Two of the hottest quarterbacks right now in the NFL are Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson and San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick. With so much of their future still ahead of them, which quarterback would you rather have for the long term?
If Week 15 of the 2012 NFL regular season is any indication, defenses around the league are going to be pulling out their hair trying to figure out how to slow both of these young guns down.
Kaepernick bested Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Sunday Night Football by throwing four touchdown passes. Wilson meanwhile was running circles around the Buffalo Bills defense up in Toronto, as he set two all-time Seattle franchise quarterback rushing records in the first half alone.
Wilson gained 72 yards in the first half to go along with three rushing touchdowns. Those were the first rushing touchdowns for Wilson in his brief NFL career. We will undoubtedly witness many more trips to the end zone. Wilson looked so quick on his scrambles that it appeared the Bills defenders were mired in cement.
One unique thing about this comparison is that since they play in the NFC West division, we will be treated to watching them compete against each other twice a year for many years to come. The first meeting between the two will be this coming Sunday, as Wilson faced Alex Smith back in Week 7.
Speaking of that Week 7 meeting, that was one of the low points for Wilson this year. He was only able to complete 9 of 23 passes for 122 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Wilson was sacked twice in the game and only led the Seahawks offense to one trip to the red zone and six total points in the game. His Total QBR score was 26.0 and his passer rating was 38.7. Wilson has improved greatly since then.
As for Kaepernick, his role was to backup Alex Smith and to be an observer for the majority of the first 26 games of his NFL career. There were a handful of plays here and there, but he really was thrown into the fire in Week 11 when Smith went down with a concussion against the St. Louis Rams. Kaepernick led the offense the rest of the game, and has assumed the starting role ever since.
Now that Kaepernick is taking the first-team reps in practice every week, his confidence, physical skills and leadership ability is on display.
In the past five games since he became the starter, Kaepernick has thrown seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions. Kaepernick also rushed for two touchdowns. He has reeled off 50-yard runs against St. Louis and Miami. In addition, his record as a starter is 4-1, which includes wins over Tom Brady and Drew Brees, with both of those wins coming on the road. How many quarterbacks can boast that kind of a start for the first five starts of their NFL career?
To be fair, Kaepernick does have some flaws. For example, against New England, he had four fumbles in the game. Luckily the 49ers recovered all of them. Three of the fumbles were the result of not handling the snap from center. The inclement weather in New England could have easily been a factor in the fumbles.
To open the second half against New England, Kaepernick threw an interception on that first drive. Instead of getting rattled, he bounced back and led the team on a 97-yard touchdown drive. That is the kind of leadership and resolve you look for in your starting quarterback.
For Wilson, his ascent has been gradually building as the season has developed. As we sighted in the earlier game against the 49ers, there have been a few bumps and bruises along the way. There was concern that he had trouble winning on the road. Indeed, after a loss at Miami in Week 12, Wilson had gone 1-5 in his first six road games. But since then, he has gone 2-0 in road games.
Wilson's 21 touchdown passes as a rookie ties him for second-place all-time in NFL history with Cam Newton. Wilson will surely pass Newton with two games to go. The only rookie with more touchdown passes is Peyton Manning, who threw 26 touchdowns in 1998.
The Seattle offense is starting to become much more dynamic. The team has strung consecutive 50-point games together, which is the third time that has occurred in NFL history. According to the Week 15 recap of the game on ESPN.com:
The Seahawks became the NFL's third team to score 50 points in consecutive weeks, joining the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants, who both did it in 1950, according to STATS. And the 108 combined points over two weeks matched the NFL's third-highest total.
But while Wilson has been learning to play in the NFL on the job, his maturity and leadership have been strong assets all year. His physical performance and comfort level are truly shining right now. To give you a better idea how Wilson has been progressing, let's examine his stats.
After the Week 8 game against Detroit, Wilson had amassed 10 touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions, which of course isn't a great ratio. But since then, he has thrown 11 touchdowns to just one interception, which is an outstanding ratio. That demonstrates real growth and also shows that the game is starting to slow down for him.
Another way to illustrate his increased effectiveness as he learns on the job is to look at how he has fared in the red zone. In his first five games, Wilson was only able to convert 4 of 14 red zone opportunities. Since then, Wilson has converted 21 of his last 33 red zone chances. That is a distinct change.
In the press conference after the Buffalo game, head coach Pete Carroll talked at length about how the offense has been opening up during the year due to Wilson's progress. We are now witnessing what Wilson can do when the team doesn't place any restrictions on him. Wilson is free to learn first-hand what his limitations are, if any.
Seattle fans shouldn't be expecting 50-point outbursts every week. The recent success is a stark improvement from how the season began. Seattle scored 17 points or less in five of their first seven games this year. That was back when Carroll limited what Wilson was allowed to do on offense.
HOW DO KAEPERNICK (C.K) and WILSON (R.W.) COMPARE IN A HEAD TO HEAD CATEGORY BREAKDOWN?
Size: CK - 6'5" tall and 230 pounds. RW - 5'11" tall and 204 pounds.
Drafted: CK - Round 2, 2011 draft, No. 25 overall. RW - Round 3, 2012 draft, No. 75 overall.
Age: CK - 25 years old. Born 11/3/1987. RW - 24 years old. Born 11/29/1988.
Pass Completion Percentage: CK - 65.6 percent. RW - 62.9 percent.
Touchdowns to Interceptions Ratio: CK - 7:2 RW - 21:9
Ave Passing Yards Per Game per Start: CK - 217 RW - 193
Ave Yards Per Pass: CK - 8.40. RW - 7.64
Rushes and Rushing Average: CK - 53 rush for 379 yards, 7.2 average. RW - 78 rush for 402 yards, 5.2 average.
Rushing Touchdowns: CK - 5 RW - 3
Times Sacked: CK - 10 RW - 26
QB Passer Rating Score and Rank: CK - 101.5 (No. 5 overall). RW - 95.5 (No. 8 overall)
Total QBR Score and Rank: CK - 79.6 (No. 2 overall) RW - 68.7 (No. 8 overall).
Red Zone Efficiency: CK - 9 of 21 (42.8 percent). RW - 25 of 47 (53.1 percent).
No. of Starts and Win/Loss Record: CK - five starts (4-1). RW - 14 starts (9-5)
Salary Cap/Contract Cost: CK - four years for $5.124 million. RW - four years $2.990 million.
Becomes Free Agent in: CK - 2015. RW - 2016.
As you can see from the above breakdown, there are pros and cons to both players. These are exceptional quarterbacks. To have so little NFL starting experience under their belts, yet both are ranked in the top-10 in Total QBR is extremely impressive. Kaepernick throws the ball down the field more than Wilson does (see average yards per pass attempt) and throws for 24 more yards per game on average.
Both quarterbacks are bargains from a financial standpoint, so you have to wonder if each team will attempt to rework their contracts prior to becoming a free agent. When a player outperforms their contract, which both quarterbacks are doing now, you don't want them to become disgruntled about their level of compensation. They mean too much to each franchise to become disenchanted.
Two other things that stand out about Kaepernick and Wilson. Both of them are above the 60-percent completion rate that is required in the NFL. If you don't hit 60 percent, you will find your way to the bench (see Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel, John Skelton, etc.). In addition, they both have strong rushing averages as both are north of five yards per carry. That forces defenses to make special adjustments in their game-planning and forces somebody on defense to account for the quarterback at all times.
In conducting research for this article, it was interesting to take a look back at how each quarterback was perceived coming out of college, fresh from their NFL Scouting Combines experience.
Here is a link to Kaepernick's NFL Scouting Combine scores from NFL.com. Coming out of the combine, here is what NFL.com wrote about Kaepernick's overall analysis prior to the draft:
StrengthsKaepernick is an excellent blend of height, build and speed for a quarterback. Possesses toughness and leadership qualities. Flashes good accuracy on intermediate routes. Shows enough arm strength to make most NFL throws. Won't have many passes batted down. Can escape the pocket and pickup first downs with his legs.
Plays out of the pistol, lacks experience under center. Has not been asked to make NFL progressions and reads. Not quick to check down or hit hot read against the blitz. Misses too many short passes. Doesn't have consistent touch on the deep ball. Release is somewhat elongated and can dip down to sidearm at times.
Here is the link for the NFL Scouting Combine scores from NFL.com for Wilson and his overall analysis:
StrengthsWilson is an accurate passer. He is a very mechanical quarterback who is consistent in his drop step and thoroughly understands how to move within the pocket and evade when the pocket collapses. He is an athlete and can torque his body to make any sort of throw on the run, and is accurate in this setting. He is a born signal caller who shows command of the offense. He has the arm strength to make the deep throws and the touch to put it on a receiver in stride. He is effective when scrambling and is a classic play extender.
Wilson's height will be his biggest inhibitor at the next level and the largest reason for his late-round value. It remains to be seen if he can throw effectively from the pocket at the next level.
For those of you that are into all of the NFL Scouting Combines performance results that help to evaluate the overall athlete, here are the scores for both quarterbacks.
Overall Combine Grade: CK - 68.8 RW - 68.5
40-yard dash in seconds: CK - 4.53 RW - 4.55
Vertical Jump in inches: CK - 32.5 RW - 34.0
Broad Jump in inches: CK - 115.0 RW - 118.0
3-Cone Drill in seconds: CK: 6.85 RW - 6.97
20-Yard Shuttle in seconds: CK - 4.18 RW - 4.09
From the combine scores, Wilson demonstrates greater quickness, while Kaepernick has better sprinter speed. Both are elite athletes and their overall scores are almost identical, as evidenced by the overall combine grades they received.
Kaepernick is unique in that he can attack a defense with his arm just as easily as he can with his legs. His dual-threat ability has to make defensive coordinators worry about how to contain him or at least how to slow him down. Twice this year Kaepernick has been able to break free for a 50-yard run. That is a testament to his great speed and makes him a threat from anywhere on the field. On the other hand, Wilson's longest run on the year is 25 yards, and that just happened last weekend.
Both of these quarterbacks are special. Selecting one over the other isn't an easy, snap decision. They both are winners, strong leaders and have adapted well to becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL.
The longer you watch Wilson play, the comparisons to Doug Flutie spring to mind. They both rely on their quickness to avoid the pass rush, using their ability to scramble to extend plays or to avoid taking big losses.
Flutie had a 12-year career in the NFL, and is one inch shorter than Wilson. So, there is a precedent for a quarterback under six feet tall to be able to succeed in the NFL for a lengthy career. Still, you have to wonder how Wilson will be able to stand up to the punishment of taking big hits over the course of his career. Then again, it is hard to hit somebody if you can't catch them. To get a better idea, go ahead and watch the tape from the Seattle versus Buffalo Bills game. Seeing is believing.
Both quarterbacks benefit from having a strong running game that defenses have to respect. Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch are top-10 running backs that have already cracked the 1,000-yard mark this season. With that kind of running game, defenses have to react and honor good play-fakes, and both quarterbacks excel with their ball-handling skills.
Another aspect to consider when analyzing these quarterbacks is that both have the luxury of starting for a team that has a top-three overall defense. When you have such a strong defense behind you, it relieves a huge amount of pressure off the quarterback. The same can't be said for Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Brandon Weeden.
Assuming that both teams make it to the postseason, it will be interesting to see how each quarterback performs under the pressure of the playoffs. They both appear to be poised and ready for the challenge. With the prospects of Luck and possibly Griffin in the playoffs as well, the performance of the young quarterbacks will be one of the main story lines of the 2012 postseason.
SO, WHO IS THE QUARTERBACK WE WOULD RATHER HAVE FOR THE LONG TERM?
We have dissected and analyzed Kaepernick and Wilson from a number of different perspectives. They both stand up to the test and appear to be well on their way towards becoming entrenched as a franchise quarterback.
How many young quarterbacks can state that they bested Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in their first meeting? Usually, those are the kind of challenges where Belichick will create confusion with his defensive scheme that takes advantage of their inexperience. Belichick will teach the young QB a valuable lesson or two. But they both emerged with a win and raised their profile as a result.
Now that we have been able to see a decent sample size of games from both quarterbacks, it is fair to say that a growing number of NFL teams would be delighted to have either one as their starter. For all of the teams that need help at quarterback and passed over both players in the draft, they will have to go back to their evaluation methods to learn how they miscalculated so badly.
But for the sake of this presentation, a decision has to be made as to who is the best long-term choice. The decision here would be Kaepernick.
Kaepernick's physical size and body will allow him to withstand more punishment over the long haul. As Wilson ages, and his body starts to feel the effect of the wear and tear, he will gradually lose some of his quickness. That quickness is one of his main assets. Once Wilson loses a step, or his quickness starts to fade, his play will no doubt suffer to a degree.
The 49ers are just starting to tap into what Kaepernick can do with their offense. The way that he took command of the first half in New England in bad weather opened many eyes around the league. To be sure, five games does not make a career, so we concede that the small sample size makes it difficult to know for sure where he will project in NFL history.
But from what we have observed so far, we like his chances for long-term success (and Wilson's as well for that matter). The conclusion is that Kaepernick will elevate San Francisco's offensive unit to becoming as dangerous on both sides of the ball as is the case with the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos.
Thanks for checking out the presentation and feel free to leave your reactions and opinions in the comments section.