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Russell Wilson isn’t in the MVP conversation, he is the MVP conversation

He has a chance to be top 5, not of the present, but of all time

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
any other year he’s top 1
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

There are many online schools of thought that put Russell Wilson in the top 5 of active quarterbacks. Pundits like to arrange their neat little QB tiers, making sure to mention Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady at the top, sometimes Aaron Rodgers too, then they get to guys like Wilson, usually sooner rather than later.

His fast start this season (12 TD, 0 INT, 126.6 passer rating) has caught the eye of many observers, his track record is strong, and his consistency is legendary. It’s hard to find a serious football writer who places Wilson outside the top 10 of active quarterbacks. He’s even getting some MVP buzz. We’ve arrived at a turning point in the Seattle Seahawks signalcaller’s career, when whatever disrespect was left is dissipating, and fast.

And so it’s not uncommon to find his name listed at the end of the top QB tier, especially these days. But there’s a major problem with that. He’s tearing up the NFL career leaderboard. Yes, the lists of all-time leaders. His name is all over it.

How can Wilson be merely a top 5 quarterback of the moment when he’s third in Y/A among post-merger quarterbacks. Yes, third, ever.

How can he be somewhere around fifth best right now when nobody in the modern era has thrown touchdowns more frequently than him? Nobody.

To give us all a picture of what Wilson has accomplished thus far, I’ve prepared an table that includes five rate stats, probably the five most important. What must a great quarterback do, and do well? Be explosive, score touchdowns, and take care of the rock. Go downfield decisively and get that ball into the end zone without giving it away. The more frequently, the better. Again: rate stats is what I’m using. Don’t expect to find passing yards — an empty stat if there ever was one.

Passer rating isn’t my favorite metric, far from it, but it carries a lot of weight with fans, so I included it. Yards/attempt made it too, because there’s a lot of difference between the dink-and-dunker who can get you about 6.5 Y/A (Sam Bradford, Derek Carr) and the deep ball thrower who can get you almost 8 (Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger). ANY/A incorporates sacks, so it’s good to have. And then the TD and INT percentages reflect how well a quarterback takes care of the football, regardless of how many times he throws it.

You should know. This table is gonna blow your mind.

Russell Wilson All Time

Category Career mark All-time rank Chasing?
Category Career mark All-time rank Chasing?
Passer rating 101.5 2 A. Rodgers
Interception % 1.8 3 (tie) Rodgers, D. Prescott
Touchdown % 6.1 1 (tie) Nobody
ANY/A 7.04 4 Rodgers, P. Manning, T. Brady
Yards/attempt 7.91 3 S. Young, K. Warner
Russell Wilson All Time

(Methodology note: we are talking about post-merger quarterbacks here. It isn’t the same game as the 1960s.)

When people speak in awe about the career of Aaron Rodgers, it’s because he spent the first part of this decade rewriting the record books of the modern NFL. There he is at the top of passer rating, interception percentage, touchdown percentage and ANY/A. He’s inescapable.

But as Rodgers has petered off the last couple years (TD percentage around 4, Y/A around 7, passer rating under 100), guess who’s taken the mantle? You don’t have to guess. It’s Russ. His peers now are Rodgers, Steve Young, Tom Brady, those guys.

Except — Wilson is usually ahead of everyone who isn’t Rodgers. Brady surpasses RW in only one category — ANY/A. Young races ahead in only one as well — Y/A. Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Dak Prescott manage to best Wilson once — but in every other category they trail him.

Let me rephrase, like a good preacher: Usually, in the individual stats that count the most, Russell Wilson is ahead of all-time great quarterbacks like Montana, Young, Manning and Brady. It’s uncommon to find him behind them. They’re chasing him, most of the time.

Additionally:

There’s a lot of time left for Wilson to find himself at the top of that list, too.

And we haven’t even gotten to Wilson’s ace in the hole — his mobility, the legs that allow him to escape pass rushers, convert important third downs, and save plays that had no business being saved.

Wilson’s 779 yards ahead of Rodgers on the ground, and a far more explosive runner than any of the surefire Hall of Famers whose careers just wound down or are about to. Say what you want about running backs and how much they matter; truth is, running quarterbacks matter in an age where defensive linemen overpower their counterparts on the offensive side more and more often.

The charts, the tweets, the fancy math, the stats, they’re all pretty. Yet they are not meant to present the case that Wilson is definitively a better quarterback than Brady, Brees or Marino. They are meant to provide missing context, a perspective that gets lost in a discussion about the all-time greats that begins with total yards and ends with Super Bowl rings.

And that context is: Wilson is doing things that very, very few men before him have done. It’s time to stop debating whether he’s a Tier 1 or Tier 2 quarterback of the present day, and begin debating whether he’s already done enough to be considered among the all-time great quarterbacks the sport has ever seen.