Is Andrew Luck a top-10 quarterback?

Updated: July 19, 2013, 3:10 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Andrew Luck finished ninth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring last year … so why is he outside the top 10 this year?

Andrew Luck certainly had a stellar debut season. He didn't just do an admirable job of attempting to fill the Hall of Fame-sized shoes left vacant by Peyton Manning; he managed to pass for more yards than Aaron Rodgers while doing so. That's nothing to sneeze at for any quarterback, let alone a rookie.

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When all was said and done, Luck ended up as the No. 9 quarterback in ESPN standard fantasy scoring. And given how well he performed last season after being thrown to the wolves, as it were, it might be a bit of a head-scratcher to see that he's not ranked among the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks for the 2013 season.

What exactly are we saying here about his 2012 season? Was he -- pardon the pun -- just lucky?

Not hardly, but when you're ranking starting quarterbacks, there's more than just optimism about a player's potential for growth to take into account. It's not that we think that what Luck accomplished last season wasn't legit. It's just that even if he grows as an NFL quarterback, there's a ceiling to exactly how much Luck will be able to do for your fantasy team in 2013.

To begin with, I think most people would agree that there's an elite tier of quarterbacks who stand out from the rest of the field: a stellar group that includes Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady (even without his top five receiving options from last season), Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, whose legs alone -- he was a top-25 rusher in the NFL and tied for the fifth-most 20-plus-yard runs -- elevate him to this tier. Even as good as he was as a rookie, Luck doesn't yet deserve to be included among this elite tier.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherIn 2012, Andrew Luck set the NFL rookie record for most passing yards in a season (4,374).

After that, the debate is wide open. Luck certainly belongs in the discussion regarding the next group of quarterbacks, which includes Matt Ryan, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco. Let's break this tier down into two distinct groups: the new blood and the veterans.

Certainly Kaepernick, Wilson and RG III are a different breed of quarterback. With the read-option taking the league by storm, all three of these players could end up being in the top five at the position by season's end. In fact, if you gave Wilson one more rushing score last year and extrapolated Kaepernick's time as a starter out to a full season, all three of these guys would have bested Luck in 2012.

And even with the minor concerns regarding Griffin's readiness to start in Week 1, the upside of these three quarterbacks is undeniable. Of course, there's always the chance that during the offseason, opposing defenses might have done enough film study to figure out how to neutralize some of the explosiveness of this style of quarterback. But that doesn't mean they'll be able to put those plans into practice week in and week out. Fantasy points should still fly fast and furiously from these guys, and all three of them deserve to be ranked ahead of Luck.

That's not to say Luck's mobility is in question. In fact, last season he tied for the fifth-most rushing attempts among quarterbacks, taking off 62 times for 255 yards and five touchdowns. But in his case, that was by necessity and not by design.

Which brings us to our next point: Luck's offensive line was practically nonexistent in 2012. He was sacked a whopping 41 times and was frequently forced to take off running out of a need for self-preservation. The Indianapolis Colts have taken huge steps to avoid a repeat of the abuse this season, not only by bringing in linemen like Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas to help protect Luck, but also by signing Ahmad Bradshaw to theoretically improve a rushing attack that was all but invisible last year. Let's just say there's a reason Luck finished fifth in passing attempts last season: Not only did the Colts average only 3.8 yards per carry, but they were the only team in the league not to have a single rush of at least 30 yards.

If all goes according to plan for the Colts, even when Luck does throw the ball, he won't be swinging for the fences, so to speak. Bruce Arians is off to Arizona, and Pep Hamilton is the new offensive coordinator. The former Stanford coach will be reuniting with Luck and bringing more of a West Coast offense, including a shorter passing game, into the huddle. Luck might be a bit more accurate as a result, but his overall yardage total won't be boosted by those huge bombs nearly as often.

[+] EnlargeReggie Wayne
AP Photo/AJ MastReggie Wayne had a resurgence last season, but can we expect a repeat from the 34-year-old?

And when it comes to his receivers, let's just say -- with all apologies to the likes of Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton -- we're not nearly as impressed with them as we are with the weapons Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford have at their disposal.

Even though it's probable that quarterbacks such as Romo, Manning, Roethlisberger and Flacco won't end up with more fantasy points than Luck, odds are that at least two of them finish with just as many passing yards and touchdowns as the Indianapolis quarterback. The uncertainty as to which of the quartet will be the ones to achieve that goal might make Luck a smarter selection for your fantasy team, but it also keeps him from being a slam-dunk inclusion among the top 10 at the position.

Look, Andrew Luck is a talented player whose future is about as bright as they come. He may very well end up throwing more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions in 2013 than he did as a rookie and lead his team deep into the postseason. But at the same time, he's still likely to struggle to reach 4,000 passing yards while doing so.

This doesn't mean he's doomed for failure. He might actually end up scoring just as many fantasy points in 2013 as he did last year, if not more. Our confidence in Luck remains high, and by no means are we saying that last year's success was a fluke. But while he may well be a "safer" pick than some of the quarterbacks ranked ahead of him, the fact remains that for the upcoming season, the elite upside simply isn't there. And especially at the quarterback position, it doesn't pay to play it safe.

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