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ESPN offers fascinating projections for how Seahawks quarterbacks will perform this season

NFL: Seattle Seahawks Minicamp Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

As part of an article that was both fascinating and specious, ESPN projected the quarterback performances for all 272 regular season games for the upcoming season and, in so doing, unearthed some interesting insights into Seattle’s quarterback situation. To be clear, they are faux insights crafted by ESPN fantasy football guru, Mike Clay, but I don’t think that makes them any less interesting.

Insight #1: Geno Smith and Russell Wilson are more alike than we thought.

ESPN’s Week 1 “Can’t Miss Matchup” is, of course, Denver at Seattle, Broncos vs. Seahawks, Russell Wilson vs. his former backup, with epic bragging rights on the line (for Geno).

In their words:

You thought we’d highlight a different game here? Russell Wilson’s first season in Denver starts with a return to the city he brought a Super Bowl title to in 2013. Geno Smith will be starting for the the Seahawks after winning the QB battle against Drew Lock — who was also included in the megatrade that landed Wilson with the Broncos. This one will be fun.

That’s not the interesting part though.

This is:

  • Completions & Attempts: Wilson, 21 of 33 (64%) | Geno, 22 of 35 (63%)
  • Passing Yards: Wilson, 251 | Geno, 250
  • Touchdowns & INTs: Wilson, 2 TDs + 1 INT | Geno, 1 of each
  • Passer Rating: Wilson, 98.4 | Geno 86.1

The article doesn’t actually predict who wins or loses the game, but if the stats are that close then maybe the Seahawks have a chance to give Wilson his first L as a Bronco.

Insight #2: Geno Smith is going to average just shy of 250 passing yards per game.

Color me surprised by this one.

Geno’s career average is 153.7 yards per game. In a recent article, I suggested that it might be considered a career year if Geno averaged roughly 165 yards a game (2,800 yards over 17 games).

Here are the passing yards that Mike Clay projects for Geno Smith over the first 10 games of the season: Week 1 = 250; Week 2 = 246; Week 3 = 236; Week 4 = 251; Week 5 = 249; Week 6 = 248; Week 7 = 261; Week 8 = 234; Week 9 = 254; Week 10 = 256.

That would give Geno 2,485 passing yards heading into Seattle’s Week 11 bye.

That’s an average of 248.5 per game.

Insight #3: Geno Smith will set a career high for touchdown passes ... before the bye.

Admittedly, this is a low bar to clear.

Geno threw 13 touchdown passes in 2014. That is, to this point, his career high.

Mike Clay projects that Geno will throw at least 1 touchdown in every game, and that he will throw 2 touchdowns against the Detroit Lions (Week 4), the Arizona Cardinals (Week 6), the New York Giants (Week 8), and the Cardinals again (Week 9).

That would give him 14 touchdowns.

A new career high.

Insight #4: Seattle will bench Geno Smith during the bye and roll with Drew Lock through the final 7 games.

This, to me, seems downright cruel.

But it also makes an awful lot of sense IF the goal is to evaluate both quarterbacks this year to see if either of them is a candidate to lead the team forward after this year.

It would also make sense if the Seahawks are well under .500 after 10 games.

Insight #5: Geno Smith and Drew Lock are freaking clones.

I honestly don’t know what other conclusion to draw based on the following data points:

  • Yards per game: Geno, 248.5 | Lock, 249.3
  • Touchdowns per game: Geno, 1.40 | Lock, 1.43

Heck, even their average expected passer rating is pretty close: Geno, 88.2 | Drew, 84.8

Insight #6: Overall, Seattle should get a decent season from the quarterback position.

As noted earlier, Mike Clay is projecting 2,485 passing yards for Geno Smith. He’s projecting 1,745 for Drew Lock. Add that up and you get a total projection of 4,230 passing yards for Seattle QBs.

For what it’s worth, Russell Wilson’s career high is 4,219.

Speaking of which ...

Insight #7: Mike Clay doesn’t think Russell Wilson is that much better than the Lock-Smith combination that Seattle is rolling with this season.

If you go through the article and add up all of Russell Wilson’s projected yards, he lands at 4,327 which is only 97 more yards than the 4,230 that Mike Clay projects for Seattle’s QBs. That’s a difference of only 2.3% or about 5.7 yards per game.

Granted, yards aren’t the only thing that Mike Clay is projecting.

There’s also passer rating, and the projected passer rating for Seattle’s QBs only ventures above 87.6 on 2 occasions - Week 4 (98.8) and Week 8 (88.0) - whereas Wilson’s projected passer rating never dips any lower than 96.2.

Mike Clay also projects that Russell Wilson will throw 10 more touchdown passes than the Lock-Smith combo. In fact, Mike Clay’s projection is that Russ will prove to be eerily robotic, throwing 2 touchdowns in each and every one of Denver’s 17 games.

But still, when all is said and done, Mike Clay only projects 10 TDs + 97 passing yards as the difference between Russell Wilson and Seattle’s Lock-Smith combo this season.

That’s the sort of thing that could make 12s glad that Seattle didn’t spend $250M on an extension for RW3.

Insight #8: Seattle’s QBs may actually hold their own against the opposition.

These are the games where Mike Clay projects a Seattle quarterback will outperform the opposing quarterback - in passing yards, touchdowns, and/or passer rating:

  • Week 2, at the San Francisco 49ers
    246 passing yards for Geno Smith vs. 210 for Trey Lance - but Lance tops Geno on TDs (2 to 1) and passer rating (102.4 to 85.9).
  • Week 3, vs. the Atlanta Falcons
    236 yards + a passer rating of 87.5 for Geno Smith vs. 232 yards + a passer rating of 86.1 for Marcus Mariota.
  • Week 4, at the Detroit Lions
    251 passing yards + a passer rating of 98.8 for Geno Smith vs. 231 yards + a passer rating of 95.9 for Jared Goff.
  • Week 5, at the New Orleans Saints
    249 passing yards for Geno Smith vs. 222 for Jameis Winston - the Saints’ QB tops Geno on touchdowns (2 to 1) and passer rating (96.5 to 87.0).
  • Week 7, at the Los Angeles Chargers
    Geno Smith tops Justin Herbert on yards (261 vs. 256) but gets smoked on touchdowns (3 to 1) and passer rating (99.1 vs. 87.6).
  • Week 8, vs. the New York Giants
    Geno edges Daniel Jones on passer rating (88.0 to 86.8) but loses on yards (245 vs. 234) while playing to a draw on TDs (2 apiece).
  • Week 9, at the Arizona Cardinals
    254 passing yards for Geno Smith vs. 246 for Kyler Murray; 2 TDs each; Murray is 11.2 points better on the passer rating.
  • Week 14, vs. the Carolina Panthers
    Lock throws 2 touchdowns while Mayfield only throws 1 but Mayfield edges Lock on passer rating by 0.1 and yards by 13.
  • Week 15, vs. the Niners
    Lock proves that Geno topping Trey Lance wasn’t a fluke (Lock 243, Lance 214), but Lance returns the favor by doubling up Lock on TDs (2 to 1) and besting him on passer rating (91.6 to 83.6).
  • Week 17, vs. the New York Jets
    Lock nearly sweeps Zach Wilson - 243 to 239 on yards + 85.4 to 81.6 on passer rating - but both QBs toss 2 TDs.

The takeaway here is that Mike Clay is projecting that Seattle QBs will sorta hold their own in 10 out of 17 games. Which, honestly, is more than I thought it would be when I started typing up that list.

Week 1 (vs. the Denver Broncos), Week 6 (vs. the Arizona Cardinals), Week 10 (vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Germany), Week 12 (vs. the Las Vegas Raiders), Week 13 (vs. the Los Angeles Rams, in L.A.), Week 14 vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, in K.C.), and Week 18’s rematch with the Rams (in Seattle) ... those are the games where Seattle’s QB is projected to do no better than a tie in any of the 3 categories (yards, TDs, or passer rating).

Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray (once), Tom Brady, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford (twice), and Patrick Mahomes ...

No complaints or objections. That actually seems fairly reasonable to me.

Insight #9: Cleveland’s current quarterback situation is worse than Seattle’s.

The lowest projected yardage total that I saw while skimming through all of the numbers for all 272 games was Jacoby Brissett’s 201 yards in Week 3.

Of course, that’s sort of to be expected.

In Week 1, Brissett is projected to have 208 yards. In Week 2, he increases that to 209. Week 4 it’s 207.

In Week 5, Brissett’s production is projected to spike ... all the way up to 221. He falls back to earth with 209 in Week 6 then spikes up again (to 219) in Week 7 and stays at that elevated height with 220 in Week 8.

It doesn’t last though. After Cleveland’s Week 9 bye, Brissett is projected to have 212 yards in Week 10. He’s projected to follow that with 214 yards in Week 11 and then throws for 216 yards in Week 12.

Brissett is thus projected to end his run as Cleveland’s starting quarterback, after 11 games, with 2,336 yards - a robust average of 212.4 yards per game.

In Watson’s first game, post-suspension, Mike Clay projects that he’ll throw for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. It doesn’t really improve much from there though as Clay’s projections have Watson finishing the season with an average of 231.8 yards per game.

Which is considerably lower than the 248.5 that Geno Smith is projected to average and the 249.3 that Drew Lock is.

Considering the contract that DeShaun Watson signed, I’m guessing the Cleveland Browns expected more.

Insight #10: Don’t expect a lot of shootouts.

Only twice in the 272 regular season games during the 2022 season does Mike Clay project that a quarterback will hit the 300-yard mark - Tom Brady in Week 4 and Patrick Mahomes in Week 11.

Brady’s projection? 301.

Mahomes’ projection? 300 on the dot.

Final Thought: The ESPN projections are fun, but they’re also utter nonsense.

Thank the football gods that the real games start on Thursday.

Go Hawks!

Oh, and Go Bills! (on Thursday night vs. the Rams)