Wisconsin Football: Breaking Down Russell Wilson's Potential
By now, I'll guess that just about everyone understands who Russell Wilson is, his departure from NC State, and his arrival to Wisconsin. Wilson reportedly pondered also playing at Auburn and taking the next step in his baseball career as well as considering Wisconsin after he left the NC State program, thanks to coach Tom O'Brien wanting more definition about the future of his NC State football team.
Wilson moves drastically up north to Madison, Wisconsin from Raleigh, North Carolina, a topic that will come up a little later. So why Wisconsin? He could have been the "next Cam Newton" at Auburn, as a transfer coming in as starter and savior. Maybe that didn't appeal to him, maybe he wanted to be his own guy. Also, it could have been Auburn had just two returning offensive starters in the toughest conference in college football, while Wisconsin has four 2012-2013 NFL Draft prospects on his offensive line, two of the top six running backs in the conference, three experienced receivers and a defense that is talented at every level.
Whatever the reason, Wilson has left the Wolfpack to be a Badger, and all of Wisconsin is likely to have him. But the question on my mind, looking at it from a scouting perspective, is how he'll do on this team now that he's likely slated to be the starter from day one.
Last year's Rose Bowl leading quarterback Scott Tolzien graduated last year and is hoping to sign with an NFL team as a undrafted free agent once the lockout is over. But Tolzien and Wilson are far different quarterbacks. While at NC State, Wilson had 435 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground alone. Tolzien finished with zero touchdowns and -30 yards rushing.
That's not a knock on Tolzien necessarily, but it shows the Wisconsin offense isn't focused on their quarterback running the ball. A much more running-back focused offense, Wilson likely will still be put in space. But he'll have to establish technique in the drop back, he'll have to be okay with letting his running backs make plays for the team and maintain his safe play as a thrower.
Wilson had a 17:1 touchdown to interception ratio as a sophomore in his first season with NC State, but as he felt the pressure to take over the game, his ratio rose to just 2:1 last season and his career ratio is roughly 3:1, with 1 interception every 45 pass attempts.
As far as his style, it seems to me as though Wilson is a safe-minded passer at heart, only forcing throws when he felt he needed to make a play, something that was asked of him quite a bit the past two years. He's confident in his arm outside of the pocket and is patient when looking downfield. His accuracy is proficient when he has time and the offense is rhythm, but he and his offense need to be in-sync or else he can be a very streaky passer.
On the thought of his passing confidence, faith in his protection was something Wilson didn't have the luxury of receiving last year. While Wisconsin gave up just 13 sacks last year, Wilson was brought down 3 times that in 2010 alone (39 times) and he was forced outside the pocket and off-balance far too often for him to be a safe, consistent passer. Wisconsin had the sixth best turnover margin in 2010, second in the Big Ten and that stat is something coach Brett Bielema hopes to continue in the future with Wilson.
Along with added protection, Wilson will have another luxury he didn't at North Carolina State in 2010: a potent rushing attack. North Carolina State averaged just 123.3 yards in 2010, while Wisconsin averaged nearly twice that in 2010, with 245.7 yards a game. The two leading rushers from last year, Montee Ball and James White, both return, along with their 2,048 yards worth of production.
Those two running backs are two of the top six in the Big Ten (along with Edwin Baker of Michigan State, Rex Burkehead of Nebraska, Marcus Coker of Iowa and Daniel Herron of Ohio State) and receivers Nick Toon (senior, leading returning receiver, NFL talented and recovering from foot surgery), Jared Abbrederis (sophomore) and Jeff Duckworth (sophomore) all have plenty of game experience to form a solid trio for Wilson.
One final note on Wilson that may be being a little overlooked in terms of projecting his success is the temperature. To the casual fan it doesn't mean much, but if you're not used to playing in colder conditions, it could spell trouble. In Raleigh, North Carolina (home of North Carolina State), the average temperature for October is 61, for November is 52 and for December is 44. Those same three months in Wisconsin: October—48, November—35, December—22. That's roughly a 15 to 20 degree difference.
Wilson has played just one game north of the state of Maryland in those three months in his football career. In 2009, he lost at Boston College 52-20 as the starting quarterback, threw just 57 percent, had one touchdown, one interception and averaged 3.2 yards per rush.
So while I know I threw a lot of numbers out there (they are all below, FYI), here are the basics on Wilson and what to expect:
-His first six games are at home, including three against non-BCS teams, which should help him get comfortable.
-It'll be a huge change from being the main playmaker in a spread, passing oriented offense to a set-up man in a potent rushing, drop back offense
-The supporting cast in Wisconsin will be drastically better on the offensive line (where he'll get much better protection) and running back position (which will relieve some pressure)
-This is good news for Nick Toon at receiver, who could be the feature target for Wilson and hit the ground running as a potential top three round receiver in the 2012 NFL Draft.
-Wisconsin goes from a team in the bottom tier at the quarterback position in the Big Ten to a team with a top three unit at every level except receiver among the Big Ten teams.
Wilson isn't an NFL Draft prospect, but he's a Heisman trophy contender now if he can find his niche in a run-based Wisconsin offense, he keeps in the Wisconsin ball control way, he can get a chance to show off his arm down the field and in big games and the weather doesn't impact him.
Still a 4th or 5th round projection as a quarterback prospect for the NFL Draft, this could be the final season in which we see Wilson play football, so enjoy it while you can. And expect to see his season finish in the early to middle of January, if you know what I mean.
-NC State was 18th in passing offense (281.2 YPG) in the nation last year, #1 in the ACC
-Wisconsin was 75th in passing offense (199.5 YPG) in the nation, 9th in the Big Ten
-Russell Wilson had 435 rushing yards and 9 TDs in 2010. Scott Tolizen had -30 yards and 0 TDs
-Wilson had a 17:1 TD-Int ratio as a sophomore in his first year as a starter
-After a 2:1 ratio as a senior, he finished his NC State career with a 3:1 ratio.
-Wisconsin had a +14 turnover margin in 2010, 6th in the NCAA and 2nd in the Big Ten
-James White and Montee Ball, Wisconsin's top leading rushers from last year, had 2,048 yards in 2010
-NC State averaged 123.3 rushing yards per game in 2010. Wisconsin averaged 245.7 per game in 2010
-Raleigh, NC Temperature averages: October=61 ; November=52 ; December=44
-Madison, WI Temperature averages: October=48 ; November=35 ; December=22
-Russell Wilson has played just ONE game north of the state of Maryland in October through January in his life.
-In that game (2009), he lost to Boston College 52-20, threw 57 percent, had 1 TD, 1 INT and 3.2 rushing yards per carry.
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