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Luck cements status with strong workout

3/23/2012

The pro day workout of Stanford QB Andrew Luck was exactly what we expected to see from the presumptive No. 1 overall pick. Luck was surgical in his approach, made all the throws scouts want to see and delivered a message about his arm strength.

Luck could have shown up on what was a cool, windy day, made 25 easy throws, thanked everyone for coming and called it a day without hurting himself, but he and quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr. -- who worked with Cam Newton leading up to the 2011 draft -- put together a script of 48 passes that had a higher degree of difficulty than we see at most pro days.

They didn't ease into things, either. Luck's first 12 throws were termed "Heavy Metal" and intended to immediately show his ability to drive the ball downfield.

The breakdown of the 48-pass script was as follows:

• 46 percent shotgun snaps

• 25 percent 5-step drops

• 6 percent 3-step drops

• 4 percent 7-step drops

• 4 percent 1-step drops

• 15 percent play-action

• 25 percent under pressure/adjustment throws

• 23 percent over 25 yards

• 40 percent vertical throws

Only three of Luck's 48 scripted passes were off the mark, and the only one that clearly missed the target was a throw to the back of the end zone late in the session on which Luck overthrew the receiver. He threw all of his scripted passes into the wind and was adjusting accordingly on his early throws, but from throw No. 10 on, Luck was nearly perfect.

One thing in particular that stood out was Luck's elite ball placement. On the 45 scripted throws that could be considered accurate, all were either perfectly placed or within inches of being perfect. He was throwing to where his receivers needed to be, and they were following the ball rather than Luck following their route and throwing to the target. In a game scenario you would have said he was throwing his receivers open.

For example, on a rollout toward the sideline to his left, Luck threw a ball to TE Coby Fleener that was low and away, forcing Fleener to go down and get it, and that was no accident. In live action it would have been away from a trailing defender in a place where only Fleener could make the catch.

That consistency is one of the things that separated Luck's workout from that of Baylor's Robert Griffin III a day earlier. Griffin threw the ball accurately for the vast majority of his workout Wednesday, but he missed within the strike zone more often. He had a dozen or so throws that could be characterized that way, and while he was consistently hitting his targets, Griffin was not always on the bull's-eye like Luck.

In all fairness, Griffin brings more "wow" factor to the table, which was evident in his workout. He snaps the ball off quicker, his ball travels faster and with more RPMs -- if Luck's zip is an 8 out of 10, Griffin has an 8.5 or 9 -- and Griffin is clearly the more explosive athlete. However, Luck showed much better ability to change the velocity of his throws, which is the case when studying these two on tape.

Also, the throws Luck made under pressure included a variety of ways to simulate the pass rush, showing his ability to move his eyes, adjust and reset his feet, which were quicker than some give him credit for.

Finally, Luck aimed to answer critics who raise those arm-strength issues, and he purposely threw all 48 passes into the wind. He finished the session by turning with the wind at his back and uncorking a pass that covered 75 yards in the air. Whether he'll admit it publicly or not, that throw was Luck's way of letting everyone know he heard the criticisms during the season, when he was simply making the throws necessary to allow his receivers to make plays, and closing the book on that issue.

There has been something of a groundswell over the past day or so in terms of support for Griffin as the No. 1 overall pick -- and in many other years he would be -- but his workout reinforced my feeling that Luck is the right choice for the Indianapolis Colts.

Both are elite in terms of skill level and mental makeup, and while they get it done in different ways, Luck and Griffin are clearly the top two prospects in this year's class. This is the first time since the Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch-Donovan McNabb debates in 1998 and 1999 that we have two quarterbacks so firmly entrenched atop the board.

Luck and Griffin are both worthy of the top pick, but the problem for Griffin is that he happens to be in the same class as a once-in-a-generation prospect. Their transitions to the NFL will be different, with Luck coming from a pro-style attack and facing fewer adjustments, but Griffin is a perfect fit for the system of the Washington Redskins and the way coach Mike Shanahan teaches it, so things should work out for everyone.

Other notable prospects

Three other possible first-rounders also worked out for scouts, and it was a big day for Fleener, who was limited at the combine due to an ankle injury.

Fleener did not take part in the shuttle runs to avoid tweaking the ankle and not being able to run routes for Luck, but he did run the 40-yard dash and confirm his excellent top-end speed. I clocked Fleener at 4.45 seconds with the wind at his back and 4.49 running into the wind. Combine that speed with Fleener's size (6-foot-6, 247 pounds) and jumping ability (37-inch vertical), and he's knocking on the door of some of the all-time-great tight end workouts.

For instance, compare Fleener's showing to that of San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis, who measured 6-3¼ and 254 pounds at the combine and ran a 4.40 with a 42-inch vertical.

Fleener has big hands (10 inches) and long arms (33⅜); his arm length makes his 27 reps on the 225-pound bench press all the more impressive. He has room on his frame to add bulk and strength, giving him potential as a blocker, and Fleener is the most complete tight end in a weak class. With demand high and supply low, it won't surprise me if he comes off the board late in the first round, perhaps to the New York Giants, Houston Texans or another team with the ability to make a luxury pick.

OT Jonathan Martin had something to prove after taking part only in position drills at the combine because of an illness. Martin's 40 times of 5.27 (with the wind) and 5.36 (against) are right around the average of 5.31 for offensive tackles at the past four combines, as was his 4.76-second short shuttle.

He put up only 20 reps on the bench press, though, which is indicative of the way he plays and the unique Stanford strength-and-conditioning program. Martin will need to dedicate himself in the weight room and add strength, but he has good mobility and is still a first-round prospect. However, with USC's Matt Kalil and Iowa's Riley Reiff locked in as the top two tackles, it will be interesting to see how teams separate Martin, Ohio State's Mike Adams and Georgia's Cordy Glenn. Martin is the most consistent of the three on tape and gives the best effort, but teams could feel he has the lowest ceiling.

Finally, G David DeCastro's day was pretty much limited to snapping for Luck after he nailed the combine by turning in above-average results in every category. DeCastro is the top interior offensive lineman on the board, and teams in the top half of the first round, such as the Buffalo Bills (No. 10 overall), Kansas City Chiefs (No. 11), Arizona Cardinals (No. 13) and Dallas Cowboys (No. 14), could show interest.