Last week, I began this series looking at every presumed starting QB (including some QB competitions) and detailing why each is worse than Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Part I had “The Dregs” of NFL starters which sounds rude but much like Springfield citizens and Krusty: “You just a-scum compared to Russell!” Now it’s time to look at the league’s “Middling” quarterbacks — the guys who have some really good qualities, but are generally limited in such ways that they haven’t been able to stand out and earn a consensus of respect.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t in the future, but Wilson simply started his ascent towards stardom in the middle of his first season, which in itself is too late for these guys.
Some of these players have Pro Bowls. Big contracts. Big games. Some of them even have Super Bowl rings. But none of them have transcended like Wilson; a QB who has the big contract, the Pro Bowl nods, the big games, and the championship ring, who would presumably be successful no matter where he went. Wilson has “middle of the road” games on his resume, but he is no middle of the road player.
These players are good, but are they great? Not as great as Wilson, and here is why:
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
In his wildest dreams, Taylor becomes as good of a quarterback as Wilson was as a rookie. Buffalo may be foolishly undervaluing him, as they are wont to do with most players, but he’s a few steps below Wilson as a passer and just as a general presence on the field; we saw flashes of what Taylor could be in his game against the Seahawks last season, however there are several key ingredients missing. He is not much of a deep passer, completing just 20-of-50 attempts to deep right last season, with only an average percentage of his passing yards coming before the catch. Taylor has just three game-winning drives in 29 starts, compared to 21 game-winning drives for Wilson in 80 starts. Taylor’s also not that much younger or cheaper than Wilson.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith is kind of like a more experienced Taylor, which makes him both a more reliable Taylor and an older, more expensive Taylor. He’s one of the most limited regular starting quarterbacks in the last 15 years — You’d be crazy to bench him but also to think he’ll ever lead you to a Super Bowl win. Smith may one day get himself a Brad Johnson-type championship ring, but that’s it. On the other hand, Wilson is the main reason why Seattle won the Super Bowl. That’s not a slight to Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, or even Pete Carroll, it’s just a simple truth that if Smith was the QB of the 2013 Seahawks, with that defense and all the trimmings, it would have been a much bigger challenge to run through the playoffs and defeat the Broncos.
And Wilson was a second-year player at that point, whereas Smith was drafted seven years earlier.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
I’d be comfortable saying that Wilson was even a better draft prospect than Wentz despite Wentz going second and Wilson going 75th. NFL talent evaluation is just weird sometimes and with hindsight, we can see that Wilson’s height is not preventing him from being an elite quarterback — Maybe one day hindsight will say that Wentz’s lack of division I experience and bland stats at North Dakota State didn’t matter, but his rookie season was way below what Wilson accomplished in year one. Whereas Wilson improved as his rookie year wore on, Wentz’s got progressively worse: Over his last 12 games, Wentz threw nine touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 5.88 Y/A, and had a rating of 72.3. Wentz could have a breakout 2017 season and prove to be a star in the making, which would make the next three years of his contract very desirable for Philly and perhaps making him more valuable than Wilson, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Where Tannehill exists now in the pantheon of quarterbacks is an interesting point of discussion. In his first season playing under Adam Gase, Tannehill posted a career-high 7.7 Y/A, 4.9 TD%, 67.1 completion%, and 93.5 passer rating. He did it on 30 attempts per game, which was considerably down from his previous rate of 37/game, as Jay Ajayi broke out for 1,272 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Previously, this has been a point of contention against Wilson: Not enough attempts, doesn’t take over the majority of the offensive production, outstanding production from a running back. However, there are myriad differences between Tannehill 2016 and say, Wilson 2014.
Wilson 2014 rushed for 849 yards and six touchdowns. Tannehill 2016 rushed for 164 yards and one touchdown.
Wilson 2014 had five game-winning drives. Tannehill had 2016 had three.
Wilson has never missed a game. Tannehill missed three games in 2016, four including the playoffs.
Wilson 2014 had an adjusted Y/A of 7.9. Tannehill 2016 had an AY/A of 7.3. So while they both had 7.7 Y/A, Wilson’s Y/A was lower than it actually should have been, while Tannehill’s was higher.
None of this takes into account the most significant fact of all between the two QBs: Wilson’s 2014 was maybe his third or fourth-best season? Tannehill’s 2016 was a career year. Wilson was 26 in 2014, Tannehill is 28. Tannehill may continue to improve under Gase, may even become a top-eight QB, but he is no Russell Wilson.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
The Seahawks could have franchised Wilson once or twice, but they didn’t have any qualms about whether or not he was a great quarterback worthy of a long-term deal. Washington can’t say the same. Most teams can’t say the same because back-to-back franchise tags for a QB is a little insane. Now we wait and see what Cousins can do with no DeSean Jackson, no Pierre Garcon, and no Sean McVay; Cousins struggled quite a bit when Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and now faces his biggest challenge yet. If he can continue to pass the ball effectively, win 11-13 regular season games, then win his first, second, and third playoff game, Cousins will definitely take a leap up in status — I just wouldn’t hold my breath on that.
He’s also costing way more than Wilson because of Washington’s lack of desire to commit at the long-term price he wants.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
The biggest concern now for the Bengals and Dalton is the departure of tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler. How will Dalton respond to additional pressure, and how much of that pressure will be relieved by the addition of speedy receiver John Ross? A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Ross, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and Joe Mixon is an interesting complement of weapons, but Dalton’s hitting some new territory next season with a deflated offensive line. He could ask Wilson’s for tips on that but I don’t think Dalton’s gonna be able to sprout new legs.
Additionally, Dalton’s career playoff stat line is one touchdown, six interceptions, 5.5 Y/A, and an 0-4 record. Wilson has won a playoff game in all five seasons he’s been a pro and thrown 20 postseason touchdowns.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
Wilson and Manning have identical 8-4 playoff records. Wilson has 8.3 Y/A in the postseason, compared to 7.0 for Manning. Manning also has had way better protection in the playoffs and has been playing for eight seasons longer than Wilson. That’s just some postseason stuff, but in the regular season Wilson has far and away proven to be the superior QB.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco’s best is Wilson’s worst. Flacco’s career-high passer rating is 93.6. Wilson’s worst is 92.6. Flacco’s career-high TD% is 5.1, which Wilson has topped three times in five seasons, including 7% in 2015. Flacco’s career-high Y/A is 7.4, compared to a career-low of 7.7 for Wilson.
In the playoffs, Flacco has a great 10-5 record, including an 11 TD/0 INT postseason during their 2012 Super Bowl championship run, but the Ravens have also missed the cut in three of the last four years. Surely a good chunk of blame has to go to an average-to-above-average QB that is being paid over $22 million/season.