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Russell Wilson versus the World

The best player of the 2012 class? The MVP? The best quarterback of the last two years? Wilson takes it all on and makes a pretty solid argument.


Eighteen months ago, Wilson wasn't in the same argument as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, or even Ryan Tannehill on draft day. There's no denying that and he was passed over by 74 teams times and behind five other quarterbacks.

About fourteen months ago, Wilson had five touchdowns, six interceptions, the Seahawks were 3-2 (and the nation thought they should be 2-3) and even many Seahawks fans were calling for Matt Flynn to take over.

Ten months ago, Wilson had proved himself worthy to be called the third best rookie quarterback in the league by most fans and writers around the country. A lot of them still placed him behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, but they thought it was "noble" that such a nice little fellow was doing well and going to the playoffs. He had 26 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, four rushing touchdowns, but obviously his numbers and success were mostly a byproduct of the read option offense, the players around him, and smart coaching.


Three months ago, the Seahawks were starting the season as a hot pick to make the Super Bowl and Wilson was definitely becoming a fan favorite around the country, but would he ever be able to join the same class of quarterback as Colin Kaepernick, Luck, Griffin?

Today, Wilson is not in that class of quarterback.

Thank God.

It's amazing to think about how quickly things have changed for Wilson over the last year and a half, let alone the last three months, but now all of a sudden we have to start addressing the issue of how "real" Wilson's numbers are and if he's one of the best players in the NFL. While players like Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning have spent years trying to convince people they were "elite," Wilson's numbers speak for themselves.

That is, when others aren't trying to shut them up with excuses for why they could be that good. No, Wilson is just that good. Here's yet another look at: Russell Wilson versus the World:

Russell Wilson versus the Class of 2012 (sorted by draft order)

Name Com Att Yards Y/A TD INT Rating RushAtts RushYDs RushTD Wins
Andrew Luck 565 1013 6967 6.9 38 25 79.4 105 517 9 18
Robert Griffin III 496 791 6032 7.6 34 16 92.0 190 1187 7 12
Ryan Tannehill 534 892 6078 6.8 27 25 78.8 80 353 3 12
Brandon Weeden 414 744 4746 6.4 20 24 70.6 24 37 0 5
Russell Wilson 428 668 5480 8.2 45 16 102.1 166 898 5 21
Nick Foles 264 427 3253 7.6 22 5 97.6 41 165 3 5

Among the class of quarterbacks drafted last season, Russell now nearly stands alone. And surprisingly his biggest competition as of today is somehow Nicholas Foles. (Brock Osweiler drafted ahead of Wilson in the third round, but hasn't played enough to warrant mention.)

It's not that I don't "get" the Luck argument, because I do. He's certainly one of the top five quarterbacks I would start a franchise with today, all things considered. But would I start a franchise with Luck over Wilson? At what point would that argument start to hold weight for the high-percentage of critics that would still say "No, you never pick Wilson over Luck."?

I know that Luck has lost Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen, that his offensive line isn't very good and that Darrius Heyward-Bey is a terrible number two. I know that. But the Miami Dolphins probably have a worse offensive line, had maybe the worst receiving corps in the NFL last season (and even now, Mike Wallace is overrated) and yet Luck's numbers are nearly identical to Ryan Tannehill's. Not identical, mind you, there's certainly value in 17 additional touchdowns in nearly two years, but everything else is basically neck-and-neck. Maybe Luck has had a tougher schedule?

Quite the opposite, actually.

According to Football Outsiders, the Colts rank 17th in passing DVOA (they're actually third in rushing DVOA, which sort of shuts up traditionalists that say Luck has no running game and that Trent Richardson is holding him back) and faced the 27th-toughest schedule. Tannehill's offense has faced the toughest string of defenses in the NFL this season, by DVOA.

(KA note - Made a bit of a flub there and looked at offensive variance instead of strength of schedule: IND SOS is 19th, MIA SOS is 11th. Tannehill has still faced a tougher schedule of defenses but the disparity isn't as great as I originally postulated.)

And Luck's total numbers do include Wayne for seven games. Just because he got injured, you don't erase all of his contributions.

Others would like to point to the fact that Luck has 345 more pass attempts than Wilson, thereby meaning he is a bigger contributor to the offense, relied on more, and has a higher possibility of making mistakes (to explain his nine additional interceptions compared to Wilson) than Wilson. Okay, so what you're saying is: 345 more attempts and yet, seven fewer touchdowns?

Also, if he could match Wilson's 8.2 yards per attempt, he'd have 8,306 yards over the last two years instead of 6,967. That would be nearly the same number of yards in that span as Peyton Manning, but, he doesn't have 8.2 yards per attempt. (As you'll find out, nobody does except for Wilson.)

In fact, if you took Wilson's career game logs and Luck's career game logs and combined them together on one spread sheet then sorted it by Y/A, Wilson would have the top eight such games. Wilson has 15 career games of 8.0 Y/A or better, Luck has two. Wilson has five career games of 10.0 Y/A or better, Luck has zero.

Wilson has 15 career games of a passer rating of at least 100.00, Luck has four.

Another good argument is that Wilson is a system QB, which only makes sense if you're willing to concede that Darrell Bevell is the best offensive coordinator in the NFL. Because if you can devise a system for a QB like Wilson -- one that's "too small" and traditionally should never succeed at the professional level -- that allows him to post some of the best numbers in the NFL, how could you not be the smartest offensive mind in the game?

Are even any Seahawks fans willing to say that Bevell is the best offensive coordinator in football? And this is coming from me, a pretty big fan of Bevell, though I know it's lonely on that island.

Does Wilson have a better defense than Luck, Griffin, or anyone else? Yeah, because I would argue he probably has the best defense in the league. No worse than top three over the last two years. But I didn't know a defense could throw interceptions.

Remember that offensive mistakes contribute to defensive "lapses" like points allowed because you threw an interception in your own territory. Luck has four games of at least three interceptions, Wilson has one. When Luck doesn't throw a pick, he's 11-1. When he does, the Colts are 7-8.

When Wilson avoids an interception, he's 14-1. When he doesn't, he's 7-5.

Since when can you blame your defense for things like completion percentage? (64.07% for Wilson, 55.77% for Luck.)

I think another good question in regards to "weapons" is if you asked a GM that doesn't believe Wilson > the entire rest of his class, "How much money would you give Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate on the open market?" Like with Bevell, are we willing to now concede that the weapons for Wilson are among the best in the NFL? Or at least, top five like his passing numbers?

In 2011, the Seahawks offense had Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Zach Miller and Marshawn Lynch.

In 2013, the Seahawks offense had Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, Zach Miller and Marshawn Lynch.

In 2011 with Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle was 23rd in scoring, 28th in yards, 22nd in passing yards and 26th in net yards per pass attempt.

In 2013 with Russell Wilson, Seattle is second in scoring, 12th in yards, 24th in passing yards and fifth in net yards per per pass attempt.

Head coach: Same. Offensive coordinator: Same. Left tackle: Same. Center: Same. Quarterback: Different.

(Russell Okung missed four games in 2011, missed eight games this year.)

So that's Luck, that's Wilson, what about reigning Rookie of the Year, Robert Griffin? He had 393 attempts last year and he now has 398 attempts this year.

He has 20 fewer completions, 368 fewer yards, six fewer passing touchdowns, six more interceptions, 1.0 less Y/A, -20.6 on his QB rating, 20.5 less rushing yards per game, no rushing touchdowns this year (seven last year) and his QBR is down nearly 30 points.

Maybe if healthy, Robert Griffin really is the best young QB in the league. But if he shouldn't be playing, don't play him. His play this year has only knocked him out of the above conversation. (And yet his overall numbers remain much better than Luck's. Hmm.)

You could make arguments for their past (where would you draft them in a re-do, rookie season numbers) and arguments for their future, but any argument to rank them in the present would be nothing more than a desperate plea.

Wilson has graduated to the below list:

Russell Wilson versus the NFL, 2012-2013 (sorted by passer rating)

Name GS Comp Att Yards Y/A TD INT Rating AY/A RushTD Wins
Peyton Manning 27 705 1028 8381 8.15 73 18 109.6 8.79 1 22
Aaron Rodgers 24 539 803 6513 8.11 54 12 108.0 8.78 2 16
Russell Wilson 27 428 668 5480 8.20 45 16 102.1 8.47 5 21
Drew Brees 27 722 1109 8824 7.96 71 27 100.7 8.14 2 16
Nick Foles 11 264 427 3253 7.62 22 5 97.6 8.12 3 5
Philip Rivers 27 619 924 6987 7.56 48 23 96.4 7.48 0 12
Matt Ryan 27 719 1058 7879 7.45 50 26 95.3 7.29 1 15
Ben Roethlisberger 25 581 910 6640 7.30 47 18 94.7 7.44 0 12
Tom Brady 27 658 1067 7723 7.24 51 15 93.7 7.56 4 20
Tony Romo 28 710 1088 8043 7.39 52 26 93.2 7.27 1 15

I set a minimum of 400 pass attempts and include Foles because I think his numbers deserve mention and context.

Believe it or not, right now as of November 30, 2013, 11 games into the 2013 season, this is true:

Wilson came into the 2012 season with zero NFL experience, not even a single game on the bench, and yet 27 games later is posting the highest Y/A in the league. More than Manning, and Manning is a veteran future Hall of Famer with a pretty good supporting cast.

I would say that Wilson came into the league in a better situation than most rookie quarterbacks. The defense was very good, with the potential to be great. The offensive line had a couple of great players (if they could stay healthy) and he had Lynch and some good receivers. But it's not like Wilson is the first quarterback to enter the league without a really shitty team around him.

(It's fun to think about the situation that Kurt Warner entered in 1999. He was with the team the previous year, Isaac Bruce only played in five games in 1998, they traded for Marshall Faulk, drafted Torry Holt, Orlando Pace was entering his third season.)

Since the beginning of 2012, Wilson is third in passer rating, third in adjusted yards per attempt, second in wins, and has the most rushing touchdowns of any of the top ten listed above. (Brady's four even kind of fluky, all coming in 2012.) Only Manning has more wins of 15+ points (12) than Russell (9) who is tied in that category with Brady. Manning lost a game by 10 points last season though, and only Brady, Wilson haven't lost a game by more than seven points in that time span.

Which brings up another point to Wilson, for me. Though he's often compared to Brees because of their similar stature, there's something about Wilson that reminds me a lot about another guy. Here's a quote from Chris Collinsworth, with the name of the player omitted and replaced with Wilson:

But (Russell Wilson), when he came out in the second half and took them immediately down the field with a passion, with this sort of look in his eyes like, ‘This game is mine’ and into the wind and scored immediately. There’s something about this guy. Now, it’s hard to imagine that we can talk as much as we’ve talked about (Wilson) and say we’ve left something on the table. But there is something in his inner spirit that refuses to lose. It’s the same thing when you talk to him about (height). You know, he’s like, he really gets offended when somebody brings it up. You know, ‘How (does your height limit you)?’

‘What are you talking about, man? (Why does height matter)? When they cut me is when I’ll retire.’ Which is kind of the spirit he took into that second half.

Of course, Collinsworth is talking about Tom Brady and retirement. But that inner spirit, that refusal to lose, and the fact that the only thing that really seems to piss him off is doubt, is basically exactly who Wilson is. You can't teach that. It's a wonder that so many teams interviewed Russell Wilson before the draft and that he was passed over 74 times. You had to really believe that his height would make it impossible for him to succeed in the league. It's not like we were necessarily "wrong" because there's such a long history of <6-foot quarterbacks not succeeding in the league, but we obviously over-valued height and undervalued basically every other quality. Because Wilson is scoring a 10/10 in basically everything else.

And yet we still think his numbers are "bullshit" because he's 5'11 and it doesn't compute with most people.

The totals since the beginning of last season may seem to be "dwarfed" (though only by a select few) but the rates aren't bad at all. Wilson is throwing a touchdown on 6.7% of his attempts and an interception on 2.4%.

Manning is throwing a touchdown on 7.1% of his attempts and an interception on 1.7%.

Brees has a TD on 6.4% of his attempts and an INT on 2.4%.

Manning, Rodgers, Brees, Brady... Wilson? Why not? Is he already an MVP in his second season?

Russell Wilson vs the 2013 MVP race (sorted by feeling)

Name W L Comp Att Yards TD TD% INT INT% Rate QBR Y/A RushYds RushTD
Peyton Manning 9 2 305 545 3722 36 8.1 7 1.6 114.5 79.41 8.4 -27 1
Russell Wilson 10 1 176 275 2362 19 6.9 6 2.2 105.1 64.25 8.6 409 1
Drew Brees 9 2 300 439 3647 28 6.4 8 1.8 107.3 71.3 8.3 25 1
Nick Foles 4 1 103 162 1554 16 9.9 0 0.0 128.0 78.25 9.6 123 2
Cam Newton 8 3 208 337 2353 17 5.0 9 2.7 88.3 56.27 7.0 379 5
Aaron Rodgers 5 2* 168 251 2218 15 6.0 4 1.6 108.0 70.35 8.8 115 0
Tom Brady 8 3 257 430 2896 17 4.0 7 1.6 86.3 58.2 6.7 20 0
Matthew Stafford 7 5 296 500 3825 27 5.4 14 2.8 89.6 62.46 7.7 62 2
Tony Romo 7 5 285 440 3140 24 5.5 7 1.6 97.3 59.3 7.1 40 0
Philip Rivers 5 6 281 397 3381 22 5.5 8 2.0 106.6 72.52 8.5 17 0

*excluding loss to Bears in which Rodgers was hurt early

This list obviously only includes quarterbacks and it's order is just "eh, this is somewhat in order of plausibility" and also makes possible assumptions. Like, if Foles went 9-1 as a starter and continued to put up ridiculous numbers or that Rodgers came back and led the Packers to the playoffs or if Rivers did the same. Don't think about it too much, we're just trying to compare Wilson versus some other quarterbacks for this season.

He compares pretty well.

If we stopped right here, Manning would definitely win the MVP. I don't think that awards usually have a right or wrong answer, and we don't have one here, it's just that he would definitely win it because the Broncos are 9-2 and he's putting up some incredible overall numbers. But will it end that way?

Over his last seven games, Manning has 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Over Wilson's last seven games, he has 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. Over the last five, it's Manning 14/5, Wilson 11/2 and Wilson is 5-0 versus Manning 3-2.

While Manning has always raised the level of play for those around him, it's hard to argue against Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas as possibly being the best quartet of weapons in the league. There's always a lot of talk about how unproductive Thomas and Decker were before Manning got there, but are we really going to compare Manning to Tim Tebow and say "Look at the differences!"?

That's like watching an episode of The Wire right after an episode of Cop Rock.

Wilson is the only player that poses a threat on the ground other than Newton, has the second-highest TD% on a minimum of 200 attempts, has erased almost all turnover troubles over the last six games, worked most of the season behind a terrible o-line, and has the most wins in the league. If he beats the Saints on Monday night in front of 20 million viewers and has a great game in the process, what will that do for the MVP race? Especially if Manning loses to the Chiefs on Sunday?

Wilson is seven touchdowns shy of Manning's total over his first two seasons (52 to 45) and has a good chance to only trail Dan Marino (68 touchdowns) in that category. Marino won the MVP in his second season, could Wilson do the same?

It's not only incredible that he's in the conversation, but that he could still make the best argument. He's already made a pretty solid case.