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Andrew Luck safer pick than Robert Griffin III at No. 1, say NFL coaches and executives

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay may have thrown the notion that quarterback Andrew Luck will go No. 1 overall "in the air," but people watching from close range still don't see much of a debate.

On Tuesday, Irsay indicated that the choice between Luck and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in next month's NFL draft has not been made yet.

[ Related: Colts owner Jim Irsay: Andrew Luck is not a lock for No. 1 pick ]

"It's up in the air," Irsay told USA Today. "We have to look at this thing completely open-minded. … You have two outstanding athletes, two great pure passers, two guys from families that are incredible."

Still, of eight NFL coaches and executives who were polled at league meetings Tuesday, all of them said they believed Luck would and should be the top pick. As it was in January, when 14 of 15 other coaches and executives said the same thing in an informal survey, the issue that people came back to again and again was simply a matter of playing the odds.

"Luck is just a safer pick," one AFC executive said. "They are both productive, high-quality kids from great families. You can't go wrong with either one. But if you're asking me about whom to take, I have to go with Luck, especially if you're Indianapolis after what they just had with [Peyton] Manning and the awful season they went through.

"Get a guy who you know can play right away. At worst, Luck is going to be a good player who can come in and run the offense from Day 1. … Griffin might end up being better, no question. He's an amazing athlete. But the learning curve with him is going to be a little longer because of the things he did in college."

Griffin extensively ran the spread-formation offense at Baylor, a system that required less changing of plays and was based largely around creating obvious mismatches. By contrast, Luck ran a pro-style offense at Stanford in which he called a lot of his own plays with extensive use of audibles.

[ Related: Andrew Luck in a class by himself ]

"I know what you're saying about more use of spread formation at the NFL level, but it's still not the same thing," and AFC coach said. "It's not that Griffin can't make the calls at the line, he just hasn't. With Luck, he knows all that stuff already. He has made checks at the line. He has gone through all the reads.

"Just think about it this way: Griffin just graduated with honors; Luck is in his first year of medical school. That's what we're talking about."

In the backdrop of that talk, several analysts have said of late that Griffin will be a better pick. Former NFL players Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge of ESPN, Mike Mayock of NFL Network and Greg Cosell of NFL Films have all said recently they believe Griffin III is the better prospect. NBC analyst and former NFL coach Tony Dungy said two months ago that he thought Griffin was better.

An NFC coach, who said he hadn't spent a lot of time studying the two quarterbacks, said he understood the point. However, he said the balancing act between upside and safety made him conclude that Luck was the better choice.

"It has to do with the time of the year and that's something we all have to caution ourselves against when putting together the draft board," the coach said. "This is the time when you start talking about potential, potential, potential. … We see a guy who runs faster or jumps higher and we move him to the top of the board in our heads. You imagine, 'Oh man, think about what I could do with him?'

"But that's just part of the equation. You have to play. You have to know what you're doing. … Griffin played in a system that's set up to make a lot of easy throws. You spread the other team out, find the weak [defensive player] and abuse that guy as much as you can. You're getting one-on-one matchups all the time. I'm not holding it against him, but you just know how that works. Luck was in a system where he had to set things up, and you can just see him orchestrate the play-calling. You can see the patience."

At the same time, none of the eight coaches or executives said they would be shocked to see Griffin go ahead of Luck.

"With those two, you win either way," another AFC coach said.

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"You just see the energy, the passion and the leadership with [Griffin]," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. Pagano was at Baylor and Stanford on back-to-back days last week to see the two players. "You see the same thing with both of them. The biggest thing you see is that they both are really having fun with what they're doing. What we do is serious and there's a lot of pressure, but you have to remember that it's really fun, too."

Meanwhile, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, whose team traded up for the No. 2 pick, heaped platitudes on each quarterback as well.

"Both of these guys have it all," Shanahan said. "You see everything, absolutely everything, from the athletic ability to the way they were brought up. First class, both of them."

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