When answering the question in the title, “is Andrew Luck really back?” the answer seems like a simple yes or no. Yes, he is back to playing and is on track to be ready for Week 1. But, is he back to his old self, and can we expect the same production from him as soon as he steps back on the field? To answer these questions, I dove deeper into Luck’s game tape from his three preseason games this August.
Is health still a concern?
I wrote a piece for the Fantasy Footballers in July describing the risk that was associated with Luck returning from his shoulder surgery for more than a year ago. In this article, I highlighted the details of his injury and my concerns from a medical perspective, so I won’t touch on those details here. To understand his injury in more detail, check out that article here. Luck has shown an ability to meet all of my concerns regarding his return to the field, and I believe the Colts medical staff deserves some praise here. They’ve been controlling Luck’s return to the field by limiting reps, the distance of his throws, and gradually exposing him to more and more as the weeks go by. When dealing with an athlete returning from a major injury, especially to the shoulder of a throwing athlete, it can be difficult to manage the athlete and the pressure that comes with getting him back out there as quickly as possible. As a physical therapist, I love the way they’ve given him rest days from throwing, gradually progressed his throwing distance and speed, and allowed him to listen to his body when he’s noticed some soreness. That’s how it’s meant to be done. Well done, Indy. Everything I’ve seen from Luck so far has me confident he’ll be ready to go for Week 1, and I think will play in all 16 games this year.
Preseason Game 1: Colts vs. Seahawks, August 8
Stat Line: 9 attempts, 6 completions, 64 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
The first positive from this game is that Luck got out there on the field and didn’t suffer any setbacks. Additionally, he took two hits, got up, and looked confident getting back in the huddle. This game was clearly all about getting Luck acclimated to game action and used to playing in a live NFL game for the first time in over a year. The game plan during the first two series clearly shows this, as the Colts kept play calling very conservative. Luck didn’t throw a pass more than 20 yards down the field, likely in an effort to limit Luck’s exposure to big hits by getting the ball out of his hands quickly. On his nine attempts, he threw five passes either behind the line of scrimmage or less than five yards downfield on swing passes, check downs, and screens. On one throw while on the run to T.Y. Hilton along the right sideline, Luck did have a throw that sailed on him a bit, but the ball did have some zip on it. Overall, I was pleased to at least see Luck on an NFL field, throw short passes, and take a hit without a setback. He looked rusty, but it’s to be expected when you’ve spent an entire offseason away from the game.
Preseason Game 2: Colts vs. Ravens, August 20
Stat Line: 13 attempts, 6 completions, 50 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
In this game, I was hoping to see the Colts call plays on offense that allowed Luck to show us some more arm strength by allowing him to push the ball downfield. Instead, they continued to limit Luck to short and intermediate throws. Again, the zip on the ball looked good at this distance, but there were some accuracy issues. In addition, he threw an interception near the goal line while being flushed out of the pocket to his right. The decision to throw the ball into coverage was a poor one, as his target, Jack Doyle, was very tightly covered. I’m not surprised that we saw this from Luck, as the decision making and mental processing skills of a quarterback in-game scenarios are tough to replicate in practice. He showed some rust in this category during this game. One thing I really liked though from Luck in this game as he showed more accuracy when throwing on the run. A pass that stands out happened during the second series where the pocket collapsed, Luck stepped up with confidence, and he rifled a bullet to Jack Doyle for a first down while on the run. Overall, Luck took a step forward with his arm, but he lacked some quality decision-making skills.
Preseason Game 3: Colts. vs. 49ers, August 25
Stat Line: 10 attempts, 8 completions, 90 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Touchdown!!! In general, this was a much better performance by Luck in all aspects of the game, and his stat line shows this, as he threw his first touchdown pass of the preseason. Luck’s arm looked strong once again on his intermediate throws. One ball I liked a lot was a strong, accurate throw to T.Y. Hilton on a slant where the ball had to be squeezed in between two defenders. I also liked his decision making a lot more, particularly with pressure in his face. He demonstrated a quick read and hit Chester Rodgers on a quick drag route for a nice gain. On his touchdown pass to Eric Ebron, his pass was a bit inaccurate, and Ebron really had to extend to make the grab. All in all, it was a good outing, but I was left wanting more, primarily because of the play calling and the limitation of not allowing Luck to chuck it deep.
Will Andrew Luck be ready for Week 1? Absolutely, yes. There is no concern for me from a medical perspective anymore. However, his performance at this point in time gives me some reservation early in the season. When reviewing Luck’s game tape, he showed confidence and the ability to take a few hits, something that I wanted to see. His short and intermediate passes look strong, and for the most part, accurate even when throwing with pressure. I would have loved to see Luck throw the ball deeper, as this was something that really made he and T.Y. Hilton special in 2016 when Hilton led the league in receiving yards. I have my reservations from a performance standpoint early on in the season. This is primarily because I think it is going to take him some time to be fully back to his prior performance level.
He’ll need to consistently show power and accuracy on his deeper throws, show quicker decision-making skills on a consistent basis, and finally, he’ll need to be able to demonstrate the endurance to last through four quarters of NFL football. His current 8th round ADP in 12-team leagues seems about right given what we know Luck can do when healthy. I expect a slower start to Luck’s season, but I do believe he can continue to develop into the quarterback we saw on the field early in his career. For me personally, it’s a bit too early given some of my concerns expressed above and because of other quarterbacks going behind him who I prefer, namely Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Ben Roethlisberger.