Getty Images file photoAndrew Luck may not win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday

Getty Images file photoAndrew Luck may not win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday

Heisman or not, Stanford's Andrew Luck has proven he can play in the NFL

Forget the talk about Andrew Luck sitting for a couple of years behind Peyton Manning, as Aaron Rodgers did behind Brett Favre. The Indianapolis Colts will take Luck with the first pick in April’s draft and trade Manning for draft picks.

This is a new day in the NFL. For many years, coaches have felt that rookie quarterbacks needed to sit for at least a year to learn the speed of the pro game. Even Joe Montana played only in special situations as a rookie; he didn’t become the starter until late in his second season.

Now, rookie quarterbacks are coming into the league ready to play. Cam Newton is setting records in his first year with Carolina. Andy Dalton, a second-round pick, has made the Cincinnati Bengals a winner. Christian Ponder has taken over in Minnesota. Blaine Gabbert is the starter for Jacksonville.

Luck is ahead of all of them in terms of being NFL-ready.

The only negative I’ve ever heard about Luck is that he doesn’t have a John Elway arm. Well, the only quarterback who ever has is John Elway. Luck’s arm is strong enough to throw deep and he’s a very accurate passer, able to make all the throws, long and short, with great touch — and he’s also a good runner, when he sees an opening.

Elway just blew away his teammates at his first Stanford practice; two other quarterback candidates immediately went to the admissions office and transferred out, because they knew they had no chance to beat him out.

Luck’s first practice wasn’t so dramatic, but his teammates now say they were amazed by what they saw. He was probably ready to start even then, but coach Jim Harbaugh gave him a redshirt year to get settled in, at school as well as on the field, and Luck has been dynamite in his three years since.

Luck is intelligent, carrying a 3.48 GPA at Stanford, a tough academic school. He is well-grounded. He didn’t hesitate to come back to school this year rather than enter the NFL draft, even though he knew the new collective bargaining agreement would reduce the money he would get in his rookie contract in 2012. He valued his collegiate experience, and he wanted to get his degree in architectural design before becoming a pro, as he will now.

His intelligence shows on the football field. For the last two years, he has called all the plays, something no college player has done for decades. Even in the NFL, quarterbacks don’t call plays.

How good is his play-calling? Stanford leads the nation in fewest plays for a loss.

Robert Griffin III had the advantage of a playing a game last weekend and he had another big performance as Baylor beat Texas. Griffin has better stats than Luck, and he’ll probably be named the winner of the Heisman Trophy on Saturday.

But for two years now, there’s been no doubt in the minds of the NFL people that Luck is the best college quarterback. He’ll be the No. 1 pick and, barring injury, he’ll have a great pro career from his first game. There will be no reason to sit him.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36@gmail.com.

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