I love Andrew Luck. He is my favorite player in the NFL. He’s a humble guy, a great quarterback, and the type of person you can build a franchise around. He will be the face of the NFL for years to come. His team, the Indianapolis Colts, have been perennial playoff contenders since Luck was drafted in 2012 (first overall). However, one small, predictable decision made by Luck his sophomore year of college had consequences and repercussions for years to come.
In 2010, as a red shirt sophomore at Stanford University, Luck was tearing up the college football landscape. He was the runner-up for the Heisman trophy, won the Maxwell Award for best college player, was an All-American, and most importantly, was considered the number 1 overall prospect in the 2011 NFL draft. Luck’s combination of size, strength, speed, and intelligence was compared favorably to John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who had played at Stanford years earlier, and some scouts considered Luck to be the best prospect they ever scouted.
Despite being almost an assured number 1 pick, Luck opted to return to Stanford for his junior year because he wanted to finish his degree, a noble goal indeed.
But what if Luck hadn’t decided to return to school and declared for the draft?
Well, for starters, the Carolina Panthers, the team who held the number one pick, almost certainly would have picked Luck. This means the guy they actually picked, Cam Newton, might have taken a stumble. The team who picked second, the Denver Broncos, were coming off a pretty good season, where Tim Tebow (remember that guy) led them to an upset of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers in the wildcard game. Von Miller, a guy who actually had the highest draft grade that season, still probably would’ve gone to Denver. Cam Newton was a terrific college player, but some weren’t sure how his skills would translate to the NFL, meaning the team with the third pick, the Buffalo Bills probably would’ve still selected Marcell Dareus since they had a serviceable quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had just gotten a contract extension. This means the team who selected 4th, the Cincinnati Bengals, would’ve been the team to select Newton. With star wide receiver AJ Green still on the board, the Browns, who held the 6th pick, would’ve drafted Green instead of trading picks with the Atlanta Falcons. With the Browns having selected, and the other star receiver of the draft, Julio Jones, surely being selected, the Falcons probably would’ve selected Jonathan Baldwin, a wide receiver from Pitt with their 26th pick. Instead of Atlanta having the dynamic duo of Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White and the highly touted Jones, they would’ve been stuck with a player who was traded after one season and is currently barely clinging to a roster spot. At the top of the second round, the Bengals selected Andy Dalton, a quarterback from TCU. However, in this scenario the Bengals have already drafted Cam Newton. This means the team after the Bengals, the 49ers, probably would have selected Andy Dalton, seeing as they had a need a quarterback as well. This opens the door for the Browns, the team picking after the 49ers, to select Colin Kaepernick, a dynamic dual threat quarterback from Nevada.
The Browns, one of the worst offenses in the league, instantly would’ve been bolstered by the combination of Kaepernick and AJ Green. The 49ers, still with Alex Smith and Andy Dalton on the roster, might have turned out differently. Kaepernick only got the starting job the second half of his second year in the league because of an injury to Smith. It was Kaepernick’s dual-threat abilities that allowed him to keep the job, as he added a new dimension Smith couldn’t bring. With Smith sidelined, Dalton would have filled in nicely, but Smith probably would’ve gotten the job back, meaning it’s unlikely Smith would’ve been traded to Kansas City the next season.
In 2012, with Peyton Manning sidelined, the Colts, who ultimately selected Luck, probably would’ve selected Robert Griffin III first overall in the next year’s draft. After the Colts drafted Luck, Peyton Manning was released, and free to sign with any team, ultimately ending up with the Broncos. Griffin, however, good a prospect though he was, was not considered to be as “pro ready” as Andrew Luck. This means the Colts probably would’ve given Griffin a “rookie red shirt” allowing him to observe the cerebral and talented Manning from the sidelines. With no Peyton Manning on the Broncos, the team that won the number 1 seed in the 2012-2013 playoffs probably would not have done as well.
The St. Louis Rams, who held the number two pick, likely would’ve never traded this pick away, because the 3rd quarterback selected, Ryan Tannehill, was not considered worthy of giving away a lot of picks for. This means the Washington Redskins would not have traded several picks to move to the number 2 pick.
The Browns, meanwhile, with their combination of Kaepernick and AJ Green, probably wouldn’t have performed as poorly, which means another team would’ve held the number 3 overall pick, used to selected Trent Richardson, a running back from the University of Alabama. With the Rams in need of a left tackle, Matt Khalil would’ve been selected second, with the Vikings possibly just selecting the best player available, Justin Blackmon, who is now out of the league.
Luck likely would’ve turned the Carolina Panthers, like the Colts, into a perennial contender, which means the Panthers might not have been in position to select linebacker Luke Kuechly, a two-time All-Pro and winner of the Defensive Player of the year.
Cam Newton’s Bengals likely would’ve struggled, as the loss of AJ Green means their best weapon was gone.
With Dalton and Smith both in San Francisco, Smith likely would still be leading the 49ers, while Dalton serves as his backup.
The Chiefs, who traded for Smith, would’ve been stuck without a serviceable quarterback.
The Browns, with Green, Kaepernick, and Josh Gordon would’ve turned into one of the most prolific passing attacks in the NFL.
Peyton Manning might have already retired with the Colts, meaning Griffin would’ve avoided his two terrible injuries, while also gaining some valuable (and much needed) experience learning from one of the best in history.
The Atlanta Falcons, without Jones, would likely be even worse than they already are, if that’s even possible.
And the Denver Broncos, one of the most prolific offenses in league history over the last two seasons, likely would not have enjoyed the success Peyton Manning provided them.
Again, this whole thing is entirely speculative, but man is it fun to think about.