Why Andrew Luck is worthy of No. 1 pick

The first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft seems to be a coronation for Andrew Luck rather than the selection of a college quarterback.

Mel Kiper Jr. has called Luck the finest quarterback talent since John Elway. Todd McShay graded him higher than any other prospect he has rated. The Indianapolis Colts are so confident in his future that they chose to part ways with Peyton Manning. So what makes Luck so special?

During his stellar career at Stanford, Luck erased many of the records set by Elway and Jim Plunkett, both No. 1 overall draft choices, and his success began before the snap.

“The guy is running the game at the line of scrimmage,” said Cardinal coach David Shaw. “He's controlling the protections. He's controlling the running game.”

Not only did Luck call and change plays at the line, he did it exceedingly well. Stanford had the fewest negative plays (47) and 3-and-outs (14) in FBS last season. The Cardinal had eight games with three or fewer negative plays; no other FBS team had more than six of those games. Stanford also tied Baylor and Boise State for the most games (5) with no 3-and-outs. Overall the offense averaged 6.8 yards per play and 489.3 yards per game, both ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Assessing his options at the line, Luck made defenses pay. On play-action passes, he completed 72 percent of his throws with 25 touchdowns and no interceptions over the past two seasons. When teams sent extra pass rushers, Luck capitalized. He finished 2011 with 15 TDs and four interceptions against five or more rushers.

He excelled in crucial situations:

• In the red zone last season, he completed 75 percent of his passes with 27 touchdowns and no interceptions. No one in FBS had a higher TD-Int differential than Luck’s plus-45 over the past two years.

• In fourth quarters and overtime in 2011, Luck had the best completion percentage (81.6) of any quarterback with at least 20 attempts.

• When Stanford was trailing, his passer efficiency was second-highest in the nation over the past two seasons.

This success stemmed from a nearly incredible accuracy. Factoring in dropped passes and passes that were knocked away by defenders, Luck’s percentage of on-target throws in 2011 was 81.1 percent. He also kept defenses off balance with his ability to run, averaging 5.9 yards per scramble and scoring twice on runs of 50 or more yards against FBS opponents.

Those long runs showcased his underrated athleticism, as did his 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine. His 4.59 was faster than Tim Tebow’s and a tenth of a second off the time registered by Cam Newton. Those two were the NFL’s top rushing quarterbacks in 2011.

Luck's poise and confidence were evident in the way he bounced back from mistakes. Luck threw 10 interceptions in 2011, but on Stanford's 10 drives that followed, Luck was 28-34 for 288 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers. The Cardinal scored a touchdown on seven of those 10 drives.

All of these stats add up to a single number: one, which is where the Colts will draft Andrew Luck tonight.