Nine weeks into the 2016 NFL season, there have been a few candidates who stand out when discussing the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have been tearing up teams through the air. Derek Carr looks great. Aaron Rodgers, despite the Packers’ struggles, has been fantastic. Ezekiel Elliott leads the league in rushing yards. Von Miller is having another ridiculous season, wrecking games left and right.
A name that garnered plenty of preseason hype but has faded into the background belongs to the one and only Russell Wilson. This season hasn’t been kind to Wilson’s body, dealing him injury after injury. In Week 1, Ndamukong Suh stepped on his ankle in the process of a sack, resulting in a sprain. In Week 3, a horse-collar tackle by Eli Harold led to an MCL sprain that would have sidelined most quarterbacks for weeks on end. After the overtime affair against the Cardinals, a right pectoral ailment appeared on the injury report, limiting Wilson as well.
Russ has played through all three injuries with unbelievable quality. While he has showed that he can operate at a high level from the pocket in past years, he still had the ability to take off and make defenses pay outside of the tackle box. This season has been different, as his mobility has been at an all time low. His injuries have made it difficult for him to even set his feet on his throws, forcing him to adjust his mechanics on the fly.
While the Seattle offense has been frighteningly inconsistent this season thus far, it has come through in most major moments that it has needed to. Think about it. In Week 1, immediately after he sprained his ankle, Wilson led the Seahawks down the field and scored a game-winning touchdown. In both losses and the tie, Russell has made big-time plays that put the Seahawks in position to win the game in the final seconds. This throw against the Rams might have been one of the most impressive of his career:
On his own 12-yard line and needing a touchdown to win, a hobbled Wilson takes the snap out of the gun before firing a pass downfield that drops perfectly over Tyler Lockett’s shoulder. After the Los Angeles defense had stifled him all day, he made the play that he needed to when it counted. While Christine Michael would fumble the game away a couple of plays later, that throw, under the circumstances, is unreal.
In the tie against the Cardinals, Wilson put the team in position to tie the game in regulation, tie again in overtime (damn that’s a lot of ties), and then win it at the end of the bonus period. Despite being under extreme duress throughout the course of the contest, Russ made the plays he needed to when necessary.
When Seattle lost to New Orleans, there were some questionable clock management decisions made, but Wilson had still driven down the field to put the team in a position to win on the final play despite an intentionally vanilla offensive game plan.
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus released his midseason awards list the other day and stated that he believed that Russell Wilson was the NFL’s MVP through Week 9. It was puzzling at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed.
The front-runners for the award currently look to be Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Derek Carr. All three have had fantastic years, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think they intrinsically represent what the MVP award should be about. I don’t see either New England or Atlanta crumbling without their respective signal callers. The Patriots went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett alternating starts at quarterback. The Falcons have Julio Jones, a great offensive line, and one of the game’s best offensive coordinators in Kyle Shanahan. Derek Carr is a close second at this point, but the Raiders still have a (dare I say) elite offensive line and a solid run game to lean on. While any team would face a steep drop-off without their quarterback, I have no doubt that the Falcons and Raiders would be able to win some games under these circumstances.
The Seahawks, despite having a great defense, are nothing without Russell Wilson. Their run game and pass protection have been nonexistent and when Wilson’s game is off, the team can’t move the ball. New Orleans was a prime example of that.
Monday against Buffalo was a different story. We were all reminded of what a somewhat healthy Wilson can do.
After his defense had struggled to contain another mobile quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, Wilson answered with a rushing touchdown and then another through the air. While it doesn’t hurt to have a god-tier tight end in Jimmy Graham, it’s hard to not give Wilson the majority of the credit for a play like this:
It is no secret that Seattle’s offensive line has been generally abysmal throughout the (past few) season(s). Wilson is constantly hurried by pass-rushers in games and this is compounded with no threat of a ground attack. This play is a textbook example of the constant pressure that Russell is under. George Fant gets beaten outside while Justin Britt is beaten off of the snap to his right. A great blitz pickup by C.J. Prosise holds the interior rush up, but Lorenzo Alexander bears down from his left. Wilson, off of his back foot, drops a perfect pass in to Jimmy Graham, who is being blatantly held. Graham catches the ball with one arm, but that is only possible because of Wilson’s touch.
Anybody else in this situation would likely either take a sack or throw the ball away. Not Russ.
Dime after dime was dropped all over the Buffalo defense. With free rushers in his face, Wilson delivered time and time again, piling up an insane stat-line of three total touchdowns, 76.9% completion percentage, and 10.8 YPA. Insane.
For the third week in a row, the Seahawks’ defense was unable to get off of the field on third down. The unit looked gassed, as they very well had the right to be. The group’s exhaustion is a reality that the coaching staff must face.
The greater reality that the entire football world must face is this: Russell Wilson is more valuable to his team than any other player in the league is to their own. Seattle would crumble without him. No team in the league would to this extent if you removed any one player. He is constantly running for his life behind a still-developing offensive line while living in a scheme that is terrified to open up due to the fear of injuring him more than he already is. I know the Pete Prisco’s of the world will call me insane, and that’s alright. I very well may be.
Russell might come back down to earth. It’s obviously a possibility. But history, his tireless work ethic, and his knack for playing up to any moment, no matter how big, says otherwise. I’m not going to award him the physical MVP trophy yet, as he needs to continue showcasing this level of play throughout the rest of the year to earn the accolade itself. But on a deeper level, there is nobody that exudes what this award is all about more than Russ. As Wilson continues to get healthier, more and more people will understand what this man means to his team.
More and more people will understand that he is the NFL’s most valuable player.