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Russell Wilson vs. The Field

Or, "In which neither DeSean Jackson nor the Draft are mentioned."

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We've often heard how good Russell Wilson's first two years have been, relative to other great quarterbacks. Here's a mix of statistics (team-related, traditional, and advanced) to prove it.

There is no time for jokes. I have prepared a veritable avalanche of Russell Wilson numbers with which to pulverize your senses.

If you're not excited about that prospect, you can still turn around. Just act quickly.

Avalanche, go.


(Defined as superior starting QB's who entered the league in 2010, 2011 or 2012)

Name W-L, % Team point diff. Losses by 8+ Playoff W-L QB rating TD-INT, ratio ANY/A AV
Russell Wilson 24-8, .750 353 0 4-1, 1SB 100.6 52-19, 2.74 7.05 32
Colin Kaepernick 17-6, .739 172 3 4-2 93.9 31-11, 2.82 6.96 24
Andrew Luck 22-10, .688 25 8 1-2 81.5 46-27, 1.70 5.85 28
Andy Dalton 19-13, .594 92 3 0-2 83.9 47-29, 1.62 5.67 24
Ryan Tannehill 15-17, .469 -47 8 0-0 79.1 36-30, 1.20 5.10 20
Cam Newton 13-19, .406 -29 7 0-0 85.3 40-29, 1.38 6.44 35

Bold italics are there to denote the leader. After each table, I'll rank the participants, with as little subjectivity as possible, then provide some notes.

(EDIT: But first I'll interrupt it for Bob Griffin's stat line, which I omitted for whatever bad reason, like brain malfunction. His lousy second year really makes his career look like it's trending in the wrong direction, but two data points, yada yada yada. He remains somewhat of an enigma.)

Name W-L, % Team point diff. Losses by 8+ Playoff W-L QB rating TD-INT, ratio ANY/A AV
Robert Griffin III 12-16, .429 -96 8 0-1 91.5 36-17, 2.12 6.40 28

1. Wilson

2. Kaepernick

3. Griffin

4. (tie) Luck, Newton

6. Dalton right on their heels


7. Tannehill


As you see, today's charts will be using a cross section of stats that includes team performance, traditional measures, and advanced statistics. That's intentional. For those of you who like to measure a quarterback by his leadership, the wins are for you. For those of you who like the raw numbers of QB rating and TDs and INTs, there's that too -- along with the fancier Adjust Net Yards / Attempt and pro-football-reference's Approximate Value.

  • That being said, it's a shame that Wilson excels at all three.
  • Kaepernick can really protect the football when he's not playing the Seattle Seahawks. What's interesting to see side by side is how similar the rival quarterbacks' numbers are, but how much more productive the Seattle offense is -- Wilson's Hawks have scored 829 points the past two years, as opposed to Kaep's Niners and their 590. Hence the large disparity in point differential. Well, that and Wilson 88, Kaep 35 in head-to-head meetings.
  • Kaepernick also had the benefit of sitting behind Alex Smith and learning the Niners' system for all of 2011. He won't be the last one in today's story to benefit from a free year or two.
  • Luck and Newton's numbers are quite similar, which is why I placed them in a tie. What Newton gave up in team wins, he more than made up for in AV. (AV is pro-football-reference's Approximate Value stat. In their words, it is an "attempt to attach a single number to every player-season since 1950." It is an intriguing metric, flawed by imprecision and judgment, but fun to handle.)
  • Dalton's pretty good at everything except winning playoff games -- the question is, does anyone outside of Cincinnati care?
  • All these guys have more TD's than interceptions after two years of data. Spoiler: that will not necessarily hold true in the next two tables. The new blue bloods also don't miss games.
  • Ryan Tannehill is the fifth-best QB that fits the group's requirements and he is not in the same class -- yet -- as the four others. He is included because if you had to place all the 2011-2012 draftees into tiers, it would look a little somethin' like this:

Tier 1: Wilson, Kaepernick, Griffin, Luck, Newton, Dalton

Tier 2: Tannehill

Tier 3: Everybody else

Tier 4: Blaine Gabbert

Although "Blaine Gabbert" might be your safe word, it most certainly is not mine. The avalanche resumes.


(Defined as elite quarterbacks who have not bothered to retire yet because they foolishly believe they can still win a ring but haha)

Name W-L, % Team point diff. Losses by 8+ Playoff W-L QB rating TD-INT, ratio ANY/A AV
Russell Wilson 24-8, .750 353 0 4-1, 1SB 100.6 52-19, 2.74 7.05 32
Tom Brady 20-10, .667 134 7 3-0, 1SB 86.0 46-26, 1.77 5.48 25
Drew Brees 17-15, .531 82 10 1-1 92.5 54-29, 1.86 6.78 29
Peyton Manning 16-16, .500 -44 7 0-1 80.6 52-43, 1.21 5.92 29
Philip Rivers 25-7, .781 317 3 2-2 87.2 43-24, 1.79 6.20 31
Aaron Rodgers 17-15, .531 203 5 0-1 98.5 58-20, 2.90 7.46 34
Ben Roethlisberger 22-3, .880 252 1 5-1, 1SB 98.3 34-20, 1.70 7.22 22
Tony Romo 19-7, .731 205 5 0-2 :-p 96.5 55-32, 1.72 7.18 29
Matt Ryan 20-10, .667 110 6 0-1 84.3 38-25, 1.52 6.30 24

Ranking time.

1. (tie) Wilson, Roethlisberger

3. Rodgers


4. Brady

5. Rivers

6. Romo

7. Brees

8. Ryan

9. Manning


  • A person could include Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, and Matt Stafford on this list, if he or she wished to include slightly inferior quarterbacks. I did not want to do that. But knock yourself out.
  • There's a reason people compare Wilson to Roethlisberger all the time, and it's not just because of their matching squeaky-clean images. Both men won Super Bowls within two years by following the same script: a) get picked by the right franchise, b) protect the football, c) make enough explosive plays to win on a team built around suffuckating defense.
  • It was shocking to see Ben's AV so low, with the rest of the stats so good-looking, but the 34 touchdowns help explain that, along with his 553 total pass attempts, lowest among the nine.
  • Aaron Rodgers! 58 TD's against only 20 picks! 98.5 rating! Highest ANY/A! Why isn't he first? Oh, he sat behind Brett Farvrere for three complete seasons. He got dinged for that.
  • I also fudged the computation for Brees. I flat-out ignored his Charger years and plugged in his first two seasons with the Saints instead. It's almost like he was reborn in New Orleans. Who doesn't want a fresh start? And I wanted to make Wilson sweat a little. Didn't work, though -- yet another attempt to stack the field against Wilson was unsuccessful. I cut Kaepernick some slack in the first section, then was generous here to Brees, Rodgers, Brady (sat out 2000), Rivers (sat two years), and Romo (also the backup for two). And still, the 5-10 5/8 guy, the one who didn't even get a full first preseason, the one who got tossed in the toughest defensive division in football from the get-go, that one guy came out on top.
  • Wilson's emergence is more striking if you glance up at the table above and realize that Peyton Manning wasn't anything special until the end of his second year. Manning is the low man on this totem pole, and it's not even close. He's the only one with a .500 record and a negative point differential; his rating and TD-INT ratio are the worst. Proving: even the greatest QB's take time to develop. What if Wilson is about to take another step forward?
  • Early Tom Brady is a poor man's Russell Wilson. About 80-85 percent as good across the board. Good show Tom.
  • Also, Brady and Dalton are eerily similar in all aspects excepting playoff performance.
  • Look at all those ratings in the 90s.
  • 25 quick wins and two more in the playoffs for Rivers once he ascended to the starting role. Is he a cautionary tale, given his 2009-2012 playoff win drought, or no? Look at his pro-football-reference player page and tell me if you'd take those rate stats for Wilson? Also, tell me if Rivers is on track to be a Hall of Famer. (Yes is the right answer to all three questions.)

All right. Let's see how Wilson stacks up against the stiffest competition.


(defined as all the HOF QB's who retired in the last 20 years, plus Brett Favre and Kurt Warner)

Name W-L, % Team point diff. Losses by 8+ Playoff W-L QB rating TD-INT, ratio ANY/A AV
Russell Wilson 24-8, .750 353 0 4-1 100.6 52-19, 2.74 7.05 32
Troy Aikman 7-19, .269 -253 10 0-0 62.0 20-36, 0.56 3.55 9
John Elway 16-8, .667 87 2 0-1 67.9 25-29, 0.86 4.58 14
Brett Favre 17-12, .586 38 8 1-1 79.2 37-37, 1.00 5.79 25
Jim Kelly 10-18, .357 -96 8 0-0 83.5 41-28. 1.46 5.55 21
Dan Marino 21-4, .840 354 4 2-2 104.4 68-23, 2.96 8.40 31
Joe Montana 15-8, .652 12 4 3-0 88.2 34-21, 1.62 5.99 18
Warren Moon 7-23, .233 -325 16 (!) 0-0 73.1 27-33, 0.82 4.74 18
Kurt Warner 21-6, .778 353 3 3-1 104.7 62-31, 2.00 8.17 34
Steve Young 3-16, .158 -387 12 0-0 63.3 11-21, 0.52 3.49 13


1. Marino

2. Warner

3. Wilson

4. Montana

5. Favre

6. Kelly

7. Elway


8. Moon

9. (tie) Aikman, Young


  • At last, someone gets the best of Wilson. Two someones! But there's a catch: I'm giving a pass to Warner for his time in NFL Eurowhatever, and his year of backing up, in addition to including him on this list of Hall of Famers. If you want to make a case that Warner misbelongs here, I'll listen. But no matter what, you can't leapfrog Wilson past Marino. Those numbers...
  • Fun to see the point differentials bunch up for the top three: Marino 354, Warner 353, Wilson 353.
  • Ordinarily, I would say that comparing QB's from today to those from a generation ago is less than useful. Except there's Marino, destroying the curve in 1983-84, and there's Warner doing the same 15 years later, setting the table for Wilson to do it again 15 years after him. Guys come along every so often and set new bars for early achievement. It's a thing.
  • Not to put too fine a point on it, but Warren Moon sucked with a vengeance upon finally landing an NFL gig. I can't imagine what the naysayers were saying after Moon's Oilers lost their first 10 games by eight or more points. Yes, all 10 games. And consider that on four early occasions, he threw for less than 100 yards. It's a credit to him and his coaches -- and to the virtue of patience in general -- that his career eventually took off as it did. Considering the circumstances.
  • Aikman and Young started slow but were on historically terrible teams; Elway and Kelly turned their respective teams around by the end of their second seasons. They forgot to hoist Lombardis as sophomores, but they did okay for themselves in the long run.
  • Sorry about those Tampa Bay years, Steve. (He doesn't pass Wilson if we take his Niner years instead, FYI.)
  • If you'd care for a Jim Kelly story that will have you respecting him more than before, this was published last night on the MMQB. (Warning: lots of religion.)
  • It appears that even for Hall of Fame quarterbacks, a fast start is not to be expected. This could be its own post sometime, but it would be easy to find QB's from 2013 with a couple years of mediocre stats and match them up alongside Young or Aikman or Moon or even Elway. Let's do that, in fact, for one guy who gets a lot of grief -- Christian Ponder.
Name W-L, % Team point diff. Losses by 8+ Playoff W-L QB rating TD-INT, ratio ANY/A AV
Christian Ponder 12-14, .462 -78 8 0-0 77.1 31-25 4.71 16

Turns out Ponder slots nicely right between Kelly and Elway. Sure!


Your insights in the comments are even more welcome than usual. I could easily write a hundred bullet points for each of the tables, but Danny probably frowns on 45,000-word posts. So please contribute something that catches your inner nerd's eye.

I'd interpret Wilson's early results with caution. It's awfully dangeruss to look too far ahead. However... all statistical signs signs point toward Wilson's career trajectory looking something like JoeDanBen Montarinoberger. If you'll recall, those three guys collectively went 6-2 in Super Bowls, collected three career MVP awards, and two of them are already in the Hall of Fame. So no pressure, Russ.