An Evaluative Rant on Russell Wilson and the Rookie QBs

Jonathan Daniel

Oh good heavens...

I vowed that I wouldn't be returning to blogging this season, in light of some personal changes (all good) and new responsibilities that I'd chosen to take on in my professional career, and yet, here I am once again.

I can't stay away.

Someone page Dr. Drew. Call Pat O'Dea. I've relapsed.

This game has got a hold on me, and it won't let go.

Week 5 of this season is where I last left off, so please don't mind the gap between then and now (But do mind the gap when exiting the train in London).

Okay, back to football...

In the 7 weeks that I haven't been blogging, I've managed to maintain consistency in closely reviewing game tape, taking down notes on players, and immersing myself in just as much football as before. The input hasn't regressed one bit. Only the output. Problem is, I'm full of hot air, and I need a release.

Let's start with Russell Wilson:

There isn't a rookie QB improving more each week than Russell Wilson. Other than the San Francisco game, there hasn't been a single week that I can look at and say "he took a step backward this week." I can say that for at least 2 games, with all other rookie starters. I've seen every throw that all of Luck, Griffin III, Wilson, Tannehill and Weeden have made this season. They've all played like rookies, all season, except for two guys - Griffin III and Wilson.

Robert Griffin III is interesting, because like Wilson, he has been most successful when he uses his feet to extend plays and find the open guy. What's interesting is that his completion percentage (67.4%) is so high, yet throw-for-throw, he lacks the location and pure accuracy that Wilson (63.4%) and Luck (55.5%) possess. His mechanics are less consistent, and his footwork has been suspect (as it should be for a rookie - nothing surprisingly bad by any means), but his receivers have been really good at getting open, and have made some impressive catches to help him out. It also doesn't hurt that RG3 has an absolute canon for an arm, and can get it to its target, from his back foot, regardless of how far down field that target is. Long term, RG3′s completion percentage will certainly come down.

Defenses (like they've done with Cam Newton this year), will begin to scheme differently and force him to be more pinpoint, as they spend time really studying him. His feet and speed, however, will make it tough for teams to consistently press and turn their backs to him, so as long as Washington continues to mix plays as well as they do, and incorporate the read-option the way they so effectively have, Griffin will continue to be highly effective despite his lack of pure accuracy. He represents the more athletic QB that teams are certain to continue trending toward.

Andrew Luck has progressed nicely and, considering how frequently he's been asked to throw, and how far he's been asked to throw it, he has shown drastic improvement as the year has gone on. He's certainly position to become the most prolific of the rookies over the long-term, in terms of passing yards and big throwing plays. Still though, he's been susceptible to making the bad read (again, nothing unusual for a rookie), has forced the ball into tight coverages that probably worked at the college level, and has stared down his targets a bit too much. He'll be fine though. His mechanics are strong, he's a much better athlete than given credit for, and he's poised in pressure situations.

Russell Wilson doesn't have the speed or home-run ability as a runner, that Griffin does, but 7-15 yard chunks are nothing to be upset about. What Wilson has that could sustain him and make him more effective than RG3 long-term, is great accuracy. Accuracy on the run, and accuracy from the pocket. Like Griffin, he can put the deep ball on the money, and uses play-action extremely well to open up the field. He has improved in his decisiveness each week, and moves through progressions rapidly. Very rarely does he lock on to his primary target off the snap. Mechanically, there's absolutely zero doubt that Wilson has been the most consistent of the rookies. He has definitely had vision issues at times - there's no doubt about that. And yes, his height has played a role in that.

But, he's become much more mobile inside the pocket, to step up, anticipate lanes and holes in the line coming open, and lead his target. When he's thrown behind his target on timing routes (as we've seen a few times this season), it appears on several of those plays that the lanes just weren't open at the time that he should've thrown it, as per the play design (i.e. 3-step drop - no hitch - yet he'll hitch, etc.), and rather than force it into a blind spot, he has waited for the opening, or simply tucked and ran.

This is something that will probably always be there with Wilson, to a degree, so don't be disappointed by the occasional back-shoulder or back-hip throw that should've led the target. This could result in more interceptions and teams become keen to this tendency, however, the trend with Wilson shows that he's becoming much more willing to create his own lanes by getting out of the pocket in recent weeks, than he was early on. Thus, I don't think the interception numbers will increase. He's showing that he only plays smarter as time goes on.

One thing that coach Carroll stated early in the season, that I think now he realizes should be recanted, was that they didn't want Wilson to run. They wanted him to throw from the pocket. But Wilson's ability to extend plays and work in conjunction with his receivers to find open targets while on the run, is something that makes him dangerous. It's a part of his game, and I think coaches Bevell and Carroll are starting to realize it, and scheme around it. For some players, throwing on the run is a way of not having to be poised, and a way of avoiding having to stand in the pocket. For others, it's a way to be poised, while utilizing their athleticism.

For example, rather than just tuck and run when Wilson has the opportunity, his eyes are still down the field. He's looking to throw, by manipulating defenses with the threat of him running, which opens up opportunities down field. Early in the year, he struggled because he was trying too hard to be a pocket passer, and I think now he's realizing that his escape-ability actually creates more opportunities in the passing game, and not just in the running game.

The most impressive thing to me about Russell Wilson, though, is his ability to stay calm, regardless of the situation. When he says he doesn't get nervous, he's not lying. He's the same quarterback at his own 3 yard-line that he is at the 43 yard line. He stands as comfortably in the pocket when he's in the end zone, as he does when he's in the opposing team's red zone. This is something Seattle fans haven't had, consistently, maybe ever - including with Hasselbeck. Matt got rattled in crunch time, and would occasionally make a bad decision in those situations.

It should give Seattle fans comfort in knowing that not only do they have a QB who's calm in the pocket and makes good decisions, but also that he's doing it as a rookie. This is, literally, unheard of. QBs who have this natural trait of poise under pressure, are often the guys who can finish games, and in 3 out of 7 wins, Russell Wilson has lead his team to victory on Seattle's final drive.

The last-minute heroics, while they've been tough for some fans to stomach, have fallen right in line with what Pete Carroll assured fans and media would happen a lot this season. Carroll has been consistent in his message that games would be close all year. And all year, Seattle has been in position to win the game on the last drive. Promise kept.

Weeden and Tannehill have both had some really good moments. Weeden, to me, has another year to solidify his spot as the starter in Cleveland and that's probably it. The age just hurts him, and he hasn't improved in his decision making ability to a degree that would suggest the game is slowing down to him. What he does have is a rifle of an arm, and the ability to make some throws into tight spaces, thus enabling him to avoid the consequences of mistakes that others in the class could not.

Tannehill was one of my favorites coming out in April and I remain bullish on him. Sitting under a solid veteran for a year wouldn't have been a bad thing for him, but his knowledge of Sherman's offense, and his athleticism have afforded him the ability to get creative and improvise in tough spots - much like for Griffin, Luck and Wilson. In the game against Seattle, he showed better footwork, mechanics and overall pocket presence than he did in school, and considering his limited time spent at QB in college (converted from WR), he continues to display an ability to learn and adapt to the speed of the game.

There's a lot of natural ability and instincts with Tannehill that lead me to believe he's a long-term, franchise caliber QB. He has turned the ball over quite a bit though, and has further to go than Luck, Wilson or Griffin when it comes to making good decisions with the football. The turnover numbers speak for themselves there.

Griffin, Wilson and Luck are definitely the upper echelon of the group with Tannehill possessing significant upside, and Weeden not far from topping out in my opinion.

If I had to vote for Rookie of the Year at this point, I would vote Griffin. It's close between he and Wilson, but a few things jump out at me about Griffin this season that make him the more deserving choice for the award right now. The most important though, in my mind, is the lack of turnovers. Griffin has protected the football better than any other rookie QB, and that's the most important thing to me.

Avoiding mistakes, protecting the football and playing smart are the best ways for a rookie QB to commence his NFL career. Wilson isn't far behind him though in the turnover category, and has shown more late game poise and close-out ability. It's a tight race for me, and by the end of the year, I could certainly feel differently.

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DK Note: He's back!

In addition to contributing here & doing podcasts with our own Davis Hsu, Derek's transitioned from maintaining league-wide NFL Draft analysis at his blog to a more focused and in-depth Seahawks-centric draft / free agency / pro player personnel site called Scout the Seahawks. It's now back up in action after a brief sabbatical, so please take a minute to head over there and keep it bookmarked. He's also a great follow on Twitter (@DStephensScout).

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