It's not hard to like Russell Wilson. He's young, he's exciting, he obviously wears his emotions on his sleeve. Oh, and he's also a Super Bowl champion with another potential ring on the way.
(He also was reportedly a significant reason why the Seahawks traded Percy Harvin to the Jets for essentially nothing in return, but that's neither here nor there.)
Liking him, however, is different than agreeing with the current narrative of Wilson the superstar, Wilson the elite, Wilson the unstoppable. Even though ESPN canceled the show, the maxim still stands: numbers never lie, and in Wilson's case, the truth hurts. He's not a superstar and he's not elite; he's simply, well, good.
Let me start with some names: Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer. All of these fellow QBs outpassed Russell Wilson this year, but not in the conventional way. No, just going by passing yards and touchdowns is misleading. Instead, we'll go the advanced analytics route, in order to tell you the real story.
You see, throwing for 300 yards against a terrible defense like the Redskins means a lot less than doing it against the Texans. So the first thing we'll do is adjust the performances, taking the strength of the opposition in mind.
The second thing we'll do is re-adjust what we consider important. After all, simply racking up meaningless yards doesn't really tell us much (isn't that right, Bears fans?). What really matters is putting points on the board. By applying a mathematical concept called the Markov chain to a drive of football, we can determine the impact of each individual play on the team's ability to score points. In essence, we're measuring a QB's ability to generate points for his team.
After doing these handy adjustments -- the same adjustments used inside every team's war room, I should add -- Russell Wilson grades out to a 0.10 NEP/P, meaning that for each pass he throws, he creates an additional 0.10 points for his team in comparison to an average QB.
In other words, he's 0.10 points better per play than Shaun Hill.
So Wilson is a 0.10. What does that mean? Well, as mentioned above, he's behind Sanchez, Flacco, Rivers, Ryan, and Palmer, not to mention the true elites. It puts him No. 14 in the NFL, just about smack dab in the middle.
But what about his rushing ability? Glad you brought that up! His rushing NEP/P is a stout 0.62, a number rivaled only by Michael Vick in his prime. Still, even with adding his rushing efficiency in, Russell Wilson still only moves to No. 9 on the list; still behind Flacco, still behind Ryan.
This is all not to say that Wilson isn't very good, because he is -- he's just not elite. He's also relatively young, albeit likely older than you think -- but at 26, he's at most two seasons away from his statistical prime. A better argument in his defense would be that he's been beset with what is unquestionably the worst set of receivers out of any team in this year's playoffs; Seattle's top option, Doug Baldwin, barely cracks the top 50 in the league, behind not one, not two, but three different Patriots receivers.
(You could counter-argue that in Marshawn Lynch, they had the best running back not named DeMarco Murray and that his presence more than offsets the weakness at the wide receiver position, but I digress.)
It's going to be very interesting to watch Wilson's career trajectory from here. Due to his unique talents, there aren't a ton of fantastic comparables. In fact, the closest is Michael Vick in 2002 with a dash of Donovan McNabb in 2004 mixed in for taste. Despite the small sample size, the fact that those two help compose his top statistical comparables -- in addition to Kordell Stewart and Shaun King, yikes -- lays yet another brick in the wall against Wilson's eliteness. Neither Vick nor McNabb were ever in the top 5 QBs in any given season, and in fact, Vick's 2002 and McNabb's 2004 were both the pinnacles of their career.
Regardless of what the numbers might say, you cannot deny that he's supremely exciting, and sure, if you want to go down the route of meaningless sports maxims, he's also a winner who shows lots of heart in the clutch. Enjoy the ride while you can, Seattle -- this might be as good as it gets.