Why Andrew Luck is worth the risk in fantasy drafts

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Andrew Luck's health, but his upside is undeniable. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Deshaun Watson should be the No. 1 fantasy quarterback this season based upon his huge upside being much more valuable than his risky downside. By very similar logic, Andrew Luck should also be drafted as a legitimate starting fantasy quarterback in fantasy leagues this season.

What's that, you say? He hasn't played a down since the 2016 season? He's still working with a junior football because he hasn't progressed to a full-sized regulation NFL football yet?

Doesn't matter. We know the risk with Luck. Anyone (like yours truly) who had him on a team (or teams) last season and watched him go from an early-season stash to a later-season cut knows that nothing is guaranteed with him. Last season at this time, we were told that his shoulder wasn't so bad and that, even if it was worse than the Colts were letting on, he could miss the start of the season but be back in October. And, of course, that was completely not the way it played out.

But even with all of that, Luck is worth the risk because of his established and proven ability to generate fantasy points at an elite level. And that is a commodity worth taking a risk on. Let's take a look at what Luck did in his last two primarily healthy seasons.

In 2014, Luck played in all 16 games and passed for 4,761 yards, 40 touchdowns and 16 interceptions (297.6 yards, 2.5 touchdowns, 1.0 interception per game). He also ran 64 times for 273 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns (4.0 rushes, 17.0 yards, 0.19 touchdowns per game).

In 2016, Luck played 15 games and passed for 4,240 yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions (282.7 yards, 2.1 touchdowns, 0.9 interceptions per game), while rushing 64 times for 341 yards and two touchdowns (4.0 rushes, 22.7 yards, 0.13 touchdowns per game).

Now, compare Luck's numbers to the NFL leaders among quarterbacks in 2017:

Passing yards/game

Tom Brady: 286.1

Ben Roethlisberger: 283.4

Philip Rivers: 282.2

Matthew Stafford: 277.9

Drew Brees: 270.9

Passing TDs/game

Carson Wentz 2.5

Russell Wilson 2.2

Tom Brady 2.0

Matthew Stafford 1.8

Ben Roethlisberger: 1.9

Rushing yards/game

Cam Newton: 8.7 rushes for 47.1 YPG

Russell Wilson 5.9 rushes for 36.6 yds/game

Tyrod Taylor: 5.6 rushes for 28.5 yds/game

DeShone Kizer: 5.1 rushes for 27.9 yds/game, 0.33 TD

Dak Prescott: 3.6 rushes for 22.3 yds/game, 0.375 TD

Luck's 2014 numbers would have had him on top of the league in passing yards and touchdowns per game, and just outside of the top-five quarterbacks in rushing yards/game in 2017. Luck's 2016 numbers would have had him top-3 in passing yards and touchdowns per game, and fifth among quarterbacks in rushing yards per game. In fact, he would have been the only quarterback in the NFL to appear on all three of those top-5 lists from a season ago.

And that's why he's worth the risk this season.

In 2017, using ESPN's standard scoring system, there was a difference of only 5.3 fantasy points between the weekly scoring average of the top quarterback and the 12th quarterback. Thus, in standard 10- or 12-team leagues, it is difficult to get much separation from your peers at the quarterback position. As discussed before, this lack of predictable separation is the cornerstone of the "wait until the sixth round to take a quarterback" strategy. After all, if there is little separation to be had, and it is difficult to predict where that separation will come, then there is little draft value in taking a quarterback early.

This strategy actually boosts Luck's value in 2018 drafts for two reasons. First, as demonstrated by the numbers above, a healthy Luck has demonstrated consistent production value that would project him to be at the very front of the quarterback class. Thus, if he's healthy, he projects as a predictable outlier in the positive direction, a quarterback who demonstrably can generate tangible value at the quarterback position over his peers -- if he is healthy.

But second, on the flip side, Luck's injury question marks have driven down his draft value to the point that his risk is extremely mitigated. In the ESPN mock draft published in late June, Luck went in the 12th round. I've drafted Luck in the late rounds of two mocks so far, again about Round 12.

His ADP as of early July has him as a borderline top-100 pick. That means he is going around Round 10 in most 10-team leagues. Thus, you can currently get Luck late enough in drafts that you should have been able to maximize value at other positions with earlier draft picks. Plus, because there generally isn't much fall-off in quarterback quality, you can hedge your bet with another startable quarterback late in the draft just in case Luck's injury does hamper him this season.

Another plus is that the Indianapolis Colts invested a bit in their offensive line and receiving corps, which have been weak for much of Luck's tenure. When healthy, he has been able to thrive even with question marks in those units.

All told, despite the injury risk, Luck actually represents a relatively small risk for fantasy managers at his current draft slot. Getting a player with legitimate fantasy MVP upside in the ninth round or later should be a no-brainer, and if he is healthy this season, I expect Luck to be on a lot of fantasy football champion teams.