Is Luck really playing better than RG3?

Is Luck really playing better than RG3?
October 24, 2012, 10:45 am
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Who’s playing better, Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III?

We’re going to be making this comparison for the next decade or so and it’s never too early to be started.

In the New York Times Fifth Down blog, Chase Stuart makes the case that despite the fact that Griffin has better conventional numbers, especially completion percentage (Griffin 70.4, Luck 53.6) and yards per attempt (Griffin 8.5, Luck 6.7), Luck may be having a better year.

Stuart’s case is built partially on the ESPN Total QBR, which is a somewhat mysterious and in some ways convoluted attempt to rank quarterbacks. It loses some credibility with me when it says that Luck, who has rushed 20 times for 115 yards (5.8 per carry) and 3 touchdowns, has had more impact running the ball than Griffin, who has 64 attempts for 468 yards (7.3 average) and six touchdowns. I don’t recall any game-changing 76-yard touchdown runs by Luck but maybe I haven’t been playing attention.

The article also says that some of Luck’s numbers are worse because he is in a different offense and throws deeper passes than does RG3. It is true that Luck has thrown significantly more deep passes than Griffin. According to Pro Football Focus, Luck has attempted 37 passes that traveled 20 yards or more in the air while Griffin has thrown just 13 such passes (note: the Colts have had their bye so Luck has played six games, Griffin 7). Obviously you are going to have a better completion percentage if you’re throwing shorter passes.

But the longer passes don’t fully account for the differences in accuracy and effectiveness. Let’s do the “what if” thing here and see what the numbers might look like if Griffin threw as many deep passes as Luck did.

Here are the actual stats of the two quarterbacks:

  RG3 Luck actual

Griffin has completed five is his 13 deep passes (38.5 percent) for 176 yards (13.5 yards/attempt). Let’s say he had thrown 24 more deep passes so that he would have as many such attempts as Luck and that Griffin had completed them at the same rate and for the same average yards per attempt that he has this season.

Here is how their numbers would compare if Griffin had thrown as many deep passes as Luck:

  RG3 with added passes

So, theoretically Griffin’s completion percentage would still be considerably better than Luck’s if he threw deep as often as Luck and his edge in yards per attempt would grow by half a yard.

Of course, we don’t know for sure what might actually happen if Griffin went deep more often. But based on what he has done, there is no reason to believe that he wouldn’t still have “standard” numbers that are superior to those of Luck if he was in an offense more like the one that Luck is in.

This is not to say that Luck isn’t playing well now or that he’s not going to be at least a very, very good quarterback if not a great one. But among this year’s rookie quarterbacks, RG3 is in a class by himself.