NFL draft: Andrew Luck's early retirement casts new, strange light on 2012 draft class

So now you’re saying it takes seven years to assess an NFL draft class?

Clearly, the unexpected retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck has put a strange spin on one of the more fascinating draft classes in recent history, and it at least raises the question of whether Luck — one of the most no-brainer No. 1 overall picks of this generation at the time — was actually the best option atop the 2012 NFL draft.

If you’re going strictly by the numbers, Russell Wilson, the 75th pick in that class, has been the better quarterback. Luck walking away now guarantees that history will view Wilson as the more successful NFL passer of the two.

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Is it unfair to judge in this way? Of course. Did Luck look the part of an NFL star more often than not? You bet.

But stack them up side by side, and the factors don’t lie. Luck might have been the clear-cut better prospect, but Wilson has been the better performer. We know that health has played a huge role in that being the case. But it doesn’t change reality.

Wilson has been healthier and more reliable. He has thrown for nearly 2,000 more yards, 25 more touchdown passes and 20 fewer interceptions (on 29 fewer regular-season attempts) than Luck. Wilson is the better runner of the two. And he led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls, winning one of them.

Of course, the sobering thought is that Wilson has taken a whopping 299 sacks (in 112 games) to Luck’s 174 (in 86 games). Our best advice, Seahawks fans: Enjoy Wilson while you still can. Ask Colts and Redskins fans about that.

Russell Wilson might be the best player left standing from a strange but good 2012 NFL draft class. (Getty Images)
Russell Wilson might be the best player left standing from a strange but good 2012 NFL draft class. (Getty Images)

But there’s also a bigger takeaway, which is that draft class legacies are always in flux until the final player has retired from that group. For every Tom Brady or Frank Gore who defies logic and reason with his generational longevity, there are dozens of players — some with elite ability — whose bodies and minds just can’t withstand the beating.

That Luck walked away less than a year after winning the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year reinforces the idea that all draft picks should be viewed as short-term investments until proven otherwise. Anything players do after their rookie contracts almost has to be seen as added bonuses these days.

A strange draft haul overall

Luck’s early exit from the game has significantly changed the view of the 2012 draft class. He was the right pick at the time, and it’s not as if the Wilson-over-Luck debate was anything close to being universally accepted before Saturday night.

At the time, the draft was a two-horse QB race: Luck and Robert Griffin III. Griffin lasting longer in the NFL is stunning enough to think about now. RG3’s own health concerns, which hit far earlier in his career and almost knocked him out of the NFL, made him the clear “what if” case study of that group.

“When I was out of football in 2017, I can't say I was making the decision to retire,” Griffin said, via ESPN. “But I was at that point where you're tired of being injured, tired of being hurt and tired of having to go through that process — [Luck] called it 'pain-injury-rehab' — and just repeating that process over and over and over.”

A review of that class shows just how many from the 2012 class fit into that “what if” category. Even if not all of them were injury-related.

  • No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson, Luck’s former teammate, is out of the league.

  • No. 5 pick Justin Blackmon played only 20 games in the NFL, displaying star traits before succumbing to legal issues and off-field troubles. His current whereabouts seem to be largely unknown.

  • No. 6 pick Morris Claiborne is looking to hook on with the Chiefs after an up-and-down career.

  • Four other first-rounders — Quinton Coples, Shea McClellin, A.J. Jenkins and David Wilson — all have been out of the league for multiple years.

  • No. 22 overall pick Brandon Weeden played one game for the Texans last year, and his last NFL start came in 2015. He’s currently not on an NFL roster.

On the whole, however, this class can’t be called a bad one. At least not compared to some other brutal draft crops in the past few decades.

Wilson was a third-round pick. It’s clear now he should have gone in the top three selections. Seattle’s second-rounder that year, Bobby Wagner, just signed a massive extension this summer.

Luke Kuechly and Stephon Gilmore, the ninth and 10th picks, respectively, are stars. Second-round OT Mitchell Schwartz has outplayed No. 5 overall pick, Matt Kalil, to this point.

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has outplayed most of his 2012 NFL draft classmates. (Getty Images)
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has outplayed most of his 2012 NFL draft classmates. (Getty Images)

Third-rounder T.Y. Hilton has outperformed each of the 11 receivers taken ahead of him, save for perhaps second-rounder Alshon Jeffery. The most talented wideout from the class might be Josh Gordon, who was a second-round supplemental pick. And yet we know everything Gordon is facing as he attempts to stick with the Patriots following multiple suspensions.

Fletcher Cox, Harrison Smith, David DeCastro, Akiem Hicks and Kevin Zeitler all are standout players from 2012. There are dozens of quality players from that class still in the league, too. Damon Harrison, who went undrafted, just signed an extension with the Lions and is an elite run defender.

Other standout undrafted non-quarterbacks that year include Justin Tucker, Johnny Hekker, Ronald Leary, Vontaze Burfict, Cole Beasley, Mike Remmers, Tashaun Gipson, Jermaine Kearse and Rodney McLeod. Those players are a notable part of this discussion, even if none heard their name called that April.

Sure, there were plenty of misses in this class, as there are every year. But there also might be multiple Hall of Famers in it, plus many more who fall just short. This is by no means a bad class.

But the strange theme from this draft class might be that the unmet expectations and surprising contributions of the group are more out of whack than with many other draft groups we’ve witnessed in recent years.

For every high pick that missed, there seemed to be a lower selection that hit in a shocking way. Perhaps no recent draft class has embodied this more than 2012 has.

The 2012 draft QBs still left standing

The fact that there are four clear Week 1 starters — plus a fifth QB who could push for a starting job — from this draft class is stunning.

Wilson, third-rounder Nick Foles and fourth-rounder Kirk Cousins all are franchise QBs, even if Cousins has much to prove and Foles’ legacy is one of the strangest in recent league history. Case Keenum went undrafted in 2012 but will be the Redskins’ opening-day starter. (Another undrafted QB from that class, 30-year old Kellen Moore, will be calling plays for Dak Prescott in Dallas. Crazy.)

And No. 8 overall pick Ryan Tannehill at least appears to have a shot at supplanting Marcus Mariota in Tennessee this season after Tannehill was traded in a low-round draft-pick swap. (In theory, Griffin is also one snap away from starting with the Ravens should Lamar Jackson get hurt, but they also have Trace McSorley in tow.)

Still, all of them outlasted Luck.

Wilson is the king among the group now. Wilson, Cousins and Foles outplaying Weeden, Tannehill and second-rounder Brock Osweiler in their careers is an indicator of the NFL draft’s fickle nature. And it’s also a reminder that perception of a player or a draft class can still change in a considerable way, even all these years later.

Only one QB is still left standing among Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck from the 2012 NFL draft, and it's not the one you might have expected. (Getty Images)
Only one QB is still left standing among Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck from the 2012 NFL draft, and it's not the one you might have expected. (Getty Images)

All we need do is go back to the 2017 offseason.

Luck had missed only 10 career games at that point. Griffin would go unsigned the entire year. Tannehill would suffer a fully torn ACL later that summer after initially injuring it during a playoff run the season before.

Exactly a year after signing a four-year, $72 million contract with the Texans, Brock Osweiler would be traded (along with a second-round pick) to the Browns for two lower picks in one of the NFL’s first true NBA-style salary-dump trades ... before ending up back in Denver, with the team that drafted him.

Foles was considering quitting football before signing with the Eagles. Cousins, coming off his best NFL season, would be shackled with the franchise tag for the second straight year, only to be allowed to walk freely the next year. Keenum was way off the grid, signing a one-year, $2 million contract with the Vikings as their third QB before eventually leading them to the NFC title game that season.

The only quarterback from that class whose place in the hierarchy hasn’t really changed all that much is Wilson. And yet, really, would it shock anyone if he pulls a Luck in a few years and walks away seemingly in his prime?

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