Russell Wilson is the new benchmark for what an NFL quarterback can accomplish by age 25. He has no true historical peer in the combination of amazing things he has done.
The NFL has never seen a quarterback with this array of achievements in his first two years: Super Bowl champion, 100-passer ratings in both years, two Pro Bowls, a 24-8 regular-season record, a 4-1 postseason record, a 52-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio and back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons to go with 1,028 career rushing yards.
The league once saw Dan Marino throw for 5,084 yards as a 23-year-old, second-year quarterback. It once saw Cam Newton throw for 4,051 yards as a rookie. It once saw Ben Roethlisberger have early individual and team success similar to what Wilson is enjoying.
But if the criteria include winning, influence on winning, efficiency, productivity and performance under pressure, Wilson has already made fresh footprints in the NFL.
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So, why is there an inane debate involving his worth right now?
Why is everyone arguing over a single adjective?
Why is there so much focus on whether Wilson is elite?
The Seahawks begin training camp in three weeks, and amid the boredom of this calm period, a period of manufacturing conversation has commenced.
CBSSports.com NFL writer Pete Prisco suggested that Wilson is among the Seahawks’ most overrated players. NFL.com had all of its pundits answer whether Wilson is a top-five quarterback, which is quite the unfair question with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers guaranteed to occupy four of those spots. And because longevity is often a deciding factor in degrees of greatness, it’s almost disrespectful to put any quarterback so young on such a top-five list.
The NFL.com question put its pundits in the unfair position of having to say something negative about Wilson. But some went way over the top, especially former general manager Charley Casserly, who said “I’d take at least 12 NFL quarterbacks over Wilson.”
The NFL would take at least 32 general managers over Casserly, which is why he’s working in the media now.
Most of the other NFL.com pundits reacted in a more measured manner. But the arguments start sounding like this: “Russell Wilson isn’t elite yet. He just does elite things.”
By now, you should know that Wilson defies labels. He’s 5 feet 11, but he isn’t the typical short quarterback who can’t thrive in this game. He was a third-round draft pick in 2012, and the Seahawks had already signed free agent Matt Flynn as their presumptive starter, but Wilson didn’t want to be restricted to a developmental-QB role.
Without question, Wilson benefits from playing on the ideal team for a young quarterback. He’s blessed with the league’s best defense and one of its best running games. He has averaged exactly 25 passing attempts per game through 32 regular-season starts.
But it’s wrong to assume he succeeds only because the reigning Super Bowl champions are loaded. Wilson has managed back-to-back seasons with at least a 100 passer rating (first QB ever to do that to start his career) despite an offensive line that has allowed a troubling amount of pass rush. When the Seahawks have needed Wilson to carry the offense, he has pulled off feats such as his 385-yard playoff performance at Atlanta in 2013. Wilson has orchestrated eight career fourth-quarter comebacks and 10 game-winning drives.
Sure, you must be careful to anoint him, because the future is unknown. Wilson could regress, or the league could figure him out. If he doesn’t get better with age, he’ll be remembered as a mysterious fast starter who inexplicably lost it. But his work habits indicate that he’ll continue to grow. And it’s likely that, similar to Roethlisberger, Wilson will thrive in a larger role when given the chance.
Coach Pete Carroll believes in taking as much off the quarterback’s plate as he can. It means that Wilson doesn’t consistently put up ridiculous numbers. But the Seahawks didn’t become a great team until they drafted Wilson. He completed the building of a dominant team. And he’s now the Seahawks’ most irreplaceable player.
In two years, we’ll have this elite debate, and Wilson will be in that class. The fact that he’s not yet there isn’t surprising, and there’s certainly no reason to justify that opinion by dismissing what Wilson has accomplished so far.
There are two ways to view Wilson’s potential. Stand beside him and look up, reacting to how much higher he must climb to reach the Brady/Manning/Brees/Rodgers level.
Or grab a beer, sit in your own seat and watch him rise, a young quarterback setting the bar higher and higher.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277