INDIANAPOLIS — In some cases, landing on Pro Football Focus' annual list of most improved players isn't necessarily all good news.
PFF, which uses its own unique play-by-play grading system for each and every player in the National Football League, oftentimes baffles those who cling to more traditional NFL stats as an indicator of success or failure; instead, PFF's grades are based on the performance of a player on each play, and not necessarily the outcome of that play.
PFF also isn't shy about dishing out "failing" grades of 0 (the worst) all the way up to 100 (the best); so some players could earn a 50 one season and a 70 the next season, and while they might've had one of the most-improved scores from year to year at his position, he still is coming off just an average year.
Take Washington Redskins tight end Vernon Davis, for example. In 2015, PFF gave him a total grade of 52.6; last season, he earned a grade of 73.3. While his 20.7-point improvement year-over-year ranked No. 2 among all tight ends in the NFL, his 2016 grade of 73.3 is still considered average.
So there are those examples — and then there is Andrew Luck.
In 2015, Luck — as has been told many, many times — simply wasn't himself. Coming off an MVP-type season, as well as his first appearance in the AFC Championship Game, No. 12 just wasn't as effective to begin the next year before a rash of injuries eventually took him off the field.
As such, PFF gave him a season grade of 45.1 — not exactly something you can stick to the refrigerator at home.
So Luck rested, recovered and came back in 2016 ready to go. Not only did his traditional stats — 4,240 passing yards, 31 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, 63.5 completion percentage — indicate he was just fine, his PFF grade for the year of 92.4 indicated Luck had perhaps put together the best overall season of his career.
His 47.3-point increase from 2015 to 2016 — an increase of 104.9 percent — wasn't only, by far, the best among all NFL quarterbacks during that span, but his grade of 92.4 was fourth overall among all QBs in the league.
The entire list of 2016 most-improved offensive PFF players, written by John Gatta, can be found by clicking here. But here's why Gatta believes Luck was able to make such a jump, specifically:
"Since 2013, Luck has ranked ninth, fifth, 37th, and fourth in PFF grades among QBs. In his 2015 season, he was plagued by injury, missing the first two games of his career (shoulder) before going down with a lacerated kidney and a partially-torn abdominal muscle. In 2016, Luck recorded a 112 QB rating (fifth) when throwing from a clean pocket. For perspective, this number dropped to 91.9 (29th) in 2015. He is elite when healthy, ensuring his place on the list because of an outlier season."
There's that "E" word again — it came up with Luck a few weeks back.
Whether or not you believe in PFF's grading methods, it's clear that either way one looks at things, the Colts have one of the game's top quarterbacks in Luck. With improved play up front, as well as continued improvement and even better connections with the plethora of weapons around him, the Colts' offense, led by Luck, could be in for a special season in 2017 and beyond.
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