Russell Wilson has for now won the only debate that really matters to him or the Seahawks — that he can be a highly effective NFL quarterback.
“There are no doubts about him anymore,’’ said former college and NFL coach Steve Mariucci, an analyst on the NFL Network. “And the people that felt he should be a third-rounder or a fourth-rounder or whatever, I’m sure they have changed their tune and said, ‘Hey, had we known he was going to be this smart, this poised and this tough, anybody would have taken him in the first round.’ ’’
Wilson, though, might also be winning this water-cooler debate: Which of the “big four’’ young quarterbacks — Wilson, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Washington’s Robert Griffin III — could avoid a sophomore slump?
The four quarterbacks’ faces graced the regional covers of Sports Illustrated’s NFL preview edition in September with the headline, “The New Kings.’’
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Each was a first-time starter in 2012 — Luck, Wilson and Griffin all rookies, Kaepernick a second-year player who saw little action in 2011. They seem now destined to forever be compared to each other.
Louis Riddick, an analyst for ESPN who played in the NFL for six years and then was a scout for another 12, says that right now, that’s a comparison that is most favorable to Wilson.
“Heading into the last four weeks of the season, Russell is sitting in the best position as far as his development and his progression and his overall team is concerned,’’ Riddick said.
That’s especially true in the numbers that matter most, wins and losses, with Seattle at 10-1 while the Colts have hit a dry spell to fall to 7-4, same as the 49ers, with Griffin’s Redskins ranking among the most disappointing teams in the NFL at 3-8.
But take your pick of any other stat and Wilson has the edge there, too.
To mention one, Wilson has a quarterback rating of 105.1, sixth in the NFL, with Kaepernick at 86.6 (18th), Luck at 84.3 (21st) and Griffin 81.9 (26th).
Quarterbacks, of course, hardly are on their own, and Mariucci states the obvious in noting that Wilson has the best defense and running game of the four.
“The two best friends for a young quarterback are a good defense and a running game and he’s been fortunate to have that,’’ Mariucci said. “But when you just evaluate his skill set and his production and how he is playing individually, he’s has got it. There’s no doubt — he’s got it.’’
Mariucci said Luck has been hurt by the loss of trusted receiver Reggie Wayne, a balky offensive line and an erratic defense, and he said Kaepernick, who also hasn’t been helped by injuries to receivers, “will get better and better.’’ He sounds the biggest alarm about Griffin due to his multiple injuries, saying, “I’m worried about his durability.’’
Riddick speaks similarly of Luck, saying his recent struggles (he has two touchdowns and four interceptions in his past three games, two of which were blowout defeats against the Rams and Cardinals) are due greatly to larger issues with the Colts.
Riddick said Wilson and Luck are continuing to progress at a greater rate than Griffin and Kaepernick, and that’s because Wilson and Luck played in prostyle offenses in college that have them better prepared for the NFL.
“They were further along by virtue of what they did in college,’’ Riddick said.
Riddick says it’s evident defenses have adjusted to the running of Griffin and Kaepernick. He says defenses are playing for the quarterback run more in early downs to force each to throw on later downs.
Some wondered, though, how Wilson might do if teams took away his running, which became such a factor in his game late in 2012.
While Wilson has 409 yards rushing this season, he put up his two highest QB ratings the past two weeks (134.6 vs. Falcons, 151.4 vs. Vikings) in games in which he hardly ran at all (a combined 34 yards on five carries).
Given the vagaries of the NFL, a year from now things might look a little (or a lot) different.
For today, though, Riddick says there’s a clear winner.
“In the end this season,’’ Riddick said, “he (Wilson) is going to come out looking the best of them all of this group.’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.