>\n\nAndrew Luck returns to Stanford - The Implications \n\n\n\n

Andrew Luck returns to Stanford - The Implications

Written by Curt Popejoy on 01/08/2011

I don't think anyone could have expected that Super Sophomore QB Andrew Luck would return to school for his Junior season but that is just the announcement that Luck made.  I think we were all even more shocked when in the wake of that decision former Stanford head coach and new San Francisco 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to leave.  But since that announcement Luck has re-affirmed he is still going to return to school even minus his head coach.

So, I started thinking about just what this could mean for Luck and the 2011 NFL draft.  And why make this decision?

First the Why.  You basically need to ask yourself one question if you are Luck.  Will the rookie hard cap be in place when I sign my contract in 2011?  If you answer yes, then the decision becomes quite easy.  Some personalities like Sports Illustrated's Peter King contends that the owners are going to be sure to have that rookie hard cap in place before the 2011 NFL season, lockout or not happens.  On the other hand, ESPN's Todd McShay contends Luck has left $40 million on the table.

Before I go further let me clarify something that has come up.  This situation is not a Sam Bradford type of situation.  Luck is not potentially losing money because of draft position.  If you recall, when Bradford returned to school most agreed the Detroit Lions would have drafted him No. 1 overall in 2009, and by returning to school he'd end up slipping.  But even with his injury, it didn't happen, he was drafted No.1 to the St Louis Rams and had one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history.

Luck is the no. 1 pick this year, and short of something remarkable, will be the no. 1 pick in 2012.  He's as close to a consensus best player in the country as far as NFL potential as I've seen in a long time.

So, what we have here is a young man who's chosen to hedge his bets on at least one and possibly two fronts.  First, he's hedging his bet that the rookie cap will be in place in 2011 so he's not going to be passing up $40m in guaranteed money.  But second, and an issue that hasn't really been mentioned, is where he'd have been drafted.  Peyton Manning passed on being the No. 1 overall pick as a junior to return to school for his senior season and the fate of not only the Indianapolis Colts but the New York Jets (who has the no. 1 pick the year before) was changed forever.  Is it so far out of bounds to think Luck didn't want to be a Panther and knowing he's still the best player in the country, would rather go back to school and try his luck that the team picking at the top in 2012 is a more attractive option?  It's not for me. 

I firmly believe Luck made this choice based on two factors.  First is that the rookie hard cap will be in place in 2011 so the financial incentive to declare is removed.  And because of that, he chose to be selective and pass on the grease fire that is the Carolina Panthers organization.  I applaud Luck if that's the case, because in the NFL you have so little say in terms of your employer, to say "no thanks" to the Panthers is a bold move. 

Ok, so having said all that, what does this mean for the 2011 NFL draft now that's it's consensus No. 1 player has decided to return to finish his degree in Interior Design (or something like that)? 

It means the draft is gonna be dull.  The sexy factor just dropped about 50 points.  I don't mean this in a negative way, because I think this is a very deep draft, but the gap between Luck at #1, and the next best player, much less next best quarterback, is significant.  It certainly puts the Panthers in a tough spot.  But the silver lining in this could be for Jimmy Clausen who was almost certainly done.  I still think Clausen has a lot of NFL potential and if you look back at some pretty great NFL signal callers you see rookie seasons very close to what Clausen had.  And this was on a team almost devoid of talent at the skill positions. 

Putting aside the fact that the cool of this draft has ebbed off a lot, the Panthers still have to make that pick. So who would I take if I were them?  Assuming he declares, I'd draft Georgia WR A.J. Green.  He's a true elite talent at the position and looks to be polished enough to come in and have a big impact right away.  If you are going to declare Clausen a bust, at least give him a fair shot to fail.  Now I admit that there are probably greater positions of need like cornerback where a player like Patrick Peterson from LSU would make sense, and an edge rusher like Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers would really help the defense.  But assuming that rookie cap is in place, the pick will be a better risk regardless.  You hate to commit $50 million to a wr, but a $15 million deal is easier to swallow.

Last Edited: 01/08/2011

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