Andrew Luck, left, and Robert Griffin III are likely to be inexorably linked… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)
Reporting from Indianapolis — Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, this town is big enough for both of them.
For the moment.
But come April 26, the first day of the NFL draft, Stanford's Luck and Baylor's Griffin — the top two quarterbacks at the scouting combine this week — will head in different directions to begin their pro careers. In a league so focused on passing, they are the shiny superstars in the making, players likely to be inexorably linked as the first quarterbacks to go 1-2 in the draft in more than a decade.
Their styles are different, but Luck and Griffin have notable similarities. They grew up in Texas about 200 miles apart — Luck in Houston, Griffin in tiny Copperas Cove in the middle of the state — and each was an A-student. Both were cornerstones in the revival of moribund college football programs.
Likewise, they will be expected to do that in the pros. By all indications, the Indianapolis Colts plan to use the No. 1 pick on Luck, who would take the torch — either immediately or eventually — from future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
While saying it's "absolutely" important to him to be the top pick, Luck said he doesn't view it as a head-to-head competition with Griffin.
"Good thing about football is it's a team game," Luck said. "Robert's a great quarterback, a great competitor, a great guy, really easy to get along with. I don't get motivation by competing against him for something. I don't think it's one player versus another by any means."
St. Louis has the No. 2 pick and already has a quarterback in Sam Bradford. The Rams are in prime position to trade that selection, however, especially with franchises such as Cleveland, Washington and Miami in need of a quarterback.
The last time quarterbacks were chosen in succession at the top of the draft was 1999, when Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith were selected 1-2-3. A year before that, in the Exhibit A of divergent career paths, Manning was taken first by Indianapolis, and Ryan Leaf second by San Diego.
Although the Colts are picking first again, and appear to be locked in on Luck, there is no indication that either Luck or Griffin is headed for a Leaf-like flameout. (Of course, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, virtually every NFL scout and draft maven now says it was plain to see Leaf would be a bust, even though Manning-Leaf was a hotly contested debate at the time.)
Regardless, there are no such red flags with Luck and Griffin, only a division along the lines of style. While Luck is mobile and not drop-back dinosaur, he is at least closer to the traditional quarterback mold of a Manning than is Griffin, who, although an accurate passer, is a more dangerous runner than Luck and played in a less-conventional college offense.
"I look at both of them as two unbelievable prospects," said Denver Broncos executive John Elway, a former Stanford quarterback and No. 1 overall draft pick to whom Luck has been compared. "I think that if you look at what they both did this year with Andrew at Stanford and 'RG3' down at Baylor, they're two tremendous talents — tremendously mature, intelligent guys that I look at as two [who] are going to have a lot of success in the NFL."
The Colts have until March 8 to decide whether to pay a $28-million bonus to keep Manning, who sat out last season recuperating from multiple neck surgeries. One scenario — perhaps prohibitively expensive — is to keep him and draft Luck, allowing the young quarterback to learn at his elbow the way Aaron Rodgers learned behind Brett Favre in Green Bay.
Luck said he'd be perfectly comfortable with that, calling Manning "my hero growing up." Griffin echoed that, saying that if the Colts were to make him the top pick and keep Manning, "I'd hold that clipboard with pride."
Griffin, who like Luck opted not to throw for scouts at the combine, said he is looking forward to his campus pro day and beyond to disprove "a misconception that comes with being a dual-threat quarterback: You're run first, throw second. I think I've proven I'm throw first, then run if I need to."
The success in Carolina of last year's No. 1 pick, Auburn's Cam Newton, can only bolster Griffin's stock. Newton not only made the transition from a college spread offense to the Panthers' pro-style scheme much more quickly and seamlessly than most observers expected, but also was named the league's offensive rookie of the year.
In meeting with the media this week, Griffin addressed the comparison to fellow Heisman Trophy winner Newton.