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Russell Wilson: Better Than Average, Less Than Elite

13 January 2013: Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) drops back to pass in the Atlanta Falcons 30-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional playoff at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Georgia.

In an era of social media, 24-hour sports networks and hotly contested Madden ratings, it’s no wonder there is a perpetual debate about who is and who’s not elite. Mix in a contract dispute involving a high-profile quarterback and the debate becomes deafening.

Case in point is Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback Russell Wilson, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal. It’s customary for NFL teams to extend its quarterback a year before contract expiration to avoid losing its signal-caller to free agency or being forced to use the franchise tag, and that’s exactly what the Seahawks and Wilson are trying to do.

As the 2015 season inches closer, there is no new deal in place. Both sides have set a deadline of July 31 to come to terms on a new agreement.

In lieu of a new contract, the football world is buzzing about how good Wilson really is and how much money he deserves. The answer to the latter is best reserved for capologists. For the former, responses range from elite to average — both sides sparking furious retorts in a debate getting more polarizing by the day.

Wilson is not elite, nor is he average, but that does not mean he is undeserving of a contract worthy of the game’s best quarterbacks.

Those on the “average” side of the debate cite Wilson’s pedestrian passing numbers. In three NFL campaigns, Wilson finished the regular season ranked 29th, 30th and 25th, respectively, in passing yards per game. He’s started every game he’s been eligible for, yet has never thrown for 30 touchdowns in a season, including in 2014 when he had a career-low 20. In his Super Bowl-winning postseason run of 2013, he threw just three touchdowns.

NFL: FEB 02 Super Bowl XLVIII - Broncos v Seahawks

On the ground, Wilson certainly has value, but can also be a liability. He’s fumbled 27 times in his career, losing eight. The touchdown-to-fumble ratio leaves a lot to be desired — coaches hate nothing more than fumbles.

But for what Wilson lacks in overall cumulative numbers, he makes up for in efficiency. That is the home in which those in the “elite” camp live.

The 26-year-old has thrown a touchdown on 5.75 percent of his passing attempts, putting him in elite company. That ratio is nearly identical to that of Dallas Cowboys starter Tony Romo. Only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning have a better percentage among active players with more than 1,200 passing attempts.

Wilson avoids mistakes through the air as well, throwing an interception on just 2.08 percent of his attempts, placing him third behind Rodgers and Tom Brady among active players with the same parameters.

He also uses his legs as an asset, piling up yards on the ground and finding the end zone 11 times in his young career. Wilson is mobile inside and outside of the pocket, helping his aerial assault when he doesn’t take off on the run.

Then there’s his record — 36-12 in the regular season and 6-2 in the playoffs. Wilson enters 2015 with back-to-back NFC West championships, back-to-back NFC championships and the aforementioned Super Bowl ring he won at the conclusion of the 2013 season.

What does that all mean? Both sides have merit.

Wilson is a winner whose efficiency through the air and ability to escape the pocket and pick up positive yardage places him among the game’s best. By all accounts he has a high football IQ and the leadership skills to command a huddle. No stage is too big for him, no challenge too great.

NFL: FEB 02 Super Bowl XLVIII - Broncos v Seahawks

Not fully in his prime, the best is yet to come for Wilson. No one would be surprised to see him continue his path of dominance for the next decade. Making him the highest-paid player in the NFL is as much about where he could go as it is payment for past success.

However, one could argue that any number of quarterbacks could have success with the Seahawks. Wilson has been the beneficiary of a top-notch rushing attack led by Marshawn Lynch. During the past three seasons, Seattle has ranked third, fourth and first in the league in rushing yards per game.

On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks’ defense has been as good as can be since Wilson was drafted out of Wisconsin in 2012. In each of the last three seasons, Seattle ranked first in fewest points allowed. They also ranked first in fewest yards allowed in 2013 and 2014 after ranking fourth in Wilson’s rookie year.

An elite defense and a stout running game can make any quarterback great.

The ultimate test of any “who’s best” conversation is determining which player is the best selection for one game with everything on the line. The victor of that battle is as subjective as it is analytical. Wilson’s overall numbers may not place him among the game’s elite, but he’s far from average.

The Seahawks will find a way to keep No. 3 in Seattle because the alternative is risking perpetual mediocrity in a league dominated by the quarterback position.



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