John Elway, was a great player, but his eye for quarterback talent hasn’t exactly translated for the Denver Broncos, since he took the gig. Perhaps I’m being too hard on him, considering Elway did win a Super Bowl with the little juice (*wink*) that Peyton Manning had left. In fairness, if you win one Super Bowl, your tenure should be considered a success. But the fact remains, Elway’s QB selections have been spotty, at best. So…can we trust Russell Wilson this year?
How Did We Get Here?
The Russell Wilson era didn’t have to begin this year. It could’ve started 10 years ago. Elway’s evaluation of Wilson started back in 2012 (and likely earlier), when Elway decided to sign Peyton Manning, and draft a young QB to eventually take over the reins. He could’ve drafted Russell Wilson but didn’t want to assume the risk. Coming into the draft, Wilson ran a 4.55 40-yard dash (96th percentile in his class), had a 93.9 QBR (98th percentile), and threw for 10.3 yards per attempt (96th percentile), while having success at both NC State and Wisconsin. On the negative side, Wilson was on the older side of NFL prospects, and standing at only 5’11,” he didn’t fit the prototypical QB stature that gives front offices the comps they can bet their career on.
Instead, the Broncos went with Brock Osweiler in the 2nd round. Standing at 6’7,” he managed to wow front offices with his rocket arm. In college, he threw for 7.8 yards per attempt (39th percentile in his class), and his QBR was 70.2 (37th percentile in his class). Osweiler didn’t have nearly the same success that Wilson had on the field in college. With Osweiler’s elite size and strength, the Broncos imagined they could put NFL talent around him, and watch his tools flourish consistently. We only saw glimpses of that potential in college. The Broncos thought Osweiler had a higher ceiling, so they took a chance on him. Wilson slipped to the third round, and the rest is history. Maybe Osweiler did have a higher ceiling, and we never got a chance to see it materialize. Careers are funny that way. But the fact of the matter is, Osweiler didn’t last in the league, and Wilson is a Super Bowl Champion and future Hall of Famer. After his time in Seattle, Wilson was ready for a change of scenery and was traded to Denver for three players; two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks, and an additional late-round pick.
What About This Year?
Now that we have the backstory, let’s get into what we can expect from Russell Wilson this year. After 10 years in the league, my immediate question is: Is Russell Wilson on the decline? I think that answer is, unequivocally, yes. For starters, he played 16 games every year of his career, except for last season when he played 14 of 17 games. Wilson suffered a tendon rupture (mallet finger), a dislocation, and two fractures. Dr. Steve Shin performed surgery on Wilson’s finger the next day on what he called, “the most severe injury (he’s) ever seen to the throwing hand of an NFL quarterback.” The procedure included the insertion of a metal pin. Maybe you could consider that a one-off. Bad luck. One serious injury in a 10-year career is hardly something to worry about. But what happens if/when he injures that hand again? Is it something that’s easy to come back from? Judging by Wilson’s performance after the injury, my answer would be no.
This brings me to Wilson’s statistical performance. The eye test can lie to you. Numbers can lie to you also, but at least we all see the same numbers. Last year, Wilson had the lowest completion percentage (64.8%) since his 2017 season. He had his lowest passing yardage since his rookie season. To add insult to injury, he had his lowest passing yards per game since 2018. 18.6% of his passes were bad throws, which is the highest amount of his career since the stat was introduced in 2018. Wilson also had the fewest first downs passing ever in his career, coupled with his lowest QBR ever in his career. Lastly, Wilson had zero 4th quarter comebacks, which was also the lowest of his career, and only 1 game winning drive. Which…you guessed it….is the lowest amount of his career. The Seattle defense was depleted, but Wilson still had excellent weapons on offense in D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and a solid running back room. Without the “legion of boom” to make Seattle a complete team, it’s understandable for the Seahawks to have had a sub -.500 record. The offense performing poorly, however, was not expected. Wilson’s poor play deserves plenty of that blame.
I don’t expect to see a resurgence of a Super Bowl caliber Russell Wilson this year. Outside of what I believe to be the downside of his career, I also think Wilson’s performance with new coordinators is another reason why you should be wary of drafting the vet. From his rookie year through 2017, Wilson played for Darrell Bevell. In 2018, he had a new coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer. That year, Wilson had his lowest passing yards since his 2014 season and the fewest passing attempts since his 2013 season. He also had the highest sack percentage of his entire career, which leads me to believe his processing time was slower, with everything new he (and the rest of the team) had to learn.
*If I’m being completely objective, Wilson also had what was a then career-high in TD passes in 2018, but I’m trying to make a point here.
Wilson wouldn’t get a new offensive coordinator again until 2021, which we’ve already highlighted was one of (if not THE) worst season of his career. The injury is part of the blame, but we weren’t seeing peak Russell Wilson before his injury either.
This year Wilson is the consensus QB9 in standard fantasy leagues. That’s ahead of Dak Prescott, Matt Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, and Derek Carr. With what I saw from Wilson last year, the fact he has a new team, a new coordinator, and the threat of further injury to his throwing hand…I think the QB9 price tag is too high. We can’t trust Russell Wilson in fantasy football this year.
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