By John Boyle Herald Columnist
Whether it’s over beers at our favorite pub, at a game or over the internet, we love a good sports debate, don’t we?
That’s especially true when a given sport is in its offseason, as the NFL is right now.
With organized team activities and minicamps finished and training camp still a few weeks away, this is truly the quiet time for the most popular sport in the country. But it is exactly that popularity that necessitates that media outlets big and small continue to talk about the NFL, even when there really isn’t much to talk about.
This is why the NFL Network is currently counting down the NFL’s top 100 players, and why ESPN just put out a ranking of all 32 starting quarterbacks in the league. And it’s why I am now about to dive into a debate that really doesn’t mean much of anything once the games start in September. Besides, on the day we celebrate our nation’s independence, what says “America” more than arguing over things that really aren’t that important?
When the NFL Network released its rankings for players 11 through 20 on Wednesday, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson came in 20th, and was also ranked ahead of all but four quarterbacks in the NFL: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. That’s awfully heady company for a former third-round pick who is only two years into his professional career. However, it’s also a fairly reasonable ranking for a two-time Pro Bowl player who has helped the Seahawks to a combined 24-8 regular-season record, a 4-1 postseason record and most importantly, a Super Bowl championship.
But if you’re going to rank anything in sports, you’re bound to unearth dissenting opinions, and that has been the case with Wilson. NFL.com — yes the website connected to the very network that put out the rankings — asked several experts if Wilson was indeed a top-5 quarterback (let’s debate our own content!). The opinion of all of them was that he is not, not yet at least.
Former general manager Charlie Casserly made the most waves, saying he would take at least 12 quarterbacks ahead of Wilson including Nick Foles, who has less than a full season under his belt, and interception-prone passers like Eli Manning and Tony Romo. Casserly, of course, also once used the No. 1 overall pick on David Carr, so perhaps his quarterback evaluation skills are somewhat lacking.
To be fair, that 2002 draft was pretty awful when it came to quarterbacks — the other two first-rounders were Joey Harrington and Patrick Ramsey — but Casserly still deemed Carr worthy of the top pick. Whatever you think of Casserly’s opinion, the fact that one ranking can put Wilson fifth and another places him 13th (or worse) shows just how silly this exercise of ranking players can really be.
Should Wilson be in the conversation as one of the league’s top quarterbacks? Absolutely. Does it really matter to the Seahawks’ chances of having a successful 2014 season if people agree on his place in the pecking order? Of course not.
For the most part, the entire football world can agree that the top four, in some order, are Brady, Manning, Brees and Rodgers, but it’s beyond that where things get a bit muddled.
Is Wilson definitively the fifth-best quarterback in the NFL? Hardly. But are 12 or more quarterbacks better than Wilson? No way. The rankings change significantly if you change the question from “best right now” to “who would you take to build a franchise?” In that debate, players like Brady and Manning drop because of their age, and the likes of Andrew Luck and Wilson rank at or near the top.
What hurts Wilson in these type of debates has less to do with him — though some are bound to still be hung up on his height — and a lot more to do with his team.
Wilson doesn’t put up gaudy numbers because the Seahawks don’t want him to. Pete Carroll has said time and time again that the Seahawks believe Wilson could throw for more yards and more touchdowns if they wanted him to. He’s shown it at times, most notably late in his rookie season in Chicago, then again in leading playoff comebacks in Washington and Atlanta. But as long as Carroll is in charge in Seattle, Plan A will be to have a balanced offense and a dominant defense, and when those things are clicking, Wilson won’t throw for 350 yards and four touchdowns per game.
Personally, I’d say Wilson is in the conversation to be in the top five, but I’m not comfortable putting him there for the same reason a lot of other people shouldn’t look at Wilson’s numbers and assume he’s not in that elite company.
To understand how good Wilson is and how important he is to the Seahawks, you have to see him play week-in and week-out and understand that his value isn’t just in his ability to torch the New Orleans defense when the Saints committed to stopping Lynch. His value also is in the way he survived playing behind a decimated offensive line and the way he made the necessary play or two it took for Seattle to win ugly games in St. Louis and Houston last season.
You also need to get a sense for the way Wilson’s leadership and maniacal work ethic have rubbed off on the team over the past two seasons. And just as a lot of national media can’t appreciate everything Wilson does because they don’t see him every week, I don’t know every NFL quarterback well enough to definitely say that Philip Rivers is better than Ben Roethlisberger, or vice versa.
Of course, none of this likely means a thing to Wilson. If it did, he could pretty much just yell “scoreboard” and kiss his Super Bowl ring (guessing we won’t see that happen, though it’d be pretty darn funny if he did). So for now, since there’s not much else happening in football — though there are pretty compelling baseball and soccer teams playing in Seattle right now — we can spend our July arguing over things that really don’t matter.
The debate won’t end anytime soon, because arguing is part of what makes sports fun, and besides, until teams report to training camp, what else is a football fan, or the NFL network, suppose to do?
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.