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Completion percentage and analytics should help Russell Wilson in MVP race

Seahawks beat Chiefs 38-31 John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

With five games played in the Seattle Seahawks’ 2019 season, Russell Wilson is projected to have a career-best year that makes him a strong MVP candidate. What may stop the quarterback winning the highest single season honor is Patrick Mahomes.

Playing in a juggernaut Andy Reid offense on the Kansas City Chiefs, Mahomes is able to put up gaudier numbers in an attack that passes more often and features more dynamic weapons. After five games, the 24-year-old has 1831 yards and 11 passing touchdowns at 9.4 yards per attempt and a 65.6% completion percentage. He’s thrown zero picks. (Wilson has 1409 passing yards)

The Sunday Night Football defeat may well be a “come down” moment for Mahomes. With his offense only scoring 13 points and Mahomes only throwing one touchdown, the quarterback was stepped on by his own offensive lineman and looked noticeably hampered after that incident. The game might be the first bit of real NFL adversity that Mahomes has faced. Yet, despite lacking his typical succeeding “doing the wrong things” post-incident, Mahomes’ narrative still benefited. The broadcast booth and the twitter timeline was full of “no-one else can make that throw” takes.

MVP voters may well just look at quarterback wins, total yards and touchdowns. By the end of 2019, assuming Mahomes finds a way to cope with his ankle, we can expect him to finish with mega stats. Some voters may study Touchdown:Interception ratio and Yards Per Attempt too.

But digging into deeper analytics is a worthwhile exercise. The twitter account @ChiefsAnalytics posted some interesting data last Saturday that explains Mahomes has so far regressed in one part of his game.

The full thread is thoroughly worth checking out, but most intriguingly Chiefs Analytics’ work found that Mahomes is struggling to complete passes that are thrown around 15 yards downfield. In fact; throwing from 10 to 24 yards, Mahomes is below the league average completion percentage. It’s only well after 25 yards where Mahomes truly separates from the pack, his play-extension ability and wild arm talent being massive helps. (Note that these figures are from pre-Sunday Night Football)

Below illustrates the regression (so far) from 2018:

With Tyreek Hill injured for Kansas City, a larger sample size is needed for Mahomes. But this data sure is interesting. Nathan Ernst of Hawk Blogger posted Russell Wilson's curve for comparison’s sake. Wilson, passing less often than Mahomes (31 attempts a game versus 39 attempts a game), is benefited by a greater chance for efficiency. But still.

While Wilson experiences a similar drop off to Mahomes, dipping below league average from 12 to 18 yards, his incredible figures way above league average are a big argument for him being the league’s best in 2019. His overall completion percentage of 73.1% is godly considering he’s hitting 9 yards per attempt.

For Wilson, it’s a sign of how well he is playing in Brian Schottenheimer’s attack. The passer has clearly become an NFL veteran in the work he does at the line of scrimmage and is flashing instant processing speed and quicker time to throw figures. Facing Mahomes in the MVP race and playing in an offense that throws less, completion percentage and curves is one area that Wilson can show the nation he is the best. He’s doing this so far.

This is regardless of how Mahomes’ play-extension ability being nerfed impacts his performance levels. The chief challenger for the MVP crown has had back-to-back wobbly games, but even with his offense misfiring against the Detroit Lions the quarterback still managed to come out with a W and 34 points.

Yes, we need a higher sample size and a full season of data. But context is everything. Let’s hope MVP voters don’t discount completion percentage and analytics like this when picking the Most Valuable Player of 2019.