Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is now in his fifth season. It really does feel like one of those moments where you realize that time is flying by quicker than you anticipated; days pass slowly, weeks pass steadily, NFL seasons pass in a heartbeat.
I think we can all remember Wilson’s rookie season. The first seven games were pretty rough and Matt Flynn was waiting in the wings, with many quick to pull the “this Pete Carroll experiment was a bad decision” trigger at any sight that Wilson was a rookie. As tough as it is to admit now, Wilson was not off to a better start than Dak Prescott or Carson Wentz are off to this season.
He had a passer rating of 79.5 in those first seven games and the Seahawks were 3-4.
But in game eight (though still a loss), he completed over 70% of his passes and had two touchdowns. In game nine he had three more touchdowns. He had six more touchdowns and no interceptions over the next three games. Over the final nine games of 2012, Wilson completed 67.9% of his throws, had 22 touchdowns (including runs), three interceptions, 8.66 Y/A, and a rating of 116.5.
Things could not have been better ... or so we thought.
Despite how great Wilson was as a rookie, it was hard to escape that feeling that many people felt it was a fluke. He was a third round pick, after all. He was too short. And as defenses adjusted to him, or as personnel changed around him, as the Seattle defense got weaker over the next few seasons and was no longer able to carry him, Wilson would be exposed as a fraud. Few analysts were willing to support that Wilson wasn’t just going to be good for a few games, or a few seasons, but that he displayed literally every attribute that teams look for in a franchise quarterback.
Because Wilson doesn’t get worse based on changes and adjustments, he gets better.
How would defenses adjust to him? He’s putting new wrinkles in his game all the time. Remember how they used to say that he couldn’t be successful if he didn’t have the threat of being able to run the ball? Wilson is perhaps one of the worst running quarterbacks in the NFL this season because of injuries to both of his legs. Yet over the last two games, Wilson’s been one of the best passing quarterbacks in the league despite not being able to run.
How would Wilson adjust to personnel changes? The 2012 team had Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Leon Washington, Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, Ben Obomanu, Braylon Edwards, Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy, Russell Okung, Max Unger, Paul McQuistan, Breno Giacomini, and James Carpenter. Baldwin is still around. None of the others are. No Lynch, no Tate, no Rice, no Okung, no Carp, no Miller, no Unger ... Is the personnel better? Baldwin is better. Jimmy Graham is better than any of those tight ends. But there’s no Lynch. And the offensive line is much worse, at least at the tackle spots, maybe even on the interior. But not a single change has seemed to make Wilson worse. He just changes how he plays, he exploits every strength, avoids every weakness. It’s no different than the ways that Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees have changed their play throughout their careers — it’s the only way that you can remain successful as the only mainstay of offenses that will rotate players around you constantly. That’s the only reason we even have the term “Franchise Quarterback.”
And how would Wilson be able to carry the Seahawks defense? Seattle is 1-12 when giving up 27 or more points under Carroll and Wilson. So how could he possibly be carrying any defense with a record like that? I think we can all agree that the Seahawks defense is still great, as it is currently ranked first in DVOA and has only allowed two “non-garbage” touchdowns in four games. But how much pressure is taken off a defense when you go up 37-3? Or when you surrender a late first half TD to the Jets to cut the lead to 14-10, then the offense comes out for three scoring drives in the second? Wilson and the defense are Yin and Yang. It’s not like Yang is carrying Yin or vice versa. And it’s not like vice is carrying versa. You need both. Without both, Seattle loses in Week 1 to the Miami Dolphins, 10-6. Without both, the Seahawks are maybe 1-3.
So, five years ago, I didn’t know what type of player Russell Wilson was going to be by now. I had a very good idea that he would be very good, but of course he would have to be different. That’s the nature of the position. I also thought he’d probably be passing it a lot more, and he has. Wilson has hit a new career-high in pass attempts in every successive season and he’s on pace to do that again. He’s doing that for a number of variables:
- He can’t run as much ... Physically, he can’t do it right now. When he’s healthy, he probably will run a bit more.
- He’s a more trustworthy passer than Christine Michael is a trustworthy runner. Because of the injury to Thomas Rawls, Carroll had to change his gameplan a little bit. With a healthy Rawls and Michael, Seattle runs the ball more, I think. There is no player like Marshawn Lynch and without him, things of course had to be different. Wilson is being asked to throw more and yet he’s only thrown one interception. So I think he’s been tasked with a heavier passing workload and stepped up to the challenge.
- Graham and Baldwin are arguably the best receiving duo in the NFL right now. If you’ve got those two players, get them the ball.
- He has little choice but to get rid of the ball.
Russell Wilson time to throw (snap to release):— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) October 12, 2016
Getting rid of ball much quicker
There is five years worth of adjustments based on personnel changes, physical changes, offensive and defensive scheme changes, and more. Wilson, playing behind this offensive line, working with new skill players, has had to go from throwing it in 3.37 seconds as a rookie to 2.54 seconds in year five. That’s incredible. The fact that he has a career-low 0.8% interception percentage is incomprehensible. Wilson’s ability to act instantly within the moment and still gain 8.0 yards per attempt, first down after first down, is something only reserved for “Franchise Quarterbacks.” Look around the NFL at some players who are decidedly not “Franchise Quarterbacks” but playing on a contract for one anyway.
Joe Flacco. Ryan Tannehill. Colin Kaepernick (was). Andy Dalton. Jay Cutler.
Are these guys good with or without the players surrounding them at any given time? The offensive line, the skill players, the defenses? Can they go to a different team and still make it work? Can they replace literally every single player on offense except for one and get better? How many actually could? (I’m leaving Andrew Luck and Cam Newton out of this ... for now.)
There are truly fewer than ten of those QBs in the NFL. Maybe there are five or six. Wilson is absolutely one of them. Five seasons ago, we knew Wilson would soon be different — What many didn’t know was that nearly the whole team around him would be different and despite that, Wilson would be better. And faster.
Just not faster in the way we expected.