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How Russell Wilson builds a culture of trust with his receivers

Wilson’s relationship with his receivers is the embodiment of teamwork.

Russell Wilson has been the perfect fit for the Seattle Seahawks and head coach Pete Carroll. They’re both driven by a team-first mentality, an extraordinary no-quit attitude, and an abundance of optimism.

With 27 career game-winning comeback drives, Wilson will also go down as one of the greatest leaders in Seahawks franchise history. He’s been unwavering in his leadership of the team as a whole, but has also shown himself to be an adept, intentional leader on an individual level.

Wilson has, for most of his career, pursued genuine friendships with several of his top pass catchers. Plenty of quarterbacks have done individual work with their receivers over the years; this is nothing new. However, Wilson has put in the effort to become lifelong friends with several of his teammates, which has produced great stories on and off the field.

The goal-line monster: Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham had a short three-year stint with the Seahawks, and some fans still wonder if it was a worthwhile trade to bring him to Seattle. However, the fact remains that in 2017 Russell Wilson to Jimmy Graham was the best red zone threat in the NFL. He had more targets and receptions within 20 yards of the end zone than anyone else in the league. By Week 13, Graham had 10 touchdowns; the best in the NFL at the time. All of those came in the red zone. He received 12 of the team’s 17 passes from within the five-yard line, another league high.

Those numbers came in the third and final year of Graham being tied to Wilson. Before things came to fruition in 2017, Wilson put in significant work with Graham, both football and relational. Wilson often talked about the extra time spent throwing exclusively to Graham, but apparently the two hit it off immediately. Even to this day, Wilson maintains that Jimmy Graham “has been one of my best friends ever since I met him.”

Two years later, Jimmy Graham was in the very exclusive Wilson-Ciara wedding.

The type of pass that Graham eventually dominated in 2017 is indicative of an athlete who has elite trust in another athlete. The highly contested throws that Wilson made to Graham require a fine tuning of timing and ability to predict where the receiver will be.

Mr. Reliable: Tyler Lockett

This time it took four years for friendship to bring about in-season dominance, as Tyler Lockett was drafted in 2015. With Doug Baldwin sidelined by injuries, Lockett finally emerged as a true contender to be a No. 1 receiver in 2018, when Wilson recorded a perfect passer rating when targeting him. Wilson’s 158.3 rating when throwing to Lockett meant that the two had extraordinary efficiency in yards per catch, touchdowns, completion percentage, and interceptions.

Much of Lockett’s success that season came from his uncanny ability to find open space the moment a play breaks down. Lockett absolutely torched teams while seeming to run to the exact spot Wilson needed him under pressure, over and over. Unlike the connection with Jimmy Graham, this time it had more to do with Lockett predicting Wilson’s moves than the reverse.

The most well known of these plays is the ridiculous corner toe tap against the Los Angeles Rams, the most challenging example of what these two do best.

The two share a lot in common, which undoubtedly helped foster a strong friendship. They both played college ball in the Midwest. They’re both on the short side, by NFL standards. They have a shared faith that has been especially meaningful as teammates.

One of the great benchmarks of friendship is when mocking takes place free and easy. Last year, Lockett recruited teammate D.J. Fluker to help reenact Wilson’s contract announcement video. In an age where multiple skill position players have demanded trades from their teams due to organizational or locker room discontent, it’s encouraging that Seahawks players by and large have so much fun together.

The new superstar: DK Metcalf

Metcalf is the most recent receiver that Wilson has gone after, and it’s already paying massive dividends. The sophomore receiver quickly amassed half the yards and touchdowns of his impressive rookie season, and he did it in five games. Then in Week 8 of the 2020 season, he threw down career-high numbers, going for 161 yards on 12 receptions with two TDs against the San Francisco 49ers.

Metcalf is only 22 and in his second year as a pro, so one can imagine seven years ago he watched Russell Wilson win a Super Bowl and do ridiculous things with a football. Now, they’re teammates and Wilson has the respect of the locker room, the city, and most of the league, if not the media. It seems to be getting easier for Wilson to build that special connection that brings the best out of his teammates.

It’s inspiring how quickly these two seem to have become fast friends. Wilson targeted Metcalf early, and calls him his “little brother”. They spent the early part of this offseason in Mexico working out, where Wilson taught Metcalf how to swim. Their trust on the field is a direct result of their friendship off the field. Last month, we were all treated to a behind-the-scenes look as Metcalf personally brought Wilson his Madden 99 Club award at his home.

Russell Wilson is a perfectionist, and is among the most driven to win in the NFL. But his innate leadership has come out in the way that he intentionally mixes business with pleasure, building close bonds that only increase his game day advantage.