BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 09/04/2014

Elite match: Aaron Rodgers vs. Russell Wilson

Many still insist Russell Wilson isn’t an elite quarterback, but his two-year numbers stack up favorably against those at similar points in their NFL careers.

No NFL quarterback now considered “elite” did better than Russell Wilson did during his first two seasons in the league. / Drew McKenzie, Sportpress Northwest

Still suspicious of his size, uncomfortable that he is not a classic pocket passer, many pundits who chronicle the National Football League remain reluctant to make space for Russell Wilson in the pantheon of the game’s elite quarterbacks. Typical of the apprehension to elevate Wilson was a recent story posted on CBSSports.com that observed, “the race to put Wilson among the league’s best has gone way too fast.”

The story went on to say, “As you know by now, I like my quarterbacks sitting in the pocket, making reads, and going through progressions, which is why I am hesitant to rush Wilson up any list of the best. Wilson did some of that last season as the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, but he didn’t do enough of it to vault him into the league’s top 10 quarterbacks in my mind.”

No one in Seattle, where Wilson enjoys icon status, is going to buy Pete Prisco, author of the post, a drink. Even NFL players disagree with Prisco’s assessment. Every year, NFL.com asks players to rank the best in the game, regardless of position, from one through 100. This year, Wilson came in at No. 20 and fifth among quarterbacks behind Peyton Manning (No. 1 overall), Tom Brady (3), Drew Brees (6) and Aaron Rodgers (11).

Further down the list: Cam Newton (24), Andrew Luck (30), Ben Roethlisberger (31), Joe Flacco (58), Nick Foles (70), Tony Romo (71), Colin Kaepernick (81) and Matt Stafford (100). Not on the list: Eli Manning, possessor of two Super Bowl rings; five-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers; and Robert Griffin III, whose injuries last year probably, although not entirely, factored in his exclusion.

It’s hard to take issue with Manning at No. 1, but Rodgers at No. 4 (among quarterbacks) is a bit of a dis. Among Super Bowl-era quarterbacks, Rodgers, who faces off against Wilson in the season opener Thursday night at the Clink, ranks No. 1 in passer rating (104.9 to Manning’s 97.2), yards per pass attempt (8.2), touchdown percentage (6.4) and interception percentage (1.8).

In other words, no modern-era quarterback has thrown a higher percentage of his passes for touchdowns than Rodgers, who also has had the fewest percentage of his passes picked off. That’s a tough combination to beat.

Wilson hasn’t spent enough time in the NFL to qualify for inclusion on career leaderboards. But his numbers stack up favorably when compared to those produced by Rodgers, Manning, Brady, Brees and Luck in their first two seasons in the league, as the following shows (for Rodgers and Brady, the numbers are their first two full seasons):

Category Rodgers Manning Brady Brees Luck Wilson
Games Started 32 32 31 27 32 32
Passer Rating 98.5 80.5 86.6 73.1 81.5 100.6
Completion Pct. 64.1 60.8 62.8 59.5 57.0 63.6
Yards Per Attempt 7.9 7.1 6.6 6.1 6.8 8.1
Yards Per Comp. 12.2 12.1 10.4 10.2 12.0 12.7
Touchdown Pct. 5.4 4.8 4.5 3.1 3.8 6.5
Interception Pct. 1.8 3.8 2.6 3.1 2.3 2.4
Sacked-Yards Lost 84-537 36-225 72-406 45-358 73-473 77-475
Sack Percentage 7.2 3.1 6.9 5.0 5.7 8.8
4Q Comebacks 3 7 6 2 8 8
GW Drives 4 8 8 5 11 10

Wilson is 1-0 head-to-head vs. Rodgers, 1-0 vs. Manning, 1-0 vs. Brady, 2-0 vs. Brees and 6-0 overall against quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl, his other victory coming last year against Eli Manning. Not too shabby for a so-called “game manager,” a dismissal frequently applied to Wilson.

“Russell Wilson: Standing Tall” is available wherever books are sold in the Puget Sound area, and amazon.com.

Note that Wilson has a higher passer rating after two years than any of the quarterbacks listed had after their first two. His yards per attempt (8.1) and yards per completion (12.7), two of the key stats for measuring quarterbacks, also heads the list. And look at that touchdown percentage (6.5). It’s a full point better than Rodgers posted (5.4) after two seasons in the league.

Wilson has accumulated his numbers despite playing behind a leaky offensive line that allowed 77 sacks over the past two seasons. If Wilson isn’t yet a classic pocket passer, it’s largely because, to this point in his career, he has had little choice but to bust out of it in order to make plays. And he makes them.

Last year, Wilson completed 48.3 percent of his passes (27-for-60) that traveled  20 or more yards, a tick ahead of Manning’s 48.2, for the best mark in the league. Brees completed 40.7, Brady 39.4 and Luck 36.7 (Rodgers didn’t qualify due to injuries). And the thing was, no other quarterback in the NFL weathered the pressure that Wilson did. He was hassled, hurried and hit on a league-high 43.8 percent of his dropbacks.

Luck was pressured on 37.5 percent of his dropbacks, Brady on 32.6 percent, Brees on 29.8 percent, and Manning a league-low 22.7 percent. Manning’s quick release and the Broncos short passing game kept him upright and healthy, although it proved vulnerable in February.

If Wilson isn’t yet an elite quarterback, he is certainly growing into one, which is why Art Thiel and I wrote a book about it: “Russell Wilson: Standing Tall.” Order a copy here.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    I’m so tired of the “a quarterback must stand tall in the pocket to be counted among the best” argument. It’s right there with the “a DH isn’t a real position in baseball” argument. Richard Sherman once said in the Seahawks schemes you won’t see anyone get huge, record setting individual numbers because they emphasize team play so much. One only has to look at Dave Kreig’s numbers where his best year statistically was the season Curt Warner was hurt. If DangeRuss ever had some Peyton Manning-like numbers that would indicate problems with the offense.

    His accuracy is almost surgical. His ability to create something out of nothing is unmatched. And his leadership has only just begun. When all is said and done he’ll rank high among Seattle’s all time greats in Seattle sports history.

    • steverudman

      Hard to find any pro athlete who had a greater impact in his first two years than Wilson has had, including Griffey.

    • Jim Q

      There is a significant aspect of RW’s overall abilities that many are overlooking. Leadership!

      I have admired and supported RW since before he was drafted and I have watched every game he’s played as a Seahawk. I have also read and watched most, if not all of his interviews and articles written about him. His game is much more than just his excellent and outstanding football skills. IIRC, Warren Moon once said that the QB position is more than 50% mental. IMO RW is already “elite” mentally and will only improve his on field accomplishments which will have to be conceded as “elite” after his 2-nd super bowl win (this year) based on his body of work in only his first three years.

      When he became a Seahawk, a vast majority of local fans (and probably most of his teammates) thought that he should not be a starting QB but he has obviously slowly won them all over ever since his first pre-season appearance. It is my opinion that the team prior to RW’s starting at QB was one with little confidence, below average work ethic and were just their to get paid. PC/JS realized that they needed a real leader, thus JS’s remark about “tilting the field” and the drafting of RW as their leader and franchise QB.

      I have some questions:

      Has anyone, anywhere ever heard a negative comment from RW? A frown or look of disgust, anger or dismay? Has he ever shown negative body language or actions (hanging his head, towel over his head, yelling at coaches/teammates/refs., etc)? Has he ever said anything even close to negative about his teammates or coaches or even players from other teams? Has he ever failed to give credit and name specific players and coaches with positive comments, time after time? Does anyone think his work ethic has not rubbed off on his teammates? Does anyone think he has not influenced his teammates to strive for greatness? Has anyone noticed how increasingly during games RW is always pushing his teammates to excel and strive to be great on each and every play? Has anyone, anywhere ever heard RW make an excuse (or whine, cry, etc) about anything football related? I could go on and on with these questions, but do y’all get the idea I’m trying to make? This is leadership!

      My contention is that RW has brought so many gifts to the Seahawks beyond just his excellent play. Perhaps the biggest one of all is *confidence*. The team lacked it pre RW, but now look what the team has done in just RW’s first two years. The future of the Seahawks is yet to unfold but based on just those first two years, RW is very much well on his way to the so called “elite” status nationally. Game manager = bull crap. Too short = bull crap. Only good because of his defense and running game = bull crap. Go Hawks!

  • poulsbogary

    Hopefully, sales of Steve’s and Art’s book won’t plummet, but I have seen the comparisons of Wilson to Trent Dilfer. They both won a superbowl, but they didn’t do much. There may be some validity there.

    • Joe Fan

      Oh please, Dilfer is not in the same class as Wilson.

      • poulsbogary

        They both have won a superbowl, in blowouts, thanks to defense.

        • 12thmanly

          While it may be true that they both won super bowls and had help from great defenses, Dilfer comes no where close to Wilson’s numbers in his first 2 years as shown above

  • Big

    If the OL does it’s job it will be just another day at the office.

  • RadioGuy

    First of all, regarding comments that Wilson has been more of a game manager than playmaker, I would agree…to a point.

    I do think that “game manager” was fairly accurate for Russ’ first year in Seattle because Carroll and Bevell understood that while they had an exceptional talent and leader on their hand, he was still a ROOKIE starter at the most important position on the field. The idea was to base everything around the running game while augmenting it with shorter passing routes to minimize turnovers. Once it became apparent that Wilson is the team leader and can handle the pressure, they opened things up in the passing game because the man CAN make plays.