Russell Wilson is better, part II: The younger half of the NFC East

Win McNamee

The 2012 class of quarterbacks could go down as the best we've seen in 30 years. Is Wilson clearly one of the top two from that draft? (Yeah!)

Last week we began a series of comparing Russell Wilson to other young quarterbacks around the league, starting with an examination of Matthew Stafford and Matt RyanWilson beat them both in embarrassing fashion!

Though the first in this series proved that comments can turn into a bit of a shitshow (Well, I never!) when daring to say that one player is better than another, I move forward like so many other brave journalists in American history. People often like to read headlines and form angry opinions based solely on that, but that reminds me of a phrase I once coined: Don't judge a book by it's cover.

Also, if you just skimmed the article for the parts where I said Wilson was good and the other quarterbacks had flaws, you might have missed the parts where I said that Stafford could still be in the beginning stages of a Hall of Fame career and that Ryan clearly possesses skills that could leave him with a stacked mantel of trophies when he retires. Does it mean that I necessarily think that Russell Wilson is the best quarterback of all-time?

Fuck yes. Let's continue.

The 2012 NFL Draft class currently has five starting quarterbacks around the league, and that doesn't include now-backup Brandon Weeden, or possible future starters like Kirk Cousins and Brock Osweiler. Four of those quarterbacks have already made the Pro Bowl, one of them (eeee) has won the Super Bowl already. Compare that to the 2010 class and you'll find one starter (Sam Bradford) and one Tim Tebow. Stafford is the only current starter from 2009. There were two or three from 2008, depending on how you feel about calling Chad Henne a "starter." Jay Cutler is the only current starter from the 2006, and there are none left from 2007.

So that's as many current starters from the 2012 class as there are from 2006-2010 and while you would always expect a slightly higher number from a very recent draft, it really seems unlikely that any of them are going to be unseated soon. This has proven to be an extremely talented class, and it should only get better. While I am not going to be comparing Wilson to Ryan Tannehill in this series, he's still a young quarterback that's advanced very quickly in his short time at the position.

I just don't think he's quite at that level of the other four current starting QBs from that class, but it doesn't mean he's bad. They've just been better. We are going to take a closer look at two of them today and then ultimately explain why Wilson is, well...

Better.

Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles

Me: "In your own words, tell me why Nick Foles is better than Russell Wilson, and why you'd rather have Foles than Wilson."

Brandon Gowton from Bleeding Green Nation:

I'm perfectly content with Nick Foles as the starting quarterback of the Eagles. He obviously put up some great statistics last year (27 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions) which helped lead the team to wins. Despite the lack of an elite arm he was one of the NFL's best deep passers. For the most part he played smart and made great decisions. He says all the right things on and off the field. By all indications he's a leader and well-liked by his teammates.

I'm really interested to see how he does in 2014 because statistical regression is probably inevitable. It's just a matter of how severe that regression will be. My worst fear with Foles is that he'll hover around "good enough" for most of his career. That is, he won't be bad enough to need a replacement but he won't be good enough to take you to the next level. This is where Russell Wilson comes in.

I was a big fan of his coming out of the draft and I thought there was a decent chance the Eagles might take him. Turns out, Philadelphia did have interest, but the Seahawks took him before they could. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intrigued by Russell Wilson playing in a Chip Kelly offense. It's not that Kelly NEEDS a mobile quarterback (as was evident with Foles last year), but I imagine Wilson could be potentially more dangerous under Kelly.

I think Wilson's ceiling would be higher than Foles in that respect. Either way, I don't think there's a huge difference between the two at this point. Sure, Wilson has a ring, but Seattle's defense is way more advanced than the one that's being rebuilt in Philly.

A year ago it would have seemed ludicrous to compare Foles to any of the other young quarterbacks around the league. A year ago, no quarterback had ever thrown more than 25 touchdowns and fewer than four interceptions in the same season. Only Tom Brady (2010) had thrown more than 25 TDs and fewer than five picks, but in Foles' 2013 season, he had a higher passer rating than Brady's season, more yards per attempt, a higher touchdown percentage and a lower interception percentage.

Even if it only came on 317 attempts, and really just 11 full games, Foles season will always stand as one of the greatest and most fascinating by a quarterback in NFL history. While Peyton Manning broke records last year, Foles still bested him (and everyone else) in many categories.

He was first in the NFL in TD% (8.5%), Y/A (9.1), Adjusted Y/A (10.5), Yards per Catch (14.2), Passer Rating (119.2), while finishing second in DVOA behind Manning.

While Foles did accumulate seven touchdown passes in a single game against the Oakland Raiders, he still had three or more touchdowns in four other games. He also added three rushing touchdowns, giving him 30 scores, two interceptions, and only four fumbles on the season. Only two QBs in NFL history have posted a higher passer rating in a single season with at least 300 attempts: Aaron Rodgers and Manning.

And anyone who believes that Foles is merely a byproduct of Chip Kelly's system is forgetting two very important facts about football, sports, or life:

- Michael Vick was improved under Kelly last season when he played, but not great. Not nearly as great as Foles, despite being in the exact same system. He threw a touchdown less than half as often, and threw an interception more than three times as often as Foles.

- Acting like just anyone in that system could have done just as well (the exact same argument that opponents of my work make as a case against Wilson himself) is like saying that a great mechanic can turn just any hump of rusted metal into an F1 race car. Phil Jackson may be the greatest mind in NBA history, and even he couldn't get it done without Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal (or Pau Gasol.)

It would seem that at this point, maybe Foles floor is something like Chad Pennington. Which is fine, because Pennington was a very good quarterback when healthy. But his ceiling is unlimited, because he's already put together one of the greatest statistical seasons in NFL history, and we have very little evidence as of yet that says he can't be among the best.

That being said, what sort of evidence do we have that suggests he's better than Wilson? None.

Why Russell Wilson is better:

I must be running out of analogies, so for my next trick I'm just going to say what I mean: Everything becomes more guaranteed as a product the more it is tested. In the case of football players or athletes, there's a reason that Wilson will probably cost more in a contract extension than Colin Kaepernick did, and that's because he'll enter his contract year with more experience. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton may not get a contract extension at all. Not because he doesn't have experience, but because he does.

And we've seen it, and we're not sure about the long-term prospects of Dalton.

This past weekend, Richard Linklater's Boyhood started to roll out in theaters across the country. It now has a 100% positive score on RottenTomatoes.com, with 99 reviews. That's one of the greatest scores in film history, and there have been more than 500 movies ever made! Toy Story 2 scored a 100% on 163 reviews. The Godfather has a 100% on 81 reviews. Hell, The Wizard of Oz had one bad review (apparently) out of 101 reviews. At a certain number of reviews, you're bound to run into an idiot, but if you can make it to 99 without getting someone to say that Boyhood was "overrated" (and it's a 2 hour, 40 minute movie, to top it all off) you're doing something right.

With more experience through two years than almost any quarterback in NFL history and more accomplishment, Wilson is doing something right.

Wilson now has over 200 more career pass attempts than Foles, and 122 more carries on the ground, none of which includes Wilson's five career playoff games. And despite Foles monster 2013 season, they are nearly even in passer rating, Wilson has a higher career TD%, more yards per attempt, and probably did so behind a much worse offensive line.

We just don't know exactly what Foles is yet. In the history of the league, there have been just 54 seasons of a player posting a passer rating over at least 100 with at least 300 pass attempts. Some of those players include Chris Chandler, Vinny Testaverde, Vick, Jim Harbaugh, David Garrard, Brian Griese, Bert Jones, and Pennington. In fact, Daunte Culpepper posted the ninth-best passer rating of all-time when he threw for 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions when he was 27.

That was Culpepper's last season as a viable QB. So we really just can't tell yet what categories Foles and Wilson will fall in when they retire, but we should feel a lot more comfortable about Russell. Why?

Only 10 players in NFL history have posted at least two seasons with a 100 passer rating, and Wilson is one of them. He's also the only player to do it in his first two seasons.

To be honest with you, bro:

Russell Wilson is better, and I'd rather have Russell Wilson.

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

Me: "Why is RGIII better than Wilson and why would you rather have RGIII?"

Ken Meringolo of Hogs Haven:

It should be noted that I was not in favor of trading up in the 2012 draft. In fact, I was a proponent of standing pat and drafting...you guessed it: Russell Wilson. (I got creamed for it of course...it didn't help that I also really liked Kellen Moore out of that draft). It had nothing to do with how I felt about Robert Griffin III, rather, it was just that I disagreed that our team could afford to give up those picks given our many deficiencies.

It wasn't a deal breaker for me as a fan--I love RG3 and I think he has a unique skill set. The biggest difference between Wilson and Griffin seems to be what they have been asked to do. No, Wilson can't be boiled down to the title of "game manager," but he has been surrounded by a far better cast than Griffin has been. I think the offensive line especially was far better for Wilson in his rookie year. Not only that, Wilson has benefitted from having one of the most awesome defenses we have seen in years.

This has all contributed to the Seahawks not necessarily depending on him to win games.

Griffin, on the other hand, was tasked with "Saving the city." We made him into an immediate Messiah, which is totally unfair, and we put him behind an offensive line that I don't think reflected the level of importance we should have had in protecting a "franchise guy."

I think Griffin possesses some raw athleticism that only a handful of players in the league have--he likely could have gone the Olympic track and field route if he wanted to, and has stated a desire to still qualify for the Olympics (which seems unlikely at his current rate of sustaining injuries). I believe we will see the RG3 that everyone wants to see this year. I think he is an effective passer and I think our offensive line will be improved. Our receivers are obviously a better group than we have had in years. I wish Griffin would employ Wilson's selectivity in the run game, but I also think Griffin can do things in the run game by himself that Wilson can't, leading to increased attempts.

I love RG3 and am happy to be finished paying for that deal. He has proven uniquely suited to handle the stupidly insane spotlight we have places on him in DC, which is likely as important as anything these days.

Well, this is kind of a funny thing to say, but it seems like that Ken and this Ken are in disagreement/agreement. We've both come full circle, meaning we're both still far apart. Because when Ken M. says that he wasn't in favor of trading up for RGIII on draft day, Ken A. totally was. At least, for the Redskins, because the Seahawks stood no chance of getting into the top two that season.

However, I was fairly certain that not only was Griffin a better prospect than even Andrew Luck, but a better prospect than we had seen in quite some time. Considering the entire package, from arm to legs to brain, I didn't know how you could do any better than Griffin. If he failed, I figured he could only fail in the way that Bo Jackson failed. Which is to say, not really fail at all.

Just be too good for his own good.

Through one regular season, Griffin was all of that and more. While I think I still made a solid case for Wilson as the rookie of the year over Griffin and Luck, I had a much harder time making a case against Griffin. (Luck's case was almost entirely circumstantial, which is why it failed faster than my second marriage!) Griffin was arguably the best player in the entire NFL in 2012, and in fact his Pro Football Reference AV of 18 that season was tied for the top score n the league with Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and MVP Adrian Peterson.

He led the league in both yards per attempt in the air (8.1) and yards per carry on the ground (6.8.) All told, Griffin scored 27 touchdowns and threw just five interceptions, completing slightly more passes than Wilson did as a rookie, with half as many interceptions.

While Foles may be a product of a system, there are systems now that are products of Robert Griffin.

If only...

Why Russell Wilson is better:

To say that Wilson is "better" really isn't that simple. Based upon nothing more than ability, perhaps Griffin still is better. But life and sports are about more than just the gifts you're given, but your ability to use those gifts at all. If I had two cars for sale, and one had slightly more horsepower and torque(?) and more ignition(I seriously know nothing about cars) and had six tires(right?) than the other car, but was in the shop twice as often for repairs, which car would be "better"?

Playing on a recovering ACL, Griffin doubled his interception rate in 2013, cut down on his touchdown rate, saw his Y/A plummet to 7.0, and his ground game yield zero rushing touchdowns. The Shanahan's did a masterful job utilizing Griffin's abilities as a rookie to vault towards the top of the offensive rankings in 2012, and an absolutely horrific job of managing him when he hurt his knee against the Seahawks in the playoffs. So horrific that it got Mike Shanahan fired and landed Griffin on the bench less than 12 months after he won Rookie of the Year.

If you combined Griffin's rookie season with Foles second season, you'd have the best first-two-year quarterback in NFL history, by far. But that's not how it works. Instead, you have an amazing rookie season from one player, an amazing sophomore season from the other, but two otherwise-underwhelming seasons rounding them out.

Griffin is still only 24 years old. He's younger than Seattle rookie Kiero Small. He's younger than Michael Sam. There's no reason to think that he won't enter next season at 100% health, with no knee brace, with new receiver DeSean Jackson, and possibly be even better than he was in 2012. Even if he is restricted in how often he'll be running the ball, Griffin might be as good a bet as anyone in the NFL to be a perennial MVP candidate. He's that good.

But damn if I don't feel more on edge right now about RGIII's ability to remain healthy than I do about any other of the "running" quarterbacks in the NFL. I don't have that fear with Cam Newon. I don't have that fear with Colin Kaepernick. I don't have that fear with Alex Smith, Andrew Luck, or Foles.

Maybe a couple of years from now we can judge Griffin without talking about injury because this is all just a thing of the past, just like it's been with players like Frank Gore or Adrian Peterson, but I have to talk about how I feel today. I've seen Wilson evade tackles and avoid hits at a level you rarely see from any player, not just quarterbacks, so I'm just much more comfortable with him. Also, he doesn't leave you in wont with his skills to make all the throws or rush for a first down. The talent level isn't far off from Griffin, if it is at all.

Russell Wilson is better and I'd rather have Russell Wilson.

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