Russell Wilson And The Development Of A Future Elite Quarterback

By
Updated: July 6, 2014
Russell Wilson

In 2013, the Pete Carroll-led Seattle Seahawks were a feared and dominant team, which ultimately resulted in a Super Bowl ring. The Legion of Boom is hailed as one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, with all stars in the defensive secondary including Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Byron Maxwell. Fans and experts have made comparisons of the 2013 Seattle Seahawks defense to the 1976 Steelers, 1985 Chicago Bears, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, and the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But while the defense is the main story behind Seattle’s rise to prominence in football in the 2010’s, there is another factor to the team’s excellent track record at home and overall. We know him as Russell Wilson, a small quarterback with a big heart.

At age 25, Wilson, despite his classy character and a Super Bowl ring added to his resume, has been known as a “love him or hate him” quarterback. Many have tagged the pivot as a “game manager”, while pundits note he is merely along for the ride without doing much to help his team win.

Let’s take a look at what Russell Wilson has done in his first two seasons in the NFL:

  • 509/800 passing (63.6 completion percentage)
  • 6,475 yards
  • 52 touchdowns
  • 19 interceptions
  • 100.6 passer rating
  • 8.1 yards per attempted pass
  • 8 fourth quarter comebacks and 10 game winning drives

In his first two years as a quarterback, Russell Wilson’s career has been nothing short of stellar. His 52 touchdowns are tied with Peyton Manning for the 2nd most thrown in a quarterback’s first two seasons (Dan Marino has the most in NFL history with 68).

Although Wilson has indeed had the benefit of good field position and has fewer attempts than fellow second year quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck, he’s easily the most efficient of his draft class. Wilson’s high volume TD passing (for a young QB anyway) combined with few interceptions makes for a deadly combo, and his scrambling is extremely effective in a time where most young quarterbacks are dual threats (Wilson, RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton).

It hasn’t always been pretty for Russell Wilson, however. In his first 7 career starts, he struggled, and there were many calling for him to get benched. Pete Carroll ignored those pleas and continued to put faith into Wilson. As seen by the chart below, Carroll’s confidence paid off.

 

Russell Wilson: Numbers In First 7 Starts And His Numbers Since

W-L CMP ATT YDS CMP% TD INT RATE
First 7 Starts 4-3 106 175 1,230 59.7 8 7 82.8
Rest Of 2012 7-2 148 208 1,888 71.2 18 3 114.4
2013 20-5 405 615 5,245 67.2 44 12 107.8

Anyone who calls Wilson a “game manager” and “simply along for the ride” should take a look at the above chart.

As you can clearly see, Russell Wilson’s TD-INT ratio, completion percentage, and passer rating after his first 7 starts are nothing short of incredible. In Wilson’s last nine starts in 2012, seven of his nine games came with a passer rating of 100.00 and above, and only one game in that stretch went below a 96.0 passer rating, practically unheard of for a rookie quarterback.

Wilson’s improved play for the rest of 2012 and throughout 2013 resulted in a 24-6 record since (including the playoffs), and you can even argue he had a ‘Top 3′ QB season in 2013 depending on what aspects you look at.

But where Wilson truly shines is in the deep ball (20+ yards or more in the air). In 2013, he had a deep ball accuracy percentage of 48.3% (via Pro Football Focus), 3rd best in the league behind Case Keenum (53.1%) and Aaron Rodgers (48.8%). It should be noted that unlike Keenum and Rodgers, Wilson played a full season, so it’s impressive that he was able to sustain the accuracy on his deep ball throws.

Dating back to 2008, Russell Wilson is also 3rd in deep ball accuracy overall with 48.3% (behind Drew Brees’ 49.2% and Aaron Rodgers’ 48.8%). This is extremely impressive for a quarterback part of a Seahawks team that gave up 44 sacks in 2013 (10th most in the league). In addition, Wilson succeeded under pressure, throwing 10 TD passes under pressure (tied for most in 2013), despite the team leading the league in sack percentage (9.5%).

Guess you can say size doesn’t matter.

Wilson thus far has been compared to Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, but I don’t see a position to compare those two quite yet. Luck is more of the classic high volume passing quarterback while Wilson is more mobile.

Some comparisons can be made to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, both of whom are young, mobile quarterbacks like Wilson. But while Kaepernick and Newton certainly have done more than enough to standout as young quarterbacks, Wilson ends up as the superior of the three.

Take a look at the chart below:

 

Russell Wilson vs. Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick: Passing Stats

Player Seasons CMP ATT CMP% YDS TD INT Rate
Wilson 2 509 800 63.6 6,475 52 19 100.6
Newton 3 882 1,475 59.8 11299 64 42 86.4
Kaepernick 3 382 639 59.8 5,046 31 11 93.8

In the basic passing stats, Russell Wilson dominates. While he has fewer attempts at passing than Cam Newton has, Wilson has shown more efficiency (63.6 completion percentage, 100.6 passer rating) than both Newton (59.8 completion percentage, 86.4 passer rating) and Kaepernick (59.8 completion percentage, though Kap’s overall passer rating is still terrific for a young quarterback).

Basic passing stats are boring, however, in comparison to more advanced stats, such as yards per attempt (YDS/ATT) and yards per game (YDS/Game). These advanced stats are listed in the below chart.

 

Russell Wilson vs. Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick: Advanced Passing Stats

Player Seasons YDS/ATT YDS/Game TD% INT% SACKS Sk%
Wilson 2 8.1 202.3 6.5 2.4 77 8.8
Newton 3 7.7 235.4 4.3 2.8 114 7.2
Kaepernick 3 7.9 157.7 4.9 1.7 55 7.9

(Note, Kaepernick has been in the league since 2011, but technically has only played 1.5 seasons as a starter)

While Newton dominates in terms of yards per game (235.4), it is Wilson who has the highest TD percentage with 6.5% of his attempted passes being touchdowns. Wilson has the highest sack percentage when attempting to pass, suggesting that part of the problem is a faulty offensive line. Newton meanwhile has the lowest sack percentage (despite being sacked the most), and Kaepernick has the lowest interception percentage.

Overall, it appears Wilson is still the most efficient of the three quarterbacks in terms of passing. Kaepernick and Newton are superior in terms of rushing stats (Kaepernick has 157 attempts, 937 yards, 9 TD, and 6.0 yards per rush, Newton has 364 attempts, 2,032 yards, 28 TD, and 5.6 yards per rush, and Wilson has 190 attempts, 1,028 yards, 5 TD, and 5.4 yards per rush). Needless to say, having watched all three play, they are nearly equal in terms of scrambling talent, evasiveness, and sheer mobility under pressure. But in terms of passing volume and efficiency, Wilson takes the cake.

All three quarterbacks have had Top 5 defenses in 2013 in addition, so nobody’s getting an unfair advantage over the other because one has the better defense. Seattle and San Francisco both have top 5 running games while Carolina was 11th in 2013 in rushing. All 3 teams decline somewhat in terms of rushing yards per attempt, with San Francisco coming up 9th (4.4), Seattle finishing 12th (4.3), and Carolina posting a ranking of 15th (4.2, the league average in 2013).

But if you’re looking closely at the rushing stats, you’ll find the fumble rate for all 3 teams is significantly different. Seattle fumbled the ball 26 times, 7th most in 2013. On the flipside, San Francisco had the 8th fewest fumbles (20), while Carolina tied with the Saints for fewest fumbles (12).

Russell Wilson was responsible for 2 of the Seahawks 26 rush fumbles (8.0%) in 2013, Cam Newton was responsible for 1 of the Panthers 12 rush fumbles (8.3%), and Colin Kaepernick was responsible for 3 of the 49ers 20 rush fumbles (15.0%). From these numbers, Wilson’s running cast was more inefficient with holding onto the ball than Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick’s casts.

So what does this mean? Well, Wilson has carried his team to victory more than Newton and Kaepernick have. Speaking of which, Wilson has dominated in the clutch his first 2 seasons in the NFL. Via Pro Football Reference, Wilson currently has 8 4th-quarter comebacks (the same amount as Andrew Luck) and 10 game winning drives, the latter being the 2nd most in a quarterback’s first 2 years (Luck has the record of 11). Meanwhile, Newton has 6 4th-quarter comebacks and 6 game winning drives, while Kaepernick has 5 4th-quarter comebacks and 6 game winning drives (in 1 ½ seasons no less).

Wilson also led the NFL in 2013 in game winning drives with 5, another impressive achievement.

Thus far in Russell’s playoff career, he has remained just as efficient as he is in the regular season, with 6 TD, 1 INT, a 63.1 completion percentage, a 102.0 passer rating, and 8.43 yards per game. Wilson currently holds the NFL record for most passing yards in a playoff game during a quarterback’s rookie season, throwing 385 yards (along with 2 TD and 1 INT for a 66.7 completion percentage, a 109.1 passer rating, and 10.69 yards per attempt) in the 2012 NFC Divisional match-up against the Atlanta Falcons.

Finally, we take a look at how Wilson compares to other quarterbacks who reached the Super Bowl in their 2nd year in the NFL. Seattle’s star passer is the 6th quarterback in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl in his 2nd year, after Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and (most recently) Colin Kaepernick. (Warner, Brady, and Kaepernick technically didn’t have a rookie season, as they sat for all/most of their rookie seasons in the NFL.)

From the charts below, we compare all 6 quarterbacks that reached the Super Bowl with one another during their 2nd seasons, and their numbers combined in their first 2 years.

 

Russell Wilson vs. Quarterbacks Who Reached The Super Bowl In Their 2nd Year

Player Year Games CMP% YDS TD INT Rate Y/A Y/G TD%
Marino 1984 16 64.2 5,084 48 17 108.9 9 317.8 8.5
Warner 1999 16 65.1 4,353 41 13 109.2 8.7 272.1 8.2
Brady 2001 14 63.9 2,843 18 12 86.5 6.9 189.5 4.4
Roethlisberger 2005 12 62.7 2,385 17 9 98.6 8.9 198.8 6.3
Kaepernick 2012 7 62.4 1,814 10 3 98.3 8.3 139.5 4.6
Wilson 2013 16 63.1 3,357 26 9 101.2 8.2 209.8 6.4

It’s obvious from looking at this that Dan Marino and Kurt Warner had the 2 greatest seasons from a 2nd year quarterback in NFL history. Marino’s 1984 season remains perhaps the greatest individual accomplishment by a quarterback ever, and Kurt Warner’s Cinderella 1999 season is nearly as legendary.

But notice how Wilson doesn’t stray too far behind from the other 5 quarterbacks in terms of statistics. Wilson has actually thrown for more yards per game, has a higher passer rating and has a higher touchdown percentage in his 2nd year than Tom Brady, Big Ben, and Colin Kaepernick (established QBs Brady and Big Ben won their Super Bowls in their 2nd year).

But perhaps the strongest QB comparison for Russell Wilson is future HOF QB Tom Brady. Both were late round picks in the NFL Draft, won a Super Bowl in their 2nd year while collecting underdog status, and played 3 postseason games in their 2nd year (The Russell Wilson/Andrew Luck debate also reeks of Tom Brady/Peyton Manning). Let’s take a look at the postseason stats of both quarterbacks, with Brady’s 2001 and Wilson’s 2013 being compared.

 

Russell Wilson’s 2013 Postseason Vs. Tom Brady’s 2001 Postseason

Player Year Games YDS CMP% TD INT Rate Y/A Y/G DEF PTS
Brady 2001 3 572 62.5 1 1 80.3 6.2 190.7 47
Wilson 2013 3 524 62 3 0 98.4 7.5 174.7 40

Surprised? Both quarterbacks are extremely similar in terms of numbers and the fact that both never really decided the outcome of their victories as much as people like to think they did.

It’s true that Russell Wilson stats were padded in his Super Bowl victory. The 2 touchdowns he threw were when the Seahawks were already up 29-0 in the 2nd half. While Wilson helped to confirm the outcome for good, it wasn’t close to MVP status in terms of the Super Bowl.

But Brady was no different in his Super Bowl with the Patriots. Like Wilson, Brady’s 2001 postseason was aided by a superb defense, and the Patriots won that Super Bowl on the foot of kicker Adam Vinatieri. So if we’re calling Russell Wilson average and a game manager for his Super Bowl performance, we should say the exact same for Brady based on his Super Bowl performance in 2001. And considering Brady has played at a much higher (and elite) level since 2001, why are we ripping on Wilson if Brady played the exact same as Wilson, and in a few areas, worse?

Tom Brady went on to throw 10 TD and 2 INT in his next 2 postseasons (6 games), with a completion percentage of 63.4% and a passer rating of 97.1. In his next 2 Super Bowl victories, Brady threw 5 TD, 1 INT, and won 2 MVP awards for his performances in those games.

Russell Wilson needs time. The people writing him off as a game manager carried by an elite defense do not realize this. Pete Carroll has the opportunity to mirror Bill Belichick and develop his young quarterback long enough to release the training wheels and set him loose when he’s ready, much like Brady after his Super Bowl winning years.

So, is Russell Wilson an elite quarterback? No, not yet. He needs more time to prove that he can be on the level of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers, and he has more than enough time to do so.

However, when we discuss a quarterback’s first 2 years in the NFL, Wilson is playing at an elite level in terms of young quarterbacks. Wilson’s pinpoint accurate deep ball, high TD volume, superb mobility and scrambling abilities, great field awareness, and minimal mistakes on the passing front back this up.

So it’s good when Wilson’s on a great team that can back him up whenever he does make mistakes. It’s a learning experience, and if/when the strength of the Legion of Boom wears down and the Seahawks will depend on Wilson more than ever, he is expected to take off the training wheels and prove his critics wrong.

Russell Wilson may be small, but his possibilities in the NFL are bigger than life.

 

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(Stats via pro-football-reference.com, profootballfocus.com, and espn.com.)

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One Comment

  1. kenny

    July 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Training wheels? More like a unicycle.

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