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Luck vs. Romo: Young Gun Or The Vet

by Jake Ciely
Apr 11, 2013 4:10 PM EDT



Jake: With Tony Romo’s new shiny contract official (more so that the Cowboys can actually sign those free agents and draft picks), I decided it would be a good time to profess my fondness of Romo… in fantasy football – although, he is a handsome man.

As will happen with most any fantasy player, there will be several who want to debate said player versus another. In this case, Nick Raducanu draws the unenviable task of challenging me to a duel: the better fantasy quarterback for 2013, Tony Romo or Andrew Luck. Well Nick, good luck (pun intended) winning this one.

Let’s hit the 2012 season right off the bat. Romo finished eighth for QBs, totaling about 270 fantasy points (FP) depending on your league’s scoring. Romo also had 12 or more FP in all but two games (Weeks 3 and 4) and at least one TD in all but one game. The best part about Romo’s 2012 season is that he turned it on when it was most important. From Weeks 12-16 Romo scored 117 FP or 23.4 per game.

As for Luck, look, we were all surprised. Even the most avid Luck supporter didn’t expect him to crack the Top 10. Yet, there he is on spot behind Romo. Luck was more inconsistent than Romo though, seeing four games with 23-plus FP and only one where he threw for more than two TDs. Meanwhile, Romo topped two TDs four times. Worst of all, Luck fell off the proverbial cliff with an average of 13.0 FP per game the last four weeks, where he also failed to top 205 passing yards.

Nick: I think you forgot to take 10 paces before you turned and fired, Jake.

Just so I get this straight, you’re starting your argument that Romo is better with the face that he finished a whopping seven points higher than Luck in 2012? I wasn’t a math major, but I’m pretty sure that’s less than 0.5 FP per game. Anyone that pays attention to defensive matchups could make up those seven points in one week.

Let’s start my rebuttal with my boy, Andrew Luck. I get it. He threw a bunch of picks, he had more stinkers than Romo (albeit only one more), and he faded at the end of the season. I’ll concede all those points. But at the same time, we’re talking about a 23-year-old vs. a guy who will be 33 by the time the 2013 season starts. Luck will have another full offseason to strengthen his rapport with a receiving corps that is quite young (outside of Reggie Wayne) and he should be able to cut down on his 18 interceptions and improve upon his 54.1 completion percentage. If we can agree that Luck’s 2012 numbers are a baseline for the Colts’ 2012 number one overall pick, I think we’d also have to agree that there is nowhere to go but up.

As for Romo, I’ll agree that a lot of the real-life flack he gets for lacking the “clutch gene” doesn’t have any relevance to fantasy football. That said, are we going to assume he’s going to improve in 2013? His completion percentage has been declining for three straight seasons and his 425 completions and 648 pass attempts last year were by far (by almost 100) the most of his career. If DeMarco Murray stays healthy this year (which he didn’t last year), the Cowboys won’t have to rely on their passing game as much as they did in 2012. If that happens, Romo’s 2013 numbers won’t come closer to his 2012 numbers and he doesn’t run the ball as much as Luck (200 less rushing yards and four less rushing touchdowns) to make up the difference.

Jake: Not a math major? Maybe not an English major either? I think we might need to enroll you in middle school reading comprehension again, Nick.

I wasn’t saying the small point difference made Romo a better option than Luck. However, I’m glad you brought up the assumption that Luck’s rookie campaign will be his baseline because you set the table for what was my next point. There is no guarantee that Luck improves in 2013, and actually, there is reason to believe he will take a step back.

It starts and ends with the Colts new offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton. Good ol’ Pep is bringing his west coast style of offense to Indy. That’s bad news for a team and QB that aimed for big plays in 2012, evidenced by Luck’s extremely high 12.9 yards per completion. Luck also had the fifth-most passing attempts in the league. We can expect both of those numbers to drop under Hamilton. For reference, in Luck’s most pass-happy season with Hamilton at Stanford, he averaged 31 attempts per game. Last season, Luck averaged 39.

The assumption that Luck’s passing numbers will improve in 2013 is wrong… unless Hamilton scraps everything that has brought him success as an offensive coordinator. As I leave you for your rebuttal, I want you to consider the numbers. I’ll even split the difference between Luck’s best Stanford season and his NFL rookie campaign – just to be nice. Let’s say Luck averages 35 attempts per game (interesting, as that’s Romo’s average since 2007) and repeats his 6.98 YPA average in Hamilton’s system. Luck would finish with 3,908 passing yards, which falls short of Romo’s last six seasons where he played all 16 games and Luck’s own 4,374 passing yards last year. Lastly, Luck has a bit of a climb to reach Romo’s 1.9 per game TD rate, as he checked in at 1.4 in 2012.

So now you have the numbers too, Nick. Where do you go from here… and remember, I still have one in the chamber to finish you off.

Nick: Actually, I wasn’t an English major either. I was a Communications major - which is something I think we’re having trouble doing right now.

I knew you were going to go the Hamilton/Arians route and I can’t really argue TOO much. But at the same time, are we really going to assume that Hamilton is going to A. scrap what made Luck successful last year, and B. bring a game plan that worked in the PAC-12 (or whatever the heck they call it now) to the NFL? If so, are we also going to assume that Luck will keep rocking the ridiculous neckbeard that had in college? (Actually, don’t answer that).

As evidenced every year, the college game doesn’t necessarily translate to the NFL. If Hamilton wants to be a one-and-done coordinator in Indianapolis, he’ll keep doing the same-old, same-old. However, I’d like to think a guy who made his bones at a learning institution like Stanford will be smart enough to play to Luck and the Indianapolis offense’s strength and transform his play calling a bit.

To say that a 23-year-old player who has generally been described as a “once-in-a-generation quarterback” won’t improve flies in the face of all logic and I know you’re smarter than that, Jake. As the season went on, Luck’s completion percentage plummeted (47.2% in December) as he increasingly threw more passes every, single month. I don’t have any fancy, schmancy numbers to back this up, but I’d have to assume he hit a bit of the rookie wall at the end of the season and will be more of the quarterback we saw in October and November than the one we saw in December.

As for Romo, are we going to assume that he just keeps rolling along with his numbers from last year? His 4,903 yards from 2012 were easily the most in his career and there is no way he throws close to 650 passes again this year. As I mentioned earlier, he’ll be 33 by the time the 2013 season starts and, as you know, this is usually a point in a quarterback’s career when he starts getting worse – not better.

I know you’ve got one bullet left for me, but as my 32-year-old body can attest to after I try to work out these days, Romo isn’t in the phase of his career where he’s going to get better. And that’s a bullet-proof argument.

Jake: Luck could, and expectantly will, improve in his second season. The problem here is that we aren’t talking about just Luck. The offensive gameplan plays a factor, and the main argument is which QB would I rather have for 2013. If I were starting a franchise or drafting in dynasty leagues, I’d take Luck every time… but that’s not what we’re doing.

Sure, Hamilton could adapt his offense to the NFL, but he’s not going to scrap everything that’s brought him success and got him this job. The Colts offense just won’t be as big-play as they were in 2012, and they don’t need to be. Throwing for 4,000 yards and 20-plus TDs isn’t something to scoff at, it’s just not Tony Romo level.

Romo is averaging 4,400 yards and 30 TDs over a 16-game season the past six years. That TD total is a significant jump for Luck to make in his second year, even if we didn’t have to account for the offensive style change. Lastly – put your vest on because here it comes – Romo is one of five QBs to finish in the Top 10 five times in the last six years! Yes, just five QBs have continually ranked in the Top 10 comes season’s end, and that includes Romo’s shortened 13-game season. Want the other four names? Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees (only one to do it all six years), Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. That’s elite company and an exceptionally strong stat. You want a QB to guarantee his place in the Top 10 for 2013? Your pick has to be Romo, even at age 33, not a QB heading into his second season with questions of a scaled-down passing game.

Nick: Did you just call Romo elite? How dare you insult Joe Flacco like that!

I’m pretty sure this is on the “don’t do” list of Debating 101, but you have a good point there. I can’t believe I’m using the words “safe” and “Romo” in the same sentence, but I’ll concede that Romo is probably the safer of the two quarterbacks in 2013. That said, if I’m not drafting one of those (actual) elite quarterbacks you just mentioned, I’m targeting upside.

While Luck may bring a little more risk than Romo, I think we’re talking about opposite trajectories here. Reggie Wayne showed last season that he is still a number one wide receiver, T.Y. Hilton flashed the skills to show us that he can become one, and Luck’s tight end duo of Colby Fleener and Dwayne Allen have the potential to turn into Gronk/Hernandez-lite. Add Darrius Heyward-Bey to the mix and you have a formidable receiving attack. If Vick Ballard can add an element to the Colts offense that keeps defenses honest, the sky is the limit for Luck in 2013.

I won’t knock you for taking Romo in 2013, but I’ll be taking Luck over him in my drafts this summer/fall. And lastly, let’s add a little extra intrigue to this debate – let’s put a sandwich on it. I’ll buy you a free sandwich at our favorite deli if you win, but I’m pretty sure that lunch will be on you, my friend.

Jake: See, that’s why I’m the boss and smarter than you, Nick. We’ll put sandwiches on it, sure. Though, since I own a deli, even if I lose, it costs me nothing to feed you.