by Bruce Marshall, TGS EXTRA!!! Editor

It’s not every year that the NFL Draft produces the sort of franchise player that fans begin to talk about the prior season. But we’re not sure we’ve ever seen the anticipation that current Stanford QB Andrew Luck is generating from a variety of pro football outposts in a lookahead to next April’s 2012 Draft.

Mind you, we’ve been at this for a long time at THE GOLD SHEET, and have seen plenty of hyped college football stars enter pro football since we began publishing back in 1957. But we can only recall a handful of college phenoms generating the attention that Luck, who appears as pre-cooked for the NFL as any QB we ever recall at this stage, is receiving this autumn.

Before going much further with the topic of Luck, it’s worth noting that the Stanford signal-caller is holding a joker in the card deck in that he would have one more year of eligibility at the college level on The Farm in 2012 if he so chooses. And remember that several “draftniks” were caught a bit off guard last winter when Luck, who could have declared himself for last April’s Draft, decided to stick around Palo Alto for another year. It’s been well-documented, however, that Luck not only wanted to take a shot at winning the Heisman Trophy before leaving Stanford, but also to stick around and graduate next spring with much of his same recruiting class from 2008. Luck is on course to get his desired architecture degree, so most believe that Andrew is fulfilling that obligation that he made to himself and his Stanford classmates by sticking around on the college level this year, and this year only. Although Luck has not made it official yet, almost every NFL team and pro football insider expects him to declare for the 2012 Draft.

Which brings us to where Luck might land in next April’s NFL Draft. And we’re hardly the only ones bringing up the subject before Halloween. Indeed, even with past sure-fire top picks as O.J. Simpson, John Elway, Troy Aikman, and Peyton Manning, we’ve never recalled so many NFL fans urging their teams to lose (an undignified “S_ck for Luck” echoing at numerous pro football stadia this fall) in order to get a shot at who is widely-considered the best QB prospect since Manning exited Tennessee fourteen years ago.

The notion, however, that teams are going to go out of their way to position themselves to select Luck, demands review.

We’ve always been a bit skeptical about the idea of a pro football team ever trying not to win a game, or games. Which is a big difference from teams resting select regulars in the final regular-season game or two to avoid injuries. Players on the field can always be expected to give their best simply for future employment. No athlete is ever going to deliberately perform at less than his best so his team can have a chance to draft a highly-rated player the next spring, when the current player might be out of the organization anyway. We know because we’ve seen situations similar to the Luck phenomenon play out in past decades.

It takes those with long memories to recall, but Luck’s hype is no more than Simpson’s was when coming out of Southern Cal after 1968. Indeed, that might be the only other year we recall when the subject of a future top draft pick was on the table as early as it has been for Luck. For most of the fall that year, there was real intrigue as to which team might draft first in ‘69 order to take the Juice. And for a long while that autumn, it looked as if the Philadelphia Eagles were a lock to have the first pick in the ‘69 Draft, especially after losing an ugly late-October game to the winless Steelers by a 6-3 count. By late November, the Birds were sitting at 0-11, a game-and-half up on closest challenger Buffalo, on its way to a 1-12-1 mark in the old AFL. (The rival leagues, by the way, had begun conducting common player drafts in 1967 after the merger was originally agreed upon).

But someone forgot to tell the Eagles and HC Joe Kuharich, on his way out the door, that they were supposed to keep losing so that the new regime in ‘69 would have the ballyhooed Simpson on board. With an 0-11 mark, the Birds were slated for that year’s Thanksgiving game at Detroit. In brutal, muddy conditions, Philly slugged out a 12-0 win courtesy of four field goals by vet PK Sam Baker. Then, still in the lead by a half-game in the race for O.J. with two games to go, the Birds promptly beat the Saints at Franklin Field, 29-17. The national media took note, with Frank Gifford, then hosting CBS’s pregame show of the day, even moved to comment when reviewing the previous week’s highlights. “The Eagles have their own O.J., O.J. (Tom) Woodeschick,” said Gifford, “who sealed the deal against the Saints with this late TD run.”

Woodeschick, a hard-nosed runner but no Simpson, gained 122 yards that afternoon in the win over the Saints that pushed the Eagles down to third in the ‘69 Draft. O.J., of course, went to Buffalo, and the Birds picked Purdue RB Leroy Keyes in their slot after Atlanta took Notre Dame OT George Kunz with the second pick. As for Kuharich, he was out after ‘68, replaced by Jerry Williams, but Joe likely cared less that the Eagles were stuck with Keyes instead of Simpson.

Similarly, we recall the 1988 season, in which UCLA’s Aikman was generating a lot of the same Andrew Luck-like buzz. And into the last weekend of that NFL campaign, Green Bay was in pole position to get the top pick and a chance to draft Aikman if only it lost to the Phoenix Cardinals on the final day. Instead, however, the Packers bucked up and beat the Big Red 26-17, awarding Dallas the first pick, and Aikman, in the ‘89 Draft.

So, we wouldn’t be holding our breath for teams to try to lose games, especially in October or November, in hopes of moving into position to draft Andrew Luck.

But that doesn’t mean some teams can’t try other ways to give themselves a shot at taking Luck. Following is a late October team-by-team rundown of franchises that appear to have the best chances at the number one draft pick...and a shot to get “Luck-y.”

Note that at this stage, the only first-round picks for 2012 to have been traded are from teams not likely to be in the mix for a high pick (Atlanta’s to Cleveland and New Orleans’ to New England, and, provisionally, Oakland’s to Cincinnati in the recent Carson Palmer trade). Straight-up records as of October 23 are included.

Indianapolis Colts (SUR 0-7)...The “draft Luck” scenario has already been addressed by team prexy Bill Polian, who has stated he would not at all mind taking Luck and grooming him behind Manning for a couple of years, a la Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay behind Brett Favre. The scenario most want to watch later this season in Indy is if Manning, out thus far in 2011 after neck surgery, decides (as he’s hinted) that he’s ready to play in December. If the Colts are sitting at 1-11 or so and in position to get Luck, do Polian and HC Jim Caldwell risk jeopardizing the top pick by activating Manning?

St. Louis Rams (0-6)...The Rams could be the beneficiary of quite a bidding war for Luck should they nab the top pick, simply because they probably have no desire to draft the Stanford QB, with their own “franchise” pilot Sam Bradford already in tow. The ransom for Luck could be astronomical, with several high-round picks and/or players involved. After all, if Cincy could end up receiving perhaps two number ones from Oakland for the recent trade involving time-worn Palmer, what could Luck fetch? The queue for Luck could extend across the NFL, and this scenario puts teams such as the 49ers (with Luck’s old Stanford HC Jim Harbaugh), Redskins, Chiefs, Cowboys, and maybe several others in the mix.

Miami Dolphins (0-6)...The Dolphins could sure use a QB (would you rather have Luck, Matt Moore, or Chad Henne?) and could also dangle the prospect of Luck in front of a new coach, the latter almost a certainty with Tony Sparano on a very short leash these days. We wonder if owner Stephen Ross might want to keep Sparano as captain of the sinking Miami ship for the rest of this season. Or would he risk the team rallying for an interim coach and jeopardizing the chance at Luck?

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5 prior to facing Ravens Oct. 24)...Less certain than the Rams to hold onto their existing QB, in the Jags’ case Mizzou rookie Blaine Gabbert. Also likely to have a new coach with Jack Del Rio’s days reportedly numbered. If J’ville is on the clock after the regular season, various insiders are not sure if the Jags will trade the pick or not. Owner Wayne Weaver might consider Luck the savior for the franchise in the region, however, and could be prompted to move Gabbert aside.

Minnesota Vikings (1-6)...Like the Jags with Gabbert, the Vikes would have to decide if taking Luck makes more sense than trading the pick and helping to fast-forward a rebuild phase around this year’s rookie QB, Florida State’s Christian Ponder.

Denver Broncos (2-4)...Interesting storyline in Denver, with none other than the last Stanford phenom, Elway, now team prexy. The Broncos, however, now appear more likely to be one of those considering a trade for the chance to get Luck (perhaps with the Jags, with local Florida hero Tebow involved?) rather than being in draft position to take the latest Stanford QB.

As always, stay tuned...

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