The Seattle Seahawks’ resurgence began with the hiring of Pete Carroll in January of 2010, but it wasn’t until Russell Wilson was added in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft that Seattle became a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Wilson’s rare combination of athleticism and arm talent make him a nightmare to defend. He might not be the best pure passer in the league, but he is also far from a one-dimensional running QB. Scrambling quarterbacks have had success in the NFL, but it's frequently short-lived. Wilson’s balanced skill set makes him more difficult to game-plan against, and less susceptible to injuries.
Simply put, he belongs in the conversation with the best signal-callers in the league. In Sam Monson's ranking of the top 100 players in the NFL right now, which will be published on PFF next week, Wilson cracks the top five among quarterbacks, edging out the likes of Drew Brees and Carson Palmer and ranking just behind guys like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Let's take a look at the two big reasons why he is now a top-5 NFL QB.
1. Elusiveness in the backfield
Wilson is not simply a running threat, but his elusiveness in the backfield is a major part of his game. Few quarterbacks possess his kind of ability outside of the scripted offense. Vision and decision-making both stand out, along with the freakish athleticism.
That's just as well, because the offensive line's pass protection in Seattle has been a major issue since Wilson was drafted. The strategy of drafting raw prospects for the line, who are subsequently allowed to walk in free agency once they’ve achieved a level of competency, has not proved unsuccessful. Thankfully for the Seahawks, however, Wilson is one of the few quarterbacks capable of handling immediate interior pressure. In fact, he does more than simply handle it.
The play below is a drive-ending sack for 99 percent of quarterbacks—Wilson is the exception. Instant interior pressure forces him into scramble mode, where he breaks two tackles and fires a strike for a first down.
Unblocked rushers face an equally difficult job bringing down the electric QB. He makes the following play look easy, sidestepping the unblocked rusher before completing a pass for a first down along the sideline.
An inability to contain Wilson with four rushers places extra pressure on the back seven. Coverage defenders are forced to respect the threat he poses on the ground, abandoning their responsibilities.
The demoralizing effect for a defense of missing a sack prior to a big play should not be understated.
2. Ability as a traditional passer
As effective as Wilson can be in the open field, he remains capable of functioning as a more traditional passer. His range of attributes make him one of the best in the game. Wilson is one of the top among quarterbacks in terms of accuracy, ranking in the top three in accuracy percentage, deep accuracy, and accuracy under pressure last season.
While Wilson’s impressive numbers under pressure are partly due to his ability to extend plays, there are plenty of examples of him making plays from the pocket. The 5-foot-11 quarterback can stand tall in the pocket, throwing with precision despite defenders in his face. Take the following play against Carolina in the Divisional Championship game as an example:
Overall, he was accurate on 71.6 percent of his attempts under pressure in 2015 (third-best among NFL QBs), generating 1,625 yards with nine touchdowns to just four picks.
The above play also illustrates Wilson’s downfield touch and precision. Again, he ranked third in that category, throwing accurately on nearly half of his 20-plus yard passes (49.2 percent). Combined with an aggressive mentality, it makes Wilson one of the most dangerous big-play quarterbacks. No stat better illustrates that fact than his league-leading 15 touchdowns generated from deep passes.
In general, Wilson’s accuracy is underrated. When targeting a receiver, he threw accurately on 78.4 percent of attempts. Only Teddy Bridgewater and Kirk Cousins were more consistently on target.
Wilson poses a threat at every level of the defense. He has the athleticism to extend plays in the backfield, the accuracy to move the chains in the short-game, and the arm to threaten vertically. Defensive coordinators face the unenviable task of trying to stop a quarterback who can damage them in a variety of ways. Forcing him to throw from the pocket is barely a preferable strategy. While Seattle continue to employ a healthy Wilson under center, they will remain a postseason contender.
Wilson isn't quite at the level of Brady or Rodgers, but right now he is a top-five quarterback in the league.