By John Boyle Herald Columnist
Remember back in August when the debate was whether or not Russell Wilson should be the Seahawks’ starting quarterback? Or when, four games into the season, there were serious questions about whether or not Wilson should keep his job?
Now, the biggest debate surrounding Wilson is whether he belongs in the same conversation as the top two picks in April’s draft, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
Actually, Wilson is in the conversation. He has been for a couple of days as various forms of media around the country have dissected the impressive comeback victories those three led their teams to over the weekend.
Luck led the surprising Colts to another win by throwing the game-winning touchdown on the final play of the game. Griffin, or RG3 as he is known to most of the football world, kept Washington in the playoff hunt with his fourth-quarter touchdown pass against the Giants. Wilson, in his most impressive showing to date, led the Seahawks on a 97-yard scoring drive in the final minutes in Chicago against a very good Bears defense. Then when that wasn’t enough, Wilson led an 80-yard scoring drive in overtime for a victory.
Now, three quarters of the way through the season, it’s hard to look at the numbers — and at what the Seahawks have accomplished as a team — and not put Wilson in the same class as Griffin and Luck. That’s not to say that Wilson will have as good a career as those two. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t, but trying to project the career arc of any NFL player, let alone a quarterback, after 12 games is a fool’s errand if ever there was one. But Wilson’s 19 touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions, his 95.2 passer rating, his continually improving play and also the Seahawks’ 7-5 record mean that Wilson, and not just Luck and Griffin, is firmly a part of what used to be a two-man battle for offensive rookie of the year honors.
Wilson has put himself in the same class as the top two picks in his draft class not just because he is talented, and not just because he is incredibly good at fixing a problem when presented with a challenge — most notably Seattle’s early-season struggles on third down and in the red zone — but also because the Seahawks are giving Wilson more freedom to operate. Wilson attempted a season-high 37 passes in Chicago, and the more he succeeds, the more he puts up numbers while taking care of the ball — a must in Pete Carroll’s world — the more chances Wilson will get to prove what he can do as Seattle chases a playoff berth during the regular season’s final four games.
“There’s nothing to hold us back in terms of what we can do and ask the quarterback to do with the system and all of that now,” Carroll said. “He can really handle the package, and we’re trying to benefit from that.”
At his current pace, Wilson has a good chance at breaking Peyton Manning’s rookie record of 26 touchdown passes, a mark Manning set while throwing 28 interceptions. And Wilson hasn’t just been a good quarterback by rookie standards, he’s been a good quarterback, period. If not for Griffin, who has been incredibly efficient while being a dynamic playmaker at the same time, and for Luck, who is putting up impressive numbers while being asked to carry an offense — something Wilson and Griffin haven’t had to do — Wilson’s season would be looked at as one of the best by a rookie quarterback in league history.
ESPN NFC West blogger Mike Sando put together an interesting chart comparing Luck to Wilson against seven common opponents: Chicago, Minnesota, Green Bay, Miami, New England, Detroit and the New York Jets. In those games, Luck has thrown for significantly more yards (2,333 to 1,537), but Wilson was markedly better when it came to touchdown to interception ratio (16 TDs and 1 INT for Wilson, 13 and 12 for Luck), completion percentage (64.7 to 54.1), and passer rating (115.6 to 74.9).
Not only has Wilson been impressive compared to other rookies, he is also, as crazy at it sounds, having one of the best seasons by a quarterback in Seahawks history. As it stands now, Wilson’s quarterback rating of 95.2 only has been bettered once in team history; Matt Hasselbeck’s 2005 season that saw him post a rating of 98.2.
If Wilson throws nine more touchdowns, hardly a reach given the way he has played during the past two months, he would match Hasselbeck’s 2007 season for the second-most touchdown passes in a year behind Dave Krieg, who had 32 in 1984. Again, Wilson has a long, long ways to go before his career can be compared to those of Krieg and especially Hasselbeck, who went to three Pro Bowls and led the Seahawks to their only Super Bowl appearance, but Wilson’s numbers certainly put him in some pretty good company.
Not only is Wilson putting up impressive stats, he’s shown time and time again an ability to thrive in tense, late-game situations, and he’s getting better as the games become more significant with each passing week.
“That’s really struck me that he has a tremendous level of awareness and poise,” Carroll said. “That’s surprising that anybody could be like that, not just a rookie or a young guy in first shot, playing in Chicago and all of that. He just continues to be impressive in all of those ways.”
Not bad for a supposedly too-short quarterback who was drafted in the third round, five picks after the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted a punter. Sorry, that needs to be repeated. By all early indications, the Seahawks found what appears to be their long-term answer at quarterback and found him five picks after the Jags took a punter. A punter!
Wilson very well might not win any postseason hardware — Luck has helped turn a two-win team into a likely playoff team, and Griffin’s dynamic playmaking skills make him easy to love. But the fact that Wilson is even in the conversation a few months removed from winning the job, and a couple of months removed from having a healthy portion of Seattle’s fan base wishing he didn’t have the job, shows just how impressive a run Wilson has been on recently, particularly in the last month when he has thrown nine touchdowns with no interceptions, leading the Seahawks to a 3-1 record.
Whoever you like in this rookie quarterback debate, Wilson has undoubtedly earned the right to be a part of it.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.