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Russell Wilson is consistently elite, per new ESPN ranking

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Russell Wilson continues to win big at niche stats this offseason. He’s represented the Seattle Seahawks quite well in 2020, this time appearing near the top of three QB rankings from ESPN. He also massively distanced himself from an NFC West rival.

First up, fittingly, is Most Valuable Player. But this isn’t another discussion on why Wilson’s never received a vote, it’s a much more interesting comparison of the quarterback to the rest of his team, using comparative value.

Russell Wilson finished ninth, nothing stellar at first glance but still impressive considering how bad some of the other teams are. Since it’s comparative value to the rest of the team, Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Derek Carr ranked ahead of Wilson. Their teams all ranked in the bottom-five for EPA.

Put the team on my back

Here’s ESPN’s breakdown of Wilson for Comparative Value:

Wilson has been so exceptional for enough years that his level of play might have become less notable for football fans. If his perennial 2.0% or better interception rate fails to impress you, consider that he has played that mistake free football behind an offensive line that has finished in the bottom three in offensive pressure rate every year that Sports Info Solutions has charted it (2015-19). Last year, he suffered the most sacks in football (48) and still threw only five interceptions. And once again, he dragged a Seahawks team with middling defensive (2.6% DVOA, 18th) and special teams (minus-1.0%, 20th) to 11 wins and a playoff berth.

Meanwhile, San Francisco 49ersJimmy Garoppolo was the league’s second least-valuable quarterback. He was good for 70.5 EPA, nearly 28 points less than his Super Bowl teammates.

Of particular note on the Niners side of things: “The 49ers’ receivers averaged 6.9 and 6.6 yards after the catch the past two seasons, both top-four rates among teams from the past decade.”

You and Deebo Samuel can keep your yards after catch, we don’t need them if DK Metcalf is already in the endzone.

Precisely what I’m talking about

Wilson then came in fifth for accuracy. ESPN used the metric completion percentage over expected. He finished with a 4.9% CPOE, behind only Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, and very obviously Ryan Tannehill, because of math.

Passing in Seattle is hard. Wilson had a plus-1.6% CPOE playing at home in 2019, and a plus-8.9% CPOE when on the road. That’s an extreme example of the split, but Wilson has had a better road CPOE in five of the past six seasons; Seattle’s frequently rainy conditions make it a difficult place to play. Opposing quarterbacks have a minus-1.8% CPOE in Seattle since 2006, making Wilson’s sustained success in the Pacific Northwest all the more impressive. There’s room for improvement, too; Wilson had a minus-0.8% CPOE when targeting DK Metcalf, which might go up as Metcalf continues to develop.

It is interesting about the home differential, and playing nearly 4% above opponents in Seattle is pretty cool considering I heard they only let him throw for a quarter of the game.

Garoppolo was not on the list.

The best offense is a good deep ball

Finally, Wilson is the third most aggressive quarterback in the NFL, which feels consistent with his character. They’re using a metric called ALEX which stands for air yards less expected. It’s the difference between the pass depth thrown and the yardage needed to the sticks for a new first down. Therefore, big numbers mean throwing the ball past the yellow line on your TV and negative numbers mean consistently passing short of the first down marker.

Regarding Wilson, with a +3.7 ALEX:

One great thing about running the ball on first and second down is it makes it hard to run a bunch of routes that don’t go past the sticks on third down. Seventy-two of Wilson’s 152 third-down throws were on third-and-5 or shorter. Tyler Lockett had a 102.4% DVOA on 25 Wilson third-down targets, and that was a down year for the pairing after 2018’s 168.7%. Wilson has always been an aggressive thrower, but that has been dialed up way more since being put into Brian Schottenheimer’s offense in 2018 — his career high in ALEX prior to that was plus-2.2 in 2015. Combine this with his plus-2.8 in 2018, and we have a marked trend of Wilson throwing deeper and deeper.

Some well-earned shade thrown at the Seahawks in regards to the early run plays. Following that, was a strange way to state that 80 of Russell Wilson’s third down throws were over 3rd-and-5.

This (A) sucks for the offense and (B) is astounding that Wilson’s average is almost four yards beyond what’s needed on 3rd-and-5, with a quarter of those going to Lockett.

Meanwhile, Garoppolo found himself in the bottom ten once again. He was the sixth least aggressive QB last year, at -0.1 ALEX, which is very bad. On third down, one’s average pass should not be a distance that achieves one’s team...a 4th down. A couple of the more entertaining remarks here:

Garoppolo’s third-down pass DVOA was 12.7% last year. On first down, it was 21.7%. Defenses really seemed to pick up on George Kittle as the season wore on — Kittle converted 15 of his first 21 third-down pass targets for first downs or touchdowns. From Week 12 on, Garoppolo completed just four of 14 third-down targets to Kittle for first downs or touchdowns.

Garoppolo to anyone on third down was nine times worse than Wilson to Lockett.

Neither Jared Goff nor Kyler Murray made any of the lists whatsoever, meaning they finished between 11-21 in all three categories.

It’s a good day to celebrate Russell Wilson. It’s a bad day to try and defend keeping the ball out of Wilson’s hands.