There may be no more polarizing figure for NFL analysts today than Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
Despite winning the Super bowl, many pundits are skeptical of his ability. Inexplicably, his size still seems to be a factor for many people who doubt that he’s capable of becoming a truly great player. Others point out that Wilson has benefitted from playing on a team with a spectacular defense and an offense that is built on the run. In other words, he doesn’t have to do much to win and therefore shouldn’t get credit for the Seahawks success.
It is certainly true that a lot of quarterbacks would do very well in the same spot as Wilson, but some people have gone so far as to label him as a “game manager,” a heinous insult for any quarterback in the NFL. Game managers don’t need to have talent. Anyone can do it. Game managers are supposed to hand the ball off to their running back, check the ball down, and not take any serious risks, because well, they just don’t have the chops to make a play.
Now I’m of the opinion that quarterbacks in general are overrated and overpaid, but let’s settle this question once and for all. Russell Wilson may not be on the same level as Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, but he is not a game manager. To illustrate this, I suggest you read this article in Football Outsiders from December that broke down the film from some of Wilson’s top plays.
In the first film analysis, we see Wilson find Golden Tate on a deep out route despite two pass rushers swarming at his face. What’s most impressive here is that in a couple of the freeze frames you can’t even see Tate because he’s covered so well by Patrick Peterson.
Tate is in that red circle up the field, I promise. That Wilson saw him at all with Arizona’s blistering pass rush coming at him is impressive enough, but he anticipated exactly where Tate would be and made a throw that Peterson could not make a play on:
“Tate is able to catch the ball with his hands as Wilson leads him towards the sideline and puts the nessecary arc on the football to get it over Peterson. That is the type of play that only the very best NFL quarterbacks can make. Yet, it’s the type of play that Wilson makes on a regular basis.”
This next example I think is the best pass that I saw from Wilson all season. It came against the Saints on Monday Night Football on third and three. Rob Ryan tipped his hand by showing the blitz, and Wilson signaled Doug Baldwin to adjust his route at the line of scrimmage. Here’s Brock Huard breaking the play down:
Game managers simply don’t have that kind of poise against the blitz. They also typically can’t throw the ball that accurately that far. Now this is Wilson at his absolute best, and we can’t judge him based on a couple of cherry-picked examples during the hottest part of his 2013 season. We have seen Wilson at his best, now let’s see him at his worst.
In January Football Outsiders did another film analysis on Wilson, and this one was overwhelmingly negative. At the time of this article, he was in the middle of a slump that coincided with playing some of the toughest defenses in the league. In these examples, Wilson made a number of poor decisions, either by missing a read or not stepping up into the pocket when he should have. I definitely recommend checking out the complete article, but the most egregious example was this bubble screen vs. the Saints in the playoffs:
As you can see, number 27 for the Saints jumped to get pressure on Wilson, leaving Percy wide open with two blockers ahead of him. Instead of lobbing a pass to Harvin however, Wilson kept the ball and tried to run. He got two yards.
It’s very easy to forget that Wilson was only a second-year quarterback last season. He’s going to make mistakes like this, just like every other second year quarterback. He’s going to feel phantom pressure, he’s going to miss a read sometimes. It happens, especially in the playoffs, especially against teams like the Cardinals and Saints that blitz alot. Quarterbacks go through slumps like Wilson did in December of 2013 all the time.
What’s the moral of the story?
Wilson is an incredible talent with alot of upside. He’s not the best quarterback in the NFL today and he has a lot of work to do yet if he wants to be in the elite-QB conversation, however, I think we have seen enough of Mr. Wilson to determine that he is definitely not a game manager, so let’s just stop that silliness right now.