The parallels between Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning are truly uncanny.
Not only is Luck another brilliant, cerebral quarterback deemed the best prospect since John Elway, but he wound up on the same team as Manning did, an incredibly unlikely occurrence and unbelievable stroke of good fortune (some might call it luck) given the Colts’ consistently late draft position. Ironically, the two entered Week 10 with exactly 2,404 passing yards while leading 5-3 teams that sit in playoff pole position after starting the season 1-2.
As NFL fans, we pray the similarities won’t stop there. We can only hope that, as Tom Brady did for Manning, a storied rival will emerge to oppose Luck in the AFC and treat us to annual showdowns and playoff duels for the next decade.
Though it’s in its final stages, the Manning-Brady rivalry was perhaps the NFL’s greatest treat to its fans during the 2000s, beginning in 2001 with the Pats’ 44-13 victory over Manning’s Colts in Foxborough, which was Brady’s first career start. Since then, the two have clashed for nine regular-season games (with Brady winning six) and three playoff battles: two sound Pats victories in nasty Foxborough weather and the epic AFC championship of 2006 in Indy, when Manning overcame a 21-3 deficit to win 38-34 and reach his first Super Bowl.
Safe to say if Luck can treat us to anything similar to that, we’re in for quite a show. But who can rise to be the Brady to Luck’s Manning?
While Robert Griffin III forever might be linked to Luck, and vice versa, RG3 landed in the NFC and won’t be leaving anytime soon, so it’s hard to manufacture a yearly rivalry there.
Meanwhile, the AFC is in a transitional QB period, with many established stars on the back ends of their careers and few young prospects offering much early promise. Other than Luck, it’s hard to peg any young QB to lead a perennial AFC contender five or 10 years from now.
Could Andy Dalton of the Bengals grow into that role? He impressed as a scrappy rookie in a brutally difficult division, but he has thrown at least one interception in every game this season and it’s hard to feel confident about his 0-11 career record against 2011 playoff teams.
The rest of the 2011 QB class presents similar question marks. Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert are talented and athletic, but both are stuck with franchises that are going nowhere fast and have little talent around them to aid their development. Ryan Mallett and T.J. Yates may get their respective shots eventually, but that’s far too distant to be optimistic.
The 2010 class doesn’t offer any strong candidates either — Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy are its the most promising AFC quarterbacks — and the current crop of college prospects that are expected to enter the NFL in 2013 has been maddeningly disappointing, with Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson and Geno Smith all showing holes in their games.
But what about Ryan Tannehill? The Dolphins’ rookie is already proving himself to be the team’s answer at quarterback despite widespread agreement that he would need more seasoning before being ready to start in the NFL. Considering he’s still far behind most rookies in experience at the position — the former wide receiver didn’t start at QB in college until halfway through the 2010 season — and his strong development under Joe Philbin, his growth curve might be pointing skyward.
As great as Luck already is, he desperately needs a counterpart with whom he will spar throughout his career. If it happens to be Tannehill, we already have seen the first episode of the AFC’s next great quarterback rivalry — Luck dispatched Tannehill’s Dolphins 23-20 in Week Nine in Indy with the best performance of his young career, throwing for an NFL single-game rookie record 433 yards.
If not, the current candidates don’t seem to offer any suitable answers. I guess we could just wait for a sixth-round pick to emerge as a two-time Super Bowl MVP. Yeah, like that’s happened before.