that the Andy Daltons and Jay Cutlers and yes the Andrew Lucks of the world throw too often to be considered on of the best, otherwise those guys would be considered top 10 QBs based on all their other positive attributes (though Luck is better than both of them just using them as an example).

    • The Mysteries of Bob

      ” but the score was 31-7 to the Patriots”

      Probably because the top 5 QB didn’t play like one, digging the team into a hole again.

  • Joshua Fenio

    “Another area that matters in our rating systems is a QB’s performance when facing pressure from opposing defenses. Luck finished with a negative grade against pressure last season, completing just 47.8 percent of passes – a fact that was likely obscured for most by his 14-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio when under pressure.”

    Uh, what? Stop contradicting yourself, PFF. You rated him as the 5th best QB under pressure last year.


    This is why no one takes you guys seriously. You have real issues getting on the same page with each other. Shocking, considering your grading system.

    • LightsOut85

      Hmm…I too would like this further explained.

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    • Rex Grossman

      Ryan Tannehill was ranked third though. So it’s still a net win for Ryan if you account for that.

    • Arif Hasan

      I think I understand this. The performance under pressure in that article is only for passing and renormalized so that “average” is zero, when the raw grade is not at zero.

      Luck has a negative pressure score if you click on his name in the data and look at his grade under pressure it’s negative. So he had a “negative grade against pressure” but not when renormalized when they redid it for passing in that article.

      Ranks (under pressure, total):

      1. Roethlisberger
      2. Brees
      2. Wilson
      4. Brady
      5. Palmer
      6. Whitehurst (?)
      7. Rodgers
      8. Fitzpatrick
      9. Bridgewater
      10. Rivers
      11. Kaepernick
      12. Stanton
      13. Newton
      14. Luck
      14. Tannehill
      16. Smith
      17. Ryan
      18. Romo
      19. Cutler
      19. Foles
      21. Hill
      22. Sanchez
      23. Glennon
      24. Stafford
      25. Cousins
      26. Davis
      27. Dalton
      28. P.Manning
      29. Hoyer
      30. Smith
      31. Bortles
      32. Flacco
      33. Carr
      34. McCown
      35. Orton
      36. E.Manning

      His rank in that data per snap is 11th and in total 14th. My guess for them is that he made a lot of bad decisions choosing to run the ball or they counted sacks taken in the overall grade, but not in the “passing under pressure” article.

      As for the completion percentage thing, that’s probably not useful.

      One more thing: they likely used 2013 and 2014 data when composing their list, which is why Eli Manning ranks so low in their rankings (outside of the top 20 I believe) and probably a reason that their PFF scores from 2014 (where Luck ranked 9th) don’t match with their rankings here (where Luck ranked 12th). Tannehill ranked 11th and 5th over the two years of their data. My guess is they either intuited that two years of data is more descriptive (which McCown and Foles helped provide information for) or their research found it to be the case.

      tl;dr: the article you cite is only for passing under pressure; Luck is worse when including scrambling/sacks; the ranking (but not the data cited above) uses two years, not just one.

      • Joseph Dang

        But this list you just posted has him ranked above Tannehill.

        • Arif Hasan

          Well they actually rank the same (tied) but the point wasn’t that the list is evidence that Tannehill is better than Luck, it was evidence that Luck had issues under pressure once you included the decision to scramble or take a sack.

          There are a number of things that go into the ranking, not just performance under pressure. That’s why Whitehurst isn’t on the list and why Roethlisberger isn’t number one.

          I was answering a different question—not “is Tannehill better than Luck?” just “how exactly can we reconcile the two understandings of his performance under pressure”

          That last thing about 2013 and 2014 for Tannehill and Luck was an aside and not related to the list I posted.

          • Joseph Dang

            But that’s kind of the point. They were asked why he was ranked lower than Tannehill, and this is one of the things they mentioned. So whichever measure you use, he had a positive rating, or the same rating as Tannehill. Either way, it’s disingenuous to argue this is one of the reasons to knock him down a peg, when they would be wrong, using either of the measures.

    • Martin Espinosa

      “This is why no one takes you guys seriously”. Totally asinine statement. Most major football websites reference PFF when analyzing a player. NFL.com, ESPN, Rotoworld, etc…

    • Martin Espinosa

      “This is why no one takes you guys seriously”. Totally asinine statement. Most major football websites reference PFF when analyzing a player. NFL.com, ESPN, Rotoworld, etc…

    • JohnPaul Sein

      He also plays in the NFL’s weakest division and always had a pillow soft schedule…

  • LupeX

    If Andrew Luck rates as not a Top10 receiver by your metrics, then you have to find a better system!
    Even the blind can see that he has carried the COLTS on his back. He has made TY Hilton a star and consistently has had the franchise in a better position than it’s available talent should allow.
    So go back to the drawing board and find out why your rating system is malfunctioning.
    One metric you cannot measure is heart and poise, and he has it in dynamite proportions!

    • Daniel

      “If Andrew Luck rates as not a Top10 receiver by your metrics”….
      With 0 career receptions I have Luck outside my top 10 receivers as well

    • Tyler

      Andrew Luck, America’s Next Top WR

  • michael Guy

    You also need to add in
    Tannehill faces in his division 2 top ten defenses and
    a super bowl contender/champion every year and luck faces
    3 no # 1 or 2 pick in the draft finalist every year since they have been in the league.
    Let Miami face Jacksonville , Tenn and Hou instead of NE Buff and the NYJ

  • vicki fish

    Don’t go by that Patriots game. Belichick knew that Indy was a one trick pony, all pass. He just brought his linebackers way back and they covered every WR, TE like a glove. There were so many times that Luck stood like a statue as there was no one open to throw to. He finally threw that INT just out of sheer frustration. Patriots had the Colts plans inside and out. It’s like they knew what Luck was going to do before he did. But as much as there were interceptions last year, (mostly tipped), the Colts WR, TE had the most drops of any NFL team as well. That sure doesn’t help Luck’s percentages at all.

  • donnie johnson

    I was hoping you’d give us 500 words on this, and you did not disappoint. That’s good work, Gordon. Good instincts.

  • codered5

    Luck is great and overrated. The Christmas presents he throws to db’s and lb’s are a part of his game. It’s reminiscent of elway how the weaknesses in his game are overlooked because they don’t fit the narrative the media has been feeding since his sophomore year in college. He’s very good and has shown everything you need to project him becoming the next great guy but he’s not there and now people are afraid to question his premature coronation or be accused of being an attention mongering uber contrarian.

  • Kofi Bonney

    I love PFF ratings and empirical data, but Andrew Luck is better than Ryan Tannehill. I feel strongly that Andrew Luck would’ve made much better use of Mike Wallace, Charles Clay and Jarvis Landry than Tannehill ever could. I don’t have empirical data, but this one is crystal clear. If the two players are close by the data, then the intangibles make Andrew Luck clearly better.

    • corners

      i dont think you realize how bad our oline has been for many years. Nobody has been sacked more than tannehill the last 3 years. Luck might have been broken taken all those sacks(even though ehs a tough sob)

  • Sam Doohan

    PFF’s stats aren’t magic. They are strongly biased towards players who do their jobs without mistakes, accruing a little +0.1 every snap but never make any major impact on the game. A perfect example of this is their best rated TE isn’t Gronk or Jimmy Graham or Greg Olson or anyone you’ve heard of – Their TE hall of fame put three guys you’ve never heard of anything Gronk ever did because those other guys rated real high as run blockers. Sure, Gronk got 145 yards and 3 TDs in that game but if he didn’t also grade WAY above average in the run game he wouldn’t have made the top performances. Stats here are good stats and they are useful but they are a long way from perfect.

    Things that PFF believes are ‘mistakes’ get harsh negative grades even if the play doesn’t actually result in anything bad happening at the end. People here talk about all of Luck”s mistakes but he only threw 4 more INTs than Tannehill last year. And 13 more touchdowns. But PFF doesn’t really care if they see other mistakes that aren’t recorded in the traditional stats. That’s their job.

    And it’s ok that they record stats like that. They create much MUCH better stats for players that you mostly wouldn’t pay attention to (success or mistakes made away from the play still matter) but the cost is that when it comes to high profile players PFF consistently under-rates them. In fact PFF seems to take pride in knocking down anyone who has any hyper what so ever.

    Well Luck certainly does have some hype. I can’t blame anyone for being excited about him. Another Colts playoff run, right? Better weapons on the ground and in the air. Definitely the Colts are set to have a really big year. That’s what people are hyped for here. In the actual game of football Luck wins a lot more, makes more big plays, rallies the team around him. Maybe Tannehill has better stats but not even the Fins are excited about Tannehill at this point.

    • corners

      ” Maybe Tannehill has better stats but not even the Fins are excited about Tannehill at this point.”

      You havent been paying attention if you feel this way.

      • Sam Doohan

        The only places that Tannehill gets people excited is on stats websites.

  • Matthew Swinford

    Really? Tannehill above Luck? You guys do actually watch the games don’t you?

  • Thomas Bell

    I think a lot of the credit people give to Luck is in reference to his upside, his future vs. his present. Wouldn’t surprise me to see his name at #1 in 2-3 years, and to hold onto that spot for some time. But until then, be here now.

  • MacKenzie Pantoja

    Look, I largely agree with what you said, but there is still one fundamental problem: Luck’s high rate of turnovers is sometimes a good thing. Do you want to know why Luck wins so many close games? Simple: if you’re down by 14 with 7 minutes left in the 4th quarter, you MUST end every drive from that point on with a touchdown or an interception, and if you don’t, you are not taking enough risks. Andrew Luck takes enough risks, and that’s why he wins so many close games. Rodgers is a better quarterback than Luck, but he would be better/could improve if he took some of the risks Luck is willing to take when the team is losing.

    • powdereddonuts

      He is about .500 vs everyone but the AFC South. He wins because he’s playing weak competition.