In today’s world, the distance between being labeled overrated, over-hyped, underrated and under-appreciated is short. An “in the moment,” emoji-driven social media age has us moving faster than Russell Wilson in a collapsing pocket. The Seahawks’ 28 year-old starting quarterback has been, at one point or another, many things over the course of his 5-year NFL career. I myself am not a fan of labels. You can call Wilson whatever you’d like, so long as you’re well-versed with the depth of his impressive resume. Fan or foe, my guess is, you’re not.
What we do know: Wilson is an accurate, efficient winner, whose teams boast a 56-23-1 record since 2012. He’s won a Super Bowl and lost another, and will probably always be remembered for an interception at the end of the latter. At this point, I’m not so sure people know where to rank Wilson, or how to feel about his career to date. He’s lasted longer than Robert Griffin III and he’s stayed healthier and better than Andrew Luck, his “rookie rivals” in 2012, though that isn’t saying much. He’s good -- good enough anyway to rank 24th on the NFL Top 100 and 139th on the MMQB 400 (hello to Joe Flacco at #136).
If you’ve clicked this article primed to chime in with the same recycled narratives, don’t bother, they’re already listed below for you.
“Wilson is carried by his defense.”
“Wilson rode the coattails of Marshawn Lynch—no rings since!”
“Wilson’s efficiency is the direct result of fewer passing attempts.”
“Wilson cost the Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX—throwing the ball to Malcolm Butler.”
Yes, Wilson’s defense has helped the Seahawks win games and yes, Wilson was worse without Marshawn Lynch pushing forward the rush offense last season. Sidenote: Welcome to Oakland Beast Mode. Derek Carr and his 18th ranked YPA average say hello.
Wilson was also an injured mess in 2016. Who needs a healthy ankle (see: injury), knee (see: injury) or pectoral muscle (see: injury)? Wilson dropped all the way down to sixth place in Yards Per Attempt—ranking ahead of Ben Roethlisberger (12th), Aaron Rodgers (T-13th), Matthew Stafford (T-13th), Derek Carr (18th) and, believe it or not, Joe Flacco (27th) too.
Few quarterback-statistics correlate with winning as much as passing YPA, as Football Outsiders’ writer Scott Kacsmar explained in a recent article: “YPA is a stat that has always correlated well with winning. In 2016, the team who won the YPA battle won over 70% of all NFL games.”
Before I go any further, if someone asked you to name the top two quarterbacks in the NFL today, based on perception, who would they be? Let’s say Wilson won’t make the cut for many, so lets compare his career YPA rankings to those two quarterbacks, right in the thick of their GOAT-ness.
I study quarterbacks of all generations, it’s what I do. Hundreds of hours of film, nine decades of players, and more numbers than you can imagine. I’ve developed a metric called QBS2, which incorporates a quarterback’s league-ranking in passer rating, DVOA from Football Outsiders, and Total QBR from ESPN. No metric is perfect and neither is QBS2. What it gives us is a starting point that levels the playing field by providing no advantage to quarterbacks playing in any era. Wilson’s 92.6 passer rating ranked 14th in 2016—it would have ranked 3rd in 1996.
See: QBS2 Formula
I’ve graded every passing season, of every qualified quarterback since 1937 — Sammy Baugh’s rookie year. Amongst quarterbacks with a minimum of five qualified seasons played in the NFL (excluding AFL quarterbacks: Len Dawson and Daryle Lamonica), Russell Wilson ranks 12th all-time. I’m told that the #12 has some significance in Seattle.
I’ve created a table ranking all Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks by their career QBS2 average. For discussion’s sake, I’ve included future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees, plus possible future Hall of Famers Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning. Finally, I also included Wilson and Luck.
What does that tell us? Wilson is sandwiched between Manning, Brady, Norm Van Brocklin and Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton and Dan Marino. That’s pretty elite company. Has the collective talent of his offensive support (offensive line, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends) been more impressive than the units supporting those quarterbacks? Food for thought.
Only 1/3 of a player’s QBS2, in seasons since 2006 when Total QBR begins, accounts for their contributions on the ground. Wilson has rushed for 2,689 yards and 13 touchdowns since his rookie season. That counts for something too.
I’d be beating a dead horse to state that Wilson’s career has gotten off to a strong start. But perception of his ascension has dipped, has it not? It’s funny how much 1-yard can impact a quarterback’s legacy forever.
Whether you say it’s a bad play-call, overlooked #21 making a break on the pass, or plain ugly luck, it’s heart-wrenching.
*Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor playing injured = excuse.
*Brady’s shift from awful to dominant performance following Cliff Avril's injury = excuse.
*Jeremy Lane injury, please see above = excuse
*Coaching decision not to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch = excuse
Brady with Avril on field: 15-23 passing, 106 yds, 0 TD, 2 INT, 24.8 QBR. No Avril: 22-27, 214 yds, 4 TD, 0 INT, 97.7 QBR. Coincidence?— Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@SandoESPN) February 4, 2015
Russell Wilson is no Tom Brady. Goal line situation, championship game on the line, the great ones just don’t throw interceptions.
Probably the same place it was for Tom Brady on the 2 yard line in the next year's AFC Championship. All the GOATs do it. pic.twitter.com/CFqdUADm9v— Sam HawkBadger (@hwkbgr) July 25, 2017
Many forget, or never knew in the first place, that Wilson finished Super Bowl XLIX with a higher passer rating than Brady, and nearly double the YPA. Those aren’t losing numbers, and still, the interception is all that will be talked about.
How about both stats and final scores?
Wilson is 2-1 vs. the Patriots, or, undefeated when his defense isn’t ravished with injury. Following Super Bowl XLIX, I was a proponent of a simple theory: The Seahawks had to sustain serious injuries to multiple, difference-making players for New England to even have a chance of winning.
“Injuries are part of the game, they happen to every team!” -Idiot
When asked “What do you think Brady could have done vs. a healthy Seattle defense?”, my answer was always: Put on tape from the October 14th, 2012.
Then, we got to see the rematch, only this time, on Brady’s home turf, with the NFL’s No. 1 ranked scoring defense playing for the opposition. Brady played 15 games in 2016, including the postseason, and he won 14 of them.
Playing sore, in Foxboro, facing a defense that surrendered the fewest points in professional football, Wilson carved up the eventual Super Bowl champions, dropping 348 passing yards, 3 touchdown passes and 31 points on a team that allowed an average of 14 PPG in their other nine home games.
On the other side of the ball, a Seahawks defense that was no longer ravished by injury, held Brady to zero touchdown passes.
Who is Russell Wilson?
A quarterback with a higher QBS2 rating than 22 Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
A quarterback whose 7.98 YPA average ranks 1st amongst all qualified quarterbacks (min. 500 attempts), since 2012, higher than Peyton Manning (2nd—7.89), Drew Brees (4th—7.74), Aaron Rodgers (8th—7.65), Tom Brady (12th—7.44), Andrew Luck (20th—7.20) and yes, even Joe Flacco (37th—6.76).
Rank him wherever you’d like. At this point, I don’t think Wilson really cares. His resume does the talking: On the field, in the record books, against whatever defense you throw at him.
At the end of the day, you can’t argue with Wilson being a Top-139 player.
Tremendous thanks to:
Pro Football Reference: Play Index Tools
Football Outsiders: DVOA
ESPN: Total QBR
This research would not be possible without the incredible resources provided by some of the most brilliant minds in the field.