As the Colts No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the future was seen as blisteringly bright for former Stanford star Andrew Luck.
Now, three years into his pro career and on the cusp of his first AFC Championship Game, Luck is looking to go take his game from youthful potential to a spot among the elite in the game.
Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdowns during the regular season, pacing the Colts No. 1 passing attack. He spreads the ball around to a variety of targets and has Indy fighting for a berth in the Super Bowl despite limited contributions from the ground game and defense.
As much as Luck is a playmaker with his arm, he's also capable of running the football and keeping plays alive.
"He's like a sixth receiver you have to cover," Bill Belichick said on Tuesday. "He can run, but again, if he extends the play then he has the ability to create big plays. We've seen him do that multiple times throughout his career already. The play he made against Denver where he kept the ball on about the 9, 10-yard line in the red area and ran it in for an easy touchdown – it was called back, but it was an easy touchdown. It's another guy you have to defend in the running game, the passing game in terms of his ability to scramble and make first-down yardage on possession-type downs. And he makes good decisions, so all those things are a problem: having to cover receivers longer and having to deal with his ability to run for yardage."
That's not to say that Luck's game is perfect at this point in his development. He still makes too many mistakes at times, throwing 16 interceptions to finish 20th among all passers in interception percentage. He also fumbled 13 times during the regular season, losing six of those.
But that's the learning curve for a guy with Luck's skill set and the amount that the Colts put on his plate in terms of leading the offense, and really the team as a whole.
As Luck looks to upset the Patriots and earn a shot at his first Super Bowl ring, Belichick compares him to another athletic, big-bodied AFC passer who already owns a pair of rings – Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"He's a big, strong guy that runs out of a lot of arm tackles and that type of thing. He's a lot faster than Roethlisberger, so he's much more of a threat to gain more yardage and gain it quicker. But, yeah, similar," Belichick said. "Roethlisberger is, that guy is really hard to tackle. He's a really strong guy in the pocket. So is Luck, but they're both a problem."
It's a problem the Patriots must deal with to get their own chance at another Lombardi Trophy, a job that team has been up to in recent years. New England has intercepted Luck a combined eight times in three blowout wins over the burgeoning young star, including a blowout win last January.
But Luck has put up more yards in his first five postseason games than any other passer. He'll look to build on those numbers this week as he attempt to pull off an upset that would jumpstart his already growing legacy.
"The guy is a really good quarterback," Belichick said, almost emphatically. "He can do everything that a top quarterback needs to do. He's got a great arm, throws the ball deep, reads coverages well, can make the intermediate throws. He has a nice touch on some of the shorter passes and to the backs and things like that, screens and all those kind of plays. He's mobile. He can run, he can stand in the pocket and shrug off tacklers. He's got good poise, good vision, handles the team well. He's a smart player in terms of game management and situational football. So I'd say all of those things are strengths. They're all assets. He does a good job of al lo fit. There are a lot of things about his game that are very good and hard to defend."