After squandering much of Luck's early career with poor offensive line play and questionable play-calling, the Colts waited patiently for the Stanford product as he recovered from a 2017 shoulder injury that sidelined him for an entire season. They even traded away the third pick in the 2018 draft (which became USC quarterback Sam Darnold), buying fully into a future that would pair Luck with one of the league's best young offensive minds in Frank Reich.
Luck delivered in year one under Reich, generating almost three-and-a-half wins above replacement (good for third among quarterbacks), leading the Colts from a 1-5 start to a 10-6 finish and a road playoff win against the Houston Texans.
[Editor's Note: PFF's Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric is powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]
Things were looking up for the Colts, and their seemingly bright future led me to write this article about how they were the franchise to beat in the AFC going into the 2019 season and beyond.
The Colts, to their credit (or not), were able to keep it together in 2019, with backup Jacoby Brissett starting 15 games and earning 0.4 wins above replacement in 15 starts. He won seven of those starts, generating +0.02 expected points added per dropback, and he was charged a turnover-worthy play on less than 3.5% of his dropbacks.
Jacoby Brissett: Passing stats from 2019 (regular season only)
|Yards per attempt||6.6||31/39|
|Passer rating from a clean pocket||100.5||20/39|
|Passer rating under pressure||63.8||20/39|
|Big-time throw percentage||2.3%||38/39|
|Turnover-worthy play percentage||3.1%||27/39|
However, the limitations of a quarterback like Brissett were very apparent in 2019, especially down the stretch. Fewer than 20% of Brissett's dropbacks were positively graded, and less than 2.5% were deemed “big-time throws” by our system. After a 6-4 start, the Colts finished 1-5, with the passing offense able to eclipse 250 yards in just one of those games.
So, what should the Colts do? Some have opined that they should use their first-round pick (13th overall) on one of the lower-tier first-round quarterbacks like Justin Herbert or Jordan Love. Trading up for Tua Tagovailoa is an option, as well. There are also some veteran free agents who are available at the position, but paying top-dollar to someone like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers or Drew Brees is going to be difficult given the investment in Brissett ($21.5 million cap number in 2019, $12.5 million in dead money upon a possible release).
Staying with Brissett and tanking the season for Trevor Lawrence is also a possibility, but as we saw with the Dolphins in 2019, nothing is guaranteed when angling for a specific position atop the draft, especially with a quarterback who, like Ryan Fitzpatrick, is capable of winning (some) games at the NFL level.
Enter Teddy Bridgewater, the former first-round pick and franchise quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. Before suffering a knee injury in practice prior to the 2016 season, the Louisville product earned over two-and-a-half wins above replacement in Norv Turner's offense during his first two seasons in the league. After three years of (mostly) inactivity, he then came off the bench in New Orleans to earn 0.55 WAR in five starts, going 5-0 in Drew Brees' stead on 400 total snaps. He earned a spot in our “safe, third-tier” cluster with the likes of Brady, while Brissett was in our lowest, fourth-tier group.