The Seattle Seahawks have a very good roster, but what's especially nice and hopeful about their team is that the vast majority of current Seahawks are young and signed through 2017, at least. This series leading up to the regular season opener on September 11 will take a closer look at 30 such players, all of whom won't be turning 30 this year.
Player: Russell Wilson, QB
How acquired: Third round pick (75th overall) out of Wisconsin in 2012 NFL Draft
Free agent: 2020
Type “Russell Wilson God” into a Google image search and you’ll see pictures of the Seahawks QB pointing at the sky or crying or perhaps this famous image:
Wilson with his legs crossed, palms up, and his face lookin’ like Nicolas Cage ripped it off the real Wilson and put it on his own exposed skull. (Seriously, what was the touch-up, airbrushing, photoshop person on that day?)
His religious beliefs are well-documented and I think it’s fair to say that if Tim Tebow was good at professional football, there would be little difference between how the two would be perceived nationally; Tebow was bad in the NFL and still gets hate from the public even when he’s not trying to play football anymore, while most of the discussion around Wilson revolves around how overrated or underrated he is as a player. Sure, fans with little originality will bring up the times that Wilson said he “spoke to God” or his sexless adventures between marriages or the magical healing power of nanobubbles (and if you sound like you’re trying to win a snaps battle in the seventh grade, you might be the 38-year-old divorced guy on a message board calling him a “Hobbit”), but if you’re actually good at your job, people mostly do not care what you do away from it or what you believe in.
Look no further than Colin Kaepernick. If he had been protesting at the height of his career in 2012-2013, a legion of 49ers faithful would have his back no matter what he did. As a backup QB on a $117 million contract, there are fewer people who will come to his defense, regardless of the issue. That’s the nature of sports and fandom as much as it the nature of humanity.
Luckily for Seattle fans, Wilson is one of the most valuable players in the NFL and if the last eight seasons of college and pro football have taught us anything, it’s that he will continue to play at a high level long after stories about his courtship with Ciara or his spiritual conversations with a higher power are forgotten.
Headed into his fifth season with the Seahawks, Wilson currently ranks third in touchdown passes over a QBs first four years, behind only Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Along those lines, he is second in passer rating (behind Kurt Warner, ahead of anyone who started in their first season as a true rookie), fourth in Y/A (behind Warner, Tony Romo (another non-true rookie), and Ben Roethlisberger), second in adjusted Y/A (Warner), fifth in completion percentage, and first in wins. When you break it down just between quarterbacks who started their careers in the year after their final year of college, since 1980 it really just comes down to Marino, Manning, Wilson, and Roethlisberger as the truly great quarterbacks in their first four years. Others, like Aaron Rodgers and Steve Young, or Tom Brady, Warner, or Carson Palmer, had a year or more to sit on a bench, or needed some time to warm up, but few have been more pro-ready at a near-elite level than Wilson.
Marino and Manning are considered two of the five best QBs in NFL history by everyone from the expert to the casual fan. Ben, with two Super Bowl championships, another appearance, and some great statistical achievements, should be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Wilson, however, is not seen in the same light as those three. Perhaps it could be because he’s only going into his fifth season, in which case, you could easily make the comparison to Brady (unexpectedly good early, seen as a guy carried by his defense and head coach early on) but Wilson’s stats go so far and above beyond Brady’s, that I don’t think it’s a fair comp.
Over his first four seasons as a starter (which unlike Wilson, came after a year of sitting on the bench, learning the playbook behind Drew Bledsoe), Brady averaged 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions per season and had a passer rating of 87.5 with 6.9 Y/A. Wilson averages 26 TD, 8 INT, has a rating of 101.8 and 8.1 Y/A, the highest mark in the NFL since 2012. (Continuing down that path, Wilson is second in passer rating since 2012, behind only Rodgers, 11th in comp%, ninth in TD, and of course has appeared in the playoffs all four years, with a win in each of those seasons, plus two Super Bowls and one championship.)
Yes, passing stats have gone up in the last 15 years, but Brady was often below league-average in Y/A, and only slightly above average in most other categories.
The +/- stats on ProFootballReference basically just tell you how a player did against the league average, with a rating of 100 being perfectly average. So a score of 90 would be bad and 110 would be good. A score of 80 would be terrible and a score of 120 would be great.
In Brady’s best and worst season in Y/A over his first four season, he was at 90 and 117.
Wilson’s are 112 and 128.
In Brady’s best and worst season in passer rating, he was at 107 and 115.
Wilson’s are 109 and 131.
In Brady’s best and worst season in Net Y/A, he was at 96 and 118.
Wilson’s are 105 and 117.
In Brady’s best and worst season in TD%, he was at 102 and 117.
Wilson’s are 99 and 130.
The only category in which Wilson has been below average, in any season, is sack%, which he’s consistently below 90% in. Wilson is one of the most sacked QBs in the NFL, partly because he holds onto the ball for too long sometimes and partly because of a terrible offensive line, but either way, Wilson has never dipped to below average in any notable passing category. And then when you throw all of the passing numbers out of the window, you’ll still have one of the five best rushing QBs of all-time.
Wilson led the NFL in yards per carry in 2014 and has 2,430 career rushing yards with 12 touchdowns. Brady — as an example of what a “normal” great QB looks like — has 876 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in 14 seasons.
So if we’re only looking at QBs within their first five years, I think Wilson is better than Brady. And the comp to, “Well, people will appreciate him over time” doesn’t hold up. People don’t need “time” to appreciate Andrew Luck, a quarterback with far inferior stats and accomplishments since both were drafted in 2012. They didn’t need time to embrace Cam Newton after his fascinating rookie year in 2011. Why do they need time on Wilson, a player who has produced the numbers, wins, and Super Bowl appearances before he’s turned 28 that you typically only reserve for the all-time greats?
I think for the Seahawks to come as far as they have in the last six years, it really comes down to (fittingly for a Russell Wilson article) the “Holy Trinity” of the franchise:
The Father is Pete Carroll, with perhaps John Schneider as his “football wife” co-running the show with much less publicity.
The Holy Spirit is the “energy” of the franchise, which I think is co-owned by the home crowd, and these players: Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas. I think it’s a swagger they started in 2011 but because people started to believe in that confidence, it’s a symbiotic relationship between fan and player I think that could feed into the next generation after those guys leave. Much in the way that the 49ers of the eighties bled into success for the 49ers of the nineties, or the way that the Packers transferred from Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre to eventually Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. The “Spirit” of the team is what would really make them a franchise that remains successful after these players and coaches are gone.
And then Wilson is the Son. He’s the driving force on the team that will represent the Seahawks for decades to come. In the same way that Manning was the Colts, Montana was the 49ers, or Terry Bradshaw “was the Steelers” (even if he wasn’t the most talented player on the Steelers), Wilson is the Seahawks. His success will determine the overall success of the franchise. If he plays like he already has for another 12 years — and history dictates that he probably will — then Seattle will be in the playoff race until perhaps 2030. If he flops — and history says that’s unlikely once you acknowledge that Wilson is one of the NFL’s elite QBs — then they’ll revert back to the way they were in 2010 and 2011. Quarterback is the most important position in football and it’s not even close. And the reasons that the Seahawks have won as much as they have in the last four years will often come back to the presence of Wilson playing on their homefield Earth.
Yes, the Google image search for “Russell Wilson God” may bring back images of him in tears, but those are tears of joy because that search also results in Wilson with one thing that history can never take away from him:
Him holding up the Lombardi Trophy. That’s something that I think will Wilson will raise again.
Here are some of his highlights from an historic 2015 season: