LUCK OF THE DRAW: Andrew’s Risky Business

Posted: January 7, 2011 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NCAA, NFL
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Top pick in the NFL Draft is the crown jewel of all draft spots in sports. It is where you can name your price, and always guarantee a raise from the guy that the honor before you. If a quarterback is up for this spot it means even more, as it is the most highly compensated position in the game. One year ago, when Sam Bradford was chosen here, he was handed a $78 million deal from the Rams, which once again reset the rookie record…the year after Matt Stafford did the same thing in Detroit. So with this track record in front of him and the current holders of the top pick in this year’s draft, the Carolina Panthers, having already guaranteed him to be the next number one pick, what in the world would make Stanford Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck NOT make take the job?

Luck had exactly the type of season that was projected for him coming into 2010. He passed, bulldozed and even tackled his way to the Downtown Athletic Club for 2010’s Heisman show, after is 3,338 yard, 35 touchdown season. He even finished second in the voting to Auburn’s Cam Newton. In the process he took Stanford to a 12-1 season with a win in the Orange Bowl, their first BCS Bowl since 2000. All of this made for a perfect send off to the land of Sunday, pay for play football…until Luck decided he hadn’t had enough yet. In a rare turn in the world, and business, of sports he turned down the perfect storm waiting for him in the NFL in favor of finishing his degree and playing another season at Stanford. Immediately, all eyes turned to what could go wrong immediately, and perhaps justifiably so.

A return to school should land Luck (far left) right back at the Heisman show, perhaps not on the outside looking in this time.

The risk of injury is the main concern for any player that passes up an early entry chance in the high pay game of today, but especially for those in the rarefied air of being a guaranteed top pick. Mainly because it just doesn’t happen very often that one player is so clearly above the rest of the pack, and also because by this time the only thing left to gain in the college ranks is time on the bench due to injury. Nobody’s stock is guaranteed, and injury is a quick route to an individual stock market crash. That’s not to say that returning is a guaranteed fail either. In either 1997 or 1998, Peyton Manning would have been the top pick taken. He returned to hae another amazing year and was still the number one the next year. The rest is history, however, there are other cases where history was not so kind, with and without injury.

In 2004, Matt Leinart was at the top of the world, with both a fresh Heisman and National Championship in tow. The top pick in the draft was deservedly awaiting him in San Francisco. He returned to USC for another year with the same cast, yet his production dropped off and his stock dropped because of it. He still went in the top 10 to Arizona, but he lost millions of dollars and was basically only taken where he was due to his reputation from before.

Injury is not the only way to lower your stock by staying in school too long. Leinart is a perfect example of this.

In  2008, Bradford wasn’t guaranteed the top spot, as him and Stafford were about neck and neck for the honor, but fresh off his Heisman Trophy/National Title game push, his stock was sky-high. He opted against the pros after his redshirt sophomore year (exactly what Luck has done), and returned to Oklahoma. For his dedication to college, he was rewarded with 2 serious arm injuries in the first three games of the season, with the second one ending his season. He proceeded to have in-season surgery and defy the odds by still becoming the first pick in the next draft, but only after an arduous rehabilitation, which is so far from the norm it should never be looked at as an example of how it is okay to risk such injury. I’m sure even Bradford himself would’ve preferred the road most frequently traveled than his path in hindsight.

At this point the decision is made, and the NFL Draft will proceed without Luck. His decision to opt out opens up the door for several new scenarios, which both benefit and hinder the various participants in the process. Here are a few of the hands dealt by Luck:

–          Carolina Panthers: The Luck-less draft pool opens up a scramble to be the number one pick, the likes of which hasn’t be seen in a number of years. The Panthers had the least productive offense in the NFL last year, barely throwing for 140 yards per game. Luck would’ve been the perfect catalyst for them, but now they have to turn their attention to another area, as no other QB is of top pick value. They could decide to restock their defense with a talent like Clemson defensive end DaQuan Bowers, or boost their offense with a skilled wide receiver such as A.J. Green. Trading out of the spot may even be the option now. Either way, it is a big alteration in what their future could’ve been with Luck leading it.

–          In-Draft QBs: This decision helps the other quarterbacks in the Draft the most. There is no shortage of teams that have a need at quarterback in the top 10, and now the competition to land one could get even more competitive since the depth of the position becomes slimmer. Nobody may have gained more than Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, who was already regarded as top five worthy. Cam Newton and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett will also reap the benefits of this, with Buffalo, Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee and Washington all in need of a fix at the position and all being in the top 10 teams on the board.

–          Stanford: The most obvious immediate winner is the Cardinal. In keeping Luck on campus, they immediately become a player in the race for the Pac-10 title and will be in the National Championship picture for much of the year. They will still be watched heavily with the biggest star in college football on their roster and have a much better chance of keeping their coach Jim Harbaugh from jumping to the NFL before his prize QB does.

Finishing what he started at Stanford means more than NFL money for now, but can they improve even with him back?

What does the future hold for Luck? He’ll be the favorite out the gates for the Heisman Trophy and will lead a top five team out the gates, but what will be waiting for him the NFL? Will he still be the odds on number one pick for next year? USC’s Matt Barkley will be draft eligible, and will be in the mix for that top pick honor. Also by the 2012 NFL Draft the rookie pay scale that will come from this year’s collective bargaining agreement will be in place, and he will stand to receive much less than he would have in the current open market of the game (although this will probably be in place for this April’s Draft as well). The main thing is to keep performing at his current level, despite the increased microscope he will be under now. It’s not impossible to return to school and still return to the Draft in the same condition, however, it’s a risk of the highest order, and in the end…(I’ll let you insert your own “He’ll need some “Luck” joke here).

 

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Whitener. Matt Whitener said: NEW CSP "LUCK OF THE DRAW: Andrew's Risky Business" ….The high stakes gamble taken by passing up on Sundays by Luck: http://wp.me/pUMnd-cY […]

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