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Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Updated: January 4, 3:10 AM ET
Colts should pick Griffin, not Luck

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

After Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay made the bold decision on Monday to fire team vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, Chris, the general manager, the typically steady Colts were suddenly cast into a state of calculated upheaval.

Who'll be running the Colts' front office isn't clear. And since the Polians' ouster effectively put coach Jim Caldwell's future with the team in a holding pattern, who will coach the Colts next season is a mystery, too.

But what the Colts should do with the No. 1 pick couldn't be more obvious.

Forget about Stanford's Andrew Luck. The Colts should use the top pick on Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.

Luck
Andrew Luck sounded more interested in starting in the NFL than waiting his turn when he spoke after the Fiesta Bowl.

Of course, this is assuming that the Colts keep the pick. If another team offers the Colts multiple high draft picks for the No. 1, the Colts have to take the deal in order to maximize the remainder of Peyton Manning's Hall of Fame career.

But if a sweetheart deal doesn't materialize, drafting Griffin makes more sense for the Colts than selecting Luck.

This isn't a criticism of Luck, a dynamic NFL prospect who is the most pro-ready quarterback in college football. Luck has all the tools -- size, arm strength, intelligence, maturity, leadership, on top of being a pretty good athlete. If Luck pans out, his NFL team wouldn't have to worry about the quarterback position for a decade.

So if Luck is that good, why not draft him No. 1 overall?

For the Colts, this decision must be based on more than just which quarterback is better now. The Colts need to be able to use the No. 1 pick not only to plan for life without Manning, but also to give themselves the best opportunity to win now.

Manning's future in Indianapolis is uncertain. The Colts must decide in March if they will pay him a $28 million option bonus that activates the final four years of his five-year, $90 million contract. If the Colts elect not to pay Manning, he'll become an unrestricted free agent.

Obviously, Manning's health is the primary issue. Even at 35 years old, if Manning is healthy, he's an elite quarterback.

Should Manning return at full strength, does he really want to spend the last few years of his career with Luck -- whom Indianapolis fans were clamoring for during the Colts' free fall this season -- lurking behind him?

In December, Manning's father, Archie, indicated that the answer to that question was no. During a Fox Sports radio interview, Archie said that having Luck and Manning on the same team wouldn't make much sense for either player.

"I think Andrew's the type of mature player … he can walk right in," Archie said then.

Archie Manning was serving as a de facto mouthpiece for his son and firing a subtle warning that Peyton Manning didn't want to coexist with Luck. Archie later backtracked, and even though Peyton attempted to do some damage control, the Mannings' comments raise some interesting questions about the potential relationship dynamic between Manning and Luck.

Whether Archie Manning's comments were benign or not doesn't matter at this point. If the Colts take Luck, despite Manning's numerous, impressive accomplishments, expect a full-fledged quarterback controversy almost immediately.

Robert Griffin III
No doubt, having Robert Griffin III was a boon for Baylor's recruiting efforts.

I just don't see that happening if the Colts draft Griffin, who has just as much talent and high-character intangibles as Luck.

Both Griffin and Luck could play right away, but Luck is a more polished product. Griffin, on the other hand, could benefit from sitting behind Manning awhile. He could be another Aaron Rodgers, who sat behind Brett Favre for three seasons before becoming Green Bay's starter in 2008.

Also, the quarterback position in the NFL is changing. Traditional pocket passers are still a desired commodity, but the idea that an athletic quarterback is a liability is outdated. By breaking Manning's rookie passing-yardage record, Cam Newton showed a more dangerous quarterback model is emerging -- a pass-first, freakish athlete who can make dazzling plays with his legs.

Newton and Griffin are different players, but Griffin fits the general mode that Newton established. Griffin's running ability is as rare as Newton's and Michael Vick's. Griffin, an All-American in track at Baylor, possesses legitimate 4.4 speed. If you combine that with the fact that he throws perhaps the most accurate deep ball in college football, Griffin's upside is absolutely staggering.

The Colts are in the unenviable position of trying to set themselves up for the future in the presence of a living legend. It's a delicate process and if the Colts aren't careful, they could alienate Manning and may be forced to take a hard stance about his future prematurely.

This isn't to say that if the Colts chose Luck, they would be making a horrible mistake. But Griffin gives the Colts a chance to win right now and for years to come.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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