INDIANAPOLIS — The "elite quarterback" designation is one that receives lots of attention in the National Football League.
While some — including Pat McAfee's new buddies at Barstool Sports — have made a huge joke out of the term, other experts and pundits across the league use this classification to separate the really good quarterbacks from the cream of the crop.
The current cream of the crop among NFL quarterbacks has been the same names for years; guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, while Matt Ryan might've also added his name to that list with his performance in 2016.
Then there's a list of a few other quarterbacks that can play elite at times, but other factors — maybe injuries or inconsistent team success (AKA, no Super Bowl rings or inconsistent playoff success) — have kept them from earning that "elite" label universally.
To Heath Evans, this is where Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck belongs.
Though he might not be there for much longer.
Evans, doing a segment Friday on NFL Network's "Total Access," broke down how he has seen Luck improve over the last couple of years.
Now, Evans has proven to be an unabashed critic of Luck's and the Colts over the years, but to be fair, the former NFL fullback will be just as willing to show a good play as he would a bad one. Friday's segment was proof of that.
First, he shows where Luck has improved, using this game-clinching third-down conversion late in the Colts' 31-26, Week 9 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:
*"Now watch this: he's directing the wide receiver; previously he told his running back to come over here and get this guy here in protection — obviously he doesn't listen, because Andrew has to make up for his mistake. *
So you've got all these guys up there, all that movement, Andrew figures it out. Look at that. He told his running back, 'Hey, get over there;' he was late anyway. How that happens, I'll never know. Andrew being Andrew finds the man, man-to-man coverage, hits his tight end. The rest is history. This is the good, and we've seen a lot of this over the course of his early and young career."
Then, Evans highlights a bad play from Luck's 2016 season, one in a game that would perhaps be the biggest gut punch for the Colts throughout the whole year.
In Indy's Week 6 game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium, the Colts had jumped out to a 13-3 lead with about two minutes left before halftime before Luck and the Indianapolis offense had gotten into Houston territory once again.
A field goal, making the score 16-3, would sure be a major exclamation point heading into the second half. But Luck had other plans.
He tried to force a throw to his top receiver, T.Y. Hilton, that instead went into the hands of the Texans' Robert Nelson, ending the scoring chance for the Colts. The Texans, meanwhile, would take the momentum from there, and came all the way back to earn a 26-23 overtime win.
Here's the play, followed by Evans' comments on it:
"Here's the bad. We saw a lot more of this two years ago; last year some. This is a division rivalry. Look at all this space … it's a four-man (rush), there is no pressure. But it's pre-determined. He's scanning the field, but the whole time he's going, 'Where's T.Y.? Where's T.Y.?' It's over-underneath coverage — you can't throw that. Andrew knows it. And this would've given them three points; they already had a big lead in a division game going into the half. It cost them three points; they ended up losing that game."
And then we have the "stinking, freaking unbelievable" from Luck, as Evans calls it. He uses a play in the Colts' Week 15 road victory over the Minnesota Vikings — who had one of the best defenses in the league last season — which was a 31-yard strike from Luck to Hilton to the Minnesota 18-yard line:
"It's a four-man pass rush. This offensive line, we've bashed it for years — and for good reason. (There's) initial time. Look over here — this is the brilliance of Andrew. Zone coverage on the right, man coverage on the left; you're going to see pressure, he steps up, evades it, and then not only is there a tight window — Brian Robison's getting ready to hit him again — and then look at this throw.
So you saw the physical traits that God gave him, but then the mental side of his game, in that pressure moment of being like, 'OK, this is zone. But, wait, this is man. If I can buy some time, here comes the unbelievable.' That's what I hope we get to see more of."
At the end of the segment, host Dan Hellie asks Evans, "You guys talk about elite quarterbacks — real quick, just a couple of words, how close is (Luck) to being an elite quarterback?"
"Real close," Evans answers. "Eliminate the mistakes."
Luck did just that in 2016. With better overall team success — and perhaps another deep playoff run like in 2014 — perhaps Luck can earn that "elite" label from Evans and others.
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