Russell Wilson Is QB of the Present for Seahawks, May Not Be QB of the Future
Late Sunday night, the Seahawks confirmed over conference call (via Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times) that Wilson would be the Week 1 starter. "Confirmed" is the perfect word to use because anyone with two eyes and semi-working faculties could see that Wilson had been a vastly better quarterback than Matt Flynn during this preseason.
Yes, preseason games matter very little and the stat lines of those games matter even less, but it was clear that Wilson would make things difficult for presumptive starter Flynn the minute he was drafted.
The draft projections on Wilson were all over the board, but the scouting reports typically went something like this: "really good passer...excellent athlete...blah blah blah...too short." Almost everyone had some sort of maxim like, "If Wilson were X inches taller..."
Wilson is 5'11" (5107 to be specific in scouting parlance). That makes him over an inch shorter than Drew Brees, whom many point to as the prototypical "short QB." It also (probably) makes him a little taller than Doug Flutie who was listed at 5'10" for much of his career. As any draft fan knows, colleges and pro teams typically round up very liberally when listing heights.
Wes Bunting (formerly of the National Football Post) had this to say about Wilson:
Wilson is a plus athlete who can spin the football and gives you a nice run/pass threat. However he's undersized, is going to struggle to consistently make plays from the pocket and is still learning how to work his way through defenses. He is worth a pick late, but I don't see the guy as a potential starter in the NFL. Reserve only.
While it sounds like a grim prediction and off-base considering recent events, Bunting's opinion was echoed by just about everyone. If Wilson was going to start in the NFL, he needed to land in the right spot, in the right system, under the right coach.
Wilson did just that.
When the Seahawks drafted Wilson in the third round this past April, it surprised a lot of people. The team had just thrown open the coffers for Flynn, who looked every bit an NFL starter in his Week 17 appearance against the Detroit Lions.
Soon, rumors started spilling out of the Northwest that Flynn wouldn't have such a rock-solid hold on the Seahawks' starting job—Tarvaris Jackson would be given a chance to compete. It wasn't much later that the two-way quarterback battle was joined by Wilson, whom Seattle-area beat writers quickly fell in love with.
Wilson outperformed Flynn in the first two preseason games and was given a chance to start against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3's "dress rehearsal." Wilson made the most of his chance against a tough Chiefs defense. He was 13 of 19 for 185 yards (9.7 avg) with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
That performance set off a domino effect in Seattle as Jackson was traded to the Buffalo Bills for draft picks and Wilson was named the Week 1 starter. Flynn goes back to being a backup, albeit a much-better paid backup than he was before.
What was it about Wilson that allowed him to beat out Flynn?
When looking at the Seahawks' quarterback position, it's important to look at the rest of the roster as well. The offensive line (already below average) was decimated with an injury to OG James Carpenter. With guys like JR Sweezy and Paul McQuistan blocking, Wilson's athleticism comes in handy.
The receiver position, as well, needs a lot of work before the Seahawks can hope to field a well-balanced scoring attack. Sidney Rice is slowly returning from injury, but he'll be the only bright spot in an otherwise subpar unit. Even if one would hope for the best-case scenario out of this group, it is a far cry from the talent Flynn was passing to in Green Bay.
Flynn is a facilitator—always has been, always will be. Placed on a team with plenty of talent, Flynn can make correct decisions and deliver the ball where it needs to go. However, without said talent, Flynn does not have the ability to make plays on his own.
With neither the arm strength to force throws into tight windows, nor the athleticism to truly extend a play, Flynn takes what the defense gives him and what the offense allows—nothing more, nothing less.
Wilson, on the other hand, is an innovator. He's never met a throw he couldn't make and when no one is open, he can make plays all on his own. This isn't just about running for first downs; Wilson excels when the pocket is moving and pressure is put on defenders to guess where he's going next.
The highlight package above features five plays. In two of those plays, Wilson makes plays with his feet that most quarterbacks can't. In two others, he makes throws (one over the top, one to the outside) that many quarterbacks find difficult.
Watching Wilson gives one the impression that he'd almost rather forgo the playbook and just draw routes in the dirt with a stick.
Of course, none of that means Wilson isn't smart and that he doesn't have a high football IQ. In fact, Wilson is brilliant both on and off the field. That is another reason he was able to beat out Flynn so quickly. Both were coming to a new offensive system, but Wilson absorbed the playbook just as quickly (if not more so) than his counterpart.
It's important, however, to realize that Wilson's success this preseason and his nod over Flynn for the Week 1 start is not immediate proof that he will have long-term success as a starter. He is still a rookie and there is still plenty of work to do on his game.
Wilson's best football could be ahead of him, but it's not a sure thing. The Wisconsin offense that Wilson looked so good in last year didn't showcase a lot of multiple reads. In fact, it didn't even showcase a ton of passing. Wilson's main job in college was to hand off to Montee Ball and his No. 1 priority in the NFL will likely be handing off to Marshawn Lynch—at least, right away.
Is Russell Wilson the Seahawks' franchise QB?
If Wilson wants to be the Seahawks' quarterback of the future, he needs to prove that he can sit back and pick apart defenses that are running multiple blitz packages and innovative coverages. Defenses (like offenses) are usually very vanilla in the preseason, and Wilson is in a whole new world of hurt once the real football begins.
The concerns about Wilson's height can't be dismissed either. Wilson passed over one of the tallest offensive lines in all of football—college and pro—last season, but he also spent a lot of time outside (or at least moving) the pocket. Defenders move a lot faster in the NFL and that time may not always be there.
Wilson's over-the-top delivery makes full use of what little height he has, so Wilson should be fine, but the concerns can't simply be dismissed before Wilson plays his first real game.
Before the draft, I likened Wilson to a "rich man's version" of Seneca Wallace, who shined in college but hasn't been able to keep a starting job in the NFL. Currently, Wallace is the third QB in Cleveland but spent time as the starter and backup in Seattle.
Like Wilson, Wallace has tremendous athleticism and a good arm. If Wallace were just a little taller (measured 5113 at the combine), he'd likely be competing for a starting spot somewhere. As it is, he's lucky to have an active roster spot on any given Sunday. However, when Wallace gets in the game, he isn't terrible by any means with a career passer rating of 81.3.
So, even if Wilson is the upgraded version of that, he's still a got a long way to go before the Seahawks can anoint him their franchise quarterback.
A lot of the perception of players in football has so much to do with expectations. If fans expect Wilson to duplicate he preseason performance over the 16-game regular season, they will be disappointed and the chants for Flynn will likely start sooner rather than later.
If, instead, Seahawks fans understand the work he still needs to do as a passer, he may avoid the pressure of having his head called for on every sports talk show in the area.
As the Seahawks continue to build the talent on their roster—as the offensive line is strengthened and the receiver corps is bolstered—Wilson might only be a bridge over the gap of the present. With more talent around, Flynn might have more of a chance to win a battle next season.
Heck, the quarterback to eventually take the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl might not even be on the roster. Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox gave way to Ben Roethlisberger. Kyle Boller and Steve McNair both stepped aside for Joe Flacco.
Right now, the Seahawks are following a (somewhat) similar building plan as their defense has become one of the most fearsome young units in all of football. As the offense seeks to keep pace, it shouldn't surprise anyone if—two to three years down the road—the Seahawks find a new quarterback to lead them to the promised land.
None of this takes away from the awesome job Wilson has done, winning the starting quarterback position over someone the Seahawks had invested so much money in. It is just a reminder to wait and see, because he is not yet a proven commodity.
Wilson still has long odds facing him as he looks to solidify his starting spot. There aren't many nicer, more respectful young men in football and there are few with so much natural talent. It's hard to bet against Wilson, but he's not a sure thing.
At least, not yet.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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