Russell Wilson: 5 Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses of NFL Draft Prospect's Game
Russell Wilson is among a number of quarterbacks that I consider to have shown significant skill sets that will make them starters one day, but who also have at least one glaring weakness that severely impacts their draft stock.
Brandon Weeden's stock overhang is obvious—he is 28 years old. Russell Wilson's issue is also well-known—he is only 5'11".
Ryan Tannehill also displays a good set of fundamental skills for a starter at the position, yet if there is one issue that tends to bug people about him, it is that he could not assemble good statistics or win games against better defenses in 2011.
Like Weeden and Tannehill, I expect Wilson to earn his shot at a starting job one day. Also like Weeden and Tannehill, it would not surprise me if Wilson were to develop into a high-level starter.
Let's take a look at some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Strength: Throwing Ability
Russell Wilson can throw the football.
He was the most efficient quarterback in the country in terms of college passer efficiency rating. He completed nearly 73 percent of his passes in 2011 at over 14 yards per completion. Both marks border on the absurd, as does his 10-plus percent touchdown rate per attempt.
Guys like Kellen Moore and Case Keenum were able to achieve similar statistics in more spread-based passing attacks, however they do not possess the pure throwing ability that Wilson does.
He has a quick, over-the-top delivery. The ball comes off his hand consistently with good spin. He is highly accurate. He throws the football into tight windows while running to the right or left.
Wilson does not have the same velocity as a Brandon Weeden, but the ball comes out with enough velocity to be an NFL starter, and he can regularly fit the ball into tight windows.
Russell Wilson's weakness that everyone talks about right off the bat is his size. He is about 5'11" and 204 pounds.
There is not a strong history of quarterbacks with that size having success at the NFL level. However, rarity does not equate to impossibility.
Doug Flutie was 5'10". Sonny Jurgensen was only 5'11". Drew Brees is 6'0", and Michael Vick is actually a quarter-inch shorter than him. Fran Tarkenton was 6'0". Len Dawson was 6'0". Y.A. Tittle was only 6'0".
Otto Graham was 6'1", as were Bob Griese, Mark Brunell, John Hadl, Jeff Garcia, Jim Hart, Jack Kemp, Dave Krieg, Bobby Layne, Babe Parilli, Bart Starr, Norm Van Brocklin and Johnny Unitas.
How many of those players with a 6'1" listing in the infamously-overstated program guides actually barely cracked 6'0"?
Some say the history dooms Wilson to failure before he even embarks on his NFL career.
I personally believe that statistical "black swan" events are consistently underestimated by society, and considering that it has been over 10 years since Brees and Vick entered the league as the latest short quarterbacks to find success, we may be due for another black swan sooner than people think.
I would rather talk about Wilson's game, and what exactly we are seeing in his game that does not translate due to the height. History books do not throw interceptions on Sunday, and spreadsheets do not fumble the ball during a sack.
If I am going to assume that he will be so drastically less effective in the NFL, running the same systems he ran at North Carolina State and Wisconsin, I want to see some evidence that it was a problem before he entered the NFL.
One of the weaknesses of short stature is supposed to be an inability to see the football field from behind your own offensive line.
I saw scant evidence of this being the case for Russell Wilson.
In fact, I think his handicap has made him a lot further advanced in certain areas than most of the other quarterbacks in this draft.
Because of his height, Wilson has adapted his game to be more aware of passing lanes than other players. Because of his height, he has developed a keener sense of anticipation.
When you watch his film, you do not see a player that has trouble reading the field or always throws off his first read.
Later, when Wilson attended the Senior Bowl, Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting took a closer look at how many reads all of the quarterbacks were making during practice snaps before throwing the football.
Lucky for Galko, he had access to film of the practice sessions that is normally reserved for team scouts. He concluded that Wilson was reading more of the field than the other quarterbacks, by a good margin.
Weakness: Pocket Management
One weakness in Russell Wilson's game that probably does owe itself at least partially to his size is his ability to manage the pocket.
Wilson took 22 sacks in 2011, compared with only 309 pass attempts. Among the 25 FBS quarterbacks that I isolated as either draftable this year or highly regarded for next year, that was the third worst. Only Aaron Murray and E.J. Manuel were sacked more per pass attempt.
Part of the issue is Wilson's height.
He is not able to step up and into the pocket like other quarterbacks. Stepping up and closer to his interior linemen will only obscure his vision and potentially crowd his passing lanes. He instead tends to back away from the pocket or move laterally.
Both strategies can result in more sacks.
Wilson has developed a playing style that involves utilizing his mobility and natural athleticism for the purpose of improvisation. He is not afraid to play like a gunslinger, and he is good at it.
This is another factor that leads to more sacks, the same as you see with Robert Griffin III (who ranked only one spot ahead of Wilson in the above study). This mentality could be related to height, but not necessarily.
As I said, Griffin also suffers extra sacks due to this mindset, and he measured a good margin above 6'2" at the NFL scouting combine.
There is something to be said for wanting the task of reining in a gunslinger rather than the task of turning a conservative-minded player into one who makes more plays.
This aspect of Russell's game just needs some refinement and experience. He is already very close to being where he needs to be in this area in order to make a lot of plays in the NFL.
Despite the trouble that playing a little playground football tends to get Russell Wilson into, his mobility is a big plus overall.
At the combine, he ran in the low 4.5s, with a 34-inch vertical, 9'10" broad jump as well as a 4.09-second shuttle drill.
He puts these gifts to good use, as he has run for 23 touchdowns in his college career.
What is particularly interesting to me is the danger his dual-threat ability poses to defenses near the goal line. I have found that many dual-threat passers have highly elevated goal-line efficiency.
While Ryan Tannehill leads all draftable quarterbacks in touchdowns per goal-to-go snap, and Kellen Moore falls in second place, Wilson is not a far third. All convert touchdowns, one way or another, at a higher rate per goal-to-go play than Andrew Luck.
Of the quarterbacks I tallied over the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Wilson not only ranked near the very top in touchdown efficiency, but his absolute number of touchdowns from tight to the end zone was head and shoulders above all other quarterbacks.
Wilson scored 39 touchdowns from near the goal line in 2010 and 2011 combined.
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