INDIANAPOLIS — Back in 2014, Andrew Luck put in the best season of his career, and the Indianapolis Colts advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game.
Not coincidentally, Luck was considered a top Most Valuable Player candidate that season.
And after putting together perhaps an even better overall performance in 2016, at least one league expert believes Luck should undoubtedly be back in the MVP discussion heading into this upcoming season.
NFL Media's Elliot Harrison recently ranked his Top 5 AFC MVP candidates, and has Luck listed at No. 5, behind four big-time names that would certainly be on anyone's list. Harrison, in defending his pick, acknowledges to those in the studio that Luck is yet to get back on the field and throwing after undergoing surgery to his right shoulder in January, but thinks any concern at this point is premature.
"Let me tell you: I know everyone keeps talking about the shoulder — I heard you guys talk about it," *Harrison said last month on the NFL Network's "Total Access." "Let me just remind you: it's mid-June. It's mid-June. And I think with all the focus on Marcus Mariota and the surging Titans, and the Jags' defense and the Texans always winning, people (are) forgetting about Andrew Luck a little bit. I bet you the guy is sitting there saying, 'OK. OK, now they've given me some help on the defensive side of the ball.' First three picks all defensive players; safety, corner, defensive end."*
Harrison, of course, is talking about the Colts' taking Ohio State safety Malik Hooker (first round), Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson (second round) and Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham (third round) in April's NFL Draft. The picks were just a continuation of a total defensive overhaul by new general manager Chris Ballard, who also ended up utilizing the most active free agency period in team history to get younger and more competitive at outside linebacker, middle linebacker and along the defensive line, especially.
And, yes, while the team — and the quarterback, himself — would love to have Luck back on the field as soon as possible when it returns for the start of training camp towards the end of this month, Harrison believes Luck's continuity with his returning offensive weapons, matched with a better overall defensive unit, could mean big things for the Colts if they're able to put it all together in 2017.
"I think at some point we have to trust that this is a veteran. Andrew Luck is no longer a second- or third-year player," *Harrison said. "And I'm not saying that reps aren't important … we also saw Tom Brady miss four games last year and then almost win the MVP. … You've heard me say, 'Rising tide raises all the boats,' right? If the other Colts play up the level of Andrew Luck, he's already put up the numbers to be an MVP, he just needs help on the defensive side of the ball."*
And what about those sitting ahead of Luck on Harrison's list? They are:
- Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland Raiders
- Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
- Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
No big shockers there.
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