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Why Russell Wilson is better than any other QB, part III: The up-and-comers and vets

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In continuing from Part I: The Dregs, and Part II: The Middle, today I examine the above-average-to-great quarterbacks in comparison to Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.

All of these quarterbacks would be fine choices to have as your player under center. Some of them have shorter shelf lives left than others, however. Still, whether we put them in a vacuum for 2017 or ask who would be the better player to start your franchise off with today, Wilson still comes out as the better option over each of them.

And here’s why:

Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

I have to admit that two years after they were drafted 1-2, I’m surprised that both Winston and Mariota are thriving. Usually at least 50% of a 1-2 QB duo is a bust, but both have already shown enough proficiency that it would be unlikely that anything other than serious injury would derail them now. Certainly some GMs may prefer the 23-year-old, cheaper (for now), talented options over Russ — but it could also be a huge gamble.

Neither has been as successful through two seasons as Wilson was. Neither could turn into a playoff-winning QB, a skillset that I actually think does exist ... not just any quarterback proves capable of performing at a high level on the highest stage, no matter how good they are in the regular season. Winston is interception-heavy so far (18 last season, almost as much as Wilson has ever thrown over any two-season span) and Mariota is looking for his first healthy season. Wilson is the better quarterback of the three right now, the smallest gamble of any of them, and the age difference is negligible in every sense other than maybe “15 years from now.”

Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

Nearly the MVP in 2015, Palmer had some struggles last season, showing the wear and tear of a player who turns 38 in December.

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

A classic debate that clearly needs to be put on hold for a bit. Luck had maybe his best career season in 2016 but is now on the mend from a torn labrum. It seems like it could be setting up for a poor season by Luck that is once again written off as “not his fault” but five years into his career, Luck is 3-3 in the playoffs with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions in those games.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Newton is also recovering from offseason surgery, his on a rotator cuff. I suppose that’ll be a reason for some people to wash away the worst season of his career in 2016. Newton completed 52.9% of his passes, had a passer rating of 75.8, and posted career-lows in rushing yards and yards per carry. Even coming off of his MVP season of 2015 I would have had no problem saying that Wilson was the better quarterback. Cam Newton is a below-average passer, which is a pretty important trait for a passer. You can’t just get away with being a quarterback who is difficult to stop on the ground, you have to be able to be a viable threat when no ability to run the ball exists. Newton really isn’t a threat in that regard often enough, Wilson is one of the best passers in the league and also can run it quite well.

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

I give Dak more credit than most, and most seem to like him quite well by now. I don’t put as much stock into his offensive line as many do — of course it helps, but when you watch Dak play, the throws he makes, the decisions he makes like a 10-year vet, his athletic ability and arm strength, none of that has to do with his protection. In fact, Dallas ranked just 13th in adjusted sack rate per FootballOutsiders, which doesn’t mean they are flat-out 13th in pass protection or anything like that, but certainly the Cowboys thrived more in run blocking and weren’t the top team in the NFL at protecting the quarterback ... just ask Tony Romo and Cliff Avril.

However, Prescott is a on trajectory that could take him to becoming “the next Russell Wilson.” It also could not. Every quarterback, every player, needs to have their “prove it” season. Prescott hasn’t had his yet and Dallas has some interesting holes to fill on offense following the retirement of tackle Doug Free and losing guard Ronald Leary in free agency. I’m also consistently worried about running backs who could be getting over-worked in this era, and right now that spotlight is directly on Ezekiel Elliott after his 322 carries, 32 receptions, and 23 postseason touches. All of which is simply to say that if more pressure is applied to Dak, as it probably will be, how does he respond? We’ve seen how Wilson has responded over the last few years with little protection and losing his star running back — he did quite well — so what’s next for Dak? Then we can re-address in a couple years.

Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

Speaking of great offensive lines, the Raiders probably provided the best pass protection in the NFL last season, with Carr sacked just 16 times in 15 games. Carr has improved every year he’s been in the league, finishing last season with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions, ranking seventh in DYAR. But why is he only 16th in QBR? What is that measuring that it doesn’t like?

Well, one thing that I don’t like to see from a QB is a low Y/A. Carr’s was just 7.0 last season, which is below average. He also is not a threat at all to run the ball, carrying it 39 times for 70 yards. Being a dual-threat QB is not a necessity, but it is a trend, and it’s headed in that direction for a good reason. Carr’s deep passing has improved since Oakland added Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but overall I think he needs to get better on stretching the field and having some of the breakout games and stretches of games like Wilson has had. He’s still a level below him in the stats sheets and in moving the chains without a traditional number one receiver or offensive line.

The fact that the Raiders added Lynch to their backfield ... I guess it’s a step in the Wilson direction?

Philip Rivers, LA Chargers

The peak of Rivers’ career was 2008-2010, when he led the NFL in Y/A in all three seasons. Over the last three, his Y/A is 7.4 and he’s twice led the league in interceptions thrown. Rivers is 35 and probably still capable of being a top-10 quarterback for three or four more years, but this is near the end and after a decade-plus of not getting to the postseason or winning games when you do get there, it should be clear who the better QB is.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Wilson and Stafford are just about the same age, but Stafford entered the league three years earlier.

With an extra three years under his belt, Stafford is 0-3 in the playoffs. Wilson is 8-4.

Stafford has never led the NFL in any major statistical category other than attempts (twice) and completions (once). Wilson led the NFL in passer rating in 2015 and in yards per carry in 2014.

Stafford has a career TD% of 4.0 and INT% of 2.5. Wilson’s is 5.6 and 2.0. Stafford’s Y/A is 7.1, Wilson’s is 8.0. Stafford’s passer rating is 86.8, Wilson’s is 99.6.

I think there can sometimes be a bit of a desperation on the part of some people to paint the white, tall(ish), strong, top overall pick, pocket passer to be “The Quarterback Ideal” once he shows any semblance of competency for a full season or two. And to dismiss the non-white, non-tall, third rounder who does things outside of the pocket (and by the way is a great pocket passer too) as being a gimmick. Yet as good as Stafford is, as good as he was in the fourth quarter last season, there is zero evidence that he’s on Wilson’s level.

Let’s just make that clear, because for some reason I feel like I have to.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

In some ways, Ben is a proper early-career comp for Wilson. The early success on a team that had a great run defense and run game already. The high Y/A for a quarterback who could be eased in before becoming the centerpiece of the offense. Even the extremely high rate of getting sacked. However, I still don’t think early-career Roethlisberger is on the same level of Wilson, as Ben also suffered a much worse “down” season in year three (18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions), already had an extensive injury track record, and has the character red flags that you don’t want attached to your franchise player. To any player.

Wilson was better than what Ben was then, he’s certainly more ideal than what Ben is today.