Jan 13, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) carries the ball for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC divisional playoff game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Just How Good Was Russell Wilson in 2012?

In case you couldn’t tell from my crazy-long thesis on Breno Giacomini a couple days ago, I’m a data driven individual. Even when I’m not working on an article for 12thMR, I still find myself looking over NFL and Seahawks related data just for the fun of it.

Yesterday, I started looking at some Russell Wilson stats, and then comparing those to the other NFL QBs and discovered something interesting: The numbers show that he played as well last season as it seemed he did.  That isn’t always the case, but it definitely is here.

So lets take a look at some of the stats that are out for evaluating QBs. Data comes from Pro Football Focus, STATS LLC, and ESPN.

Overall QB Rating

Before we break it down into some of the individual pieces that make up QB play, lets start by looking at a few of the different meta-stats that measure QB play.

QB Rating: 100.0 – 5th Best in the NFL

PFF QB Rating: 98.32 – 4th Best in the NFL

PFF Performance Ratings: + 39.4 – 5th Best in the NFL

Total QBR: 69.6 – 8th Best in the NFL


Completion percentage the common metric for gaging accuracy, but it doesn’t account for things like spiked passes, balls thrown away, dropped balls, etc.. That  makes it an incomplete measure of how true QB accuracy.

Adjusting for these factors, Wilson’s accuracy percentage from 2012 comes out to be 77.1%, which was the 4th best in the NFL.

The numbers also look good when you look just at deep passes (pass where the target is at least 20 yards downfield). In Those cases, his accuracy percent is 48.4%, which was 5th best in the NFL

Under Pressure

Only one QB in the NFL (Mike Vick) was under pressure often often than Wilson when dropping back to pass. Wilson was under pressure on 39.2% of his pass attempts. This had as much to do with his holding onto the ball too long as it did the offensive line, but more on that in a minute.

NFL QBs have to be able to handle pressure and still perform. Wilson had no problem in this area. When under pressure, his accuracy percentage was still 66.0%, which was 5th best in the NFL.

Red Zone

To be truly successful in the NFL, a QB can’t just be able to complete passes between the 20′s. He must be able to also do so inside the redzone where the defenses get more compact and the passing windows get smaller. Failure to do so means getting FGs instead of TDs, which usually translates to winning less games.

Inside the 20, Wilson’s QB Rating was 107.5, which was 3rd best then NFL. Inside the 10 yard line it drops down a little to 100.0, which is still 6th best in the NFL.

4th Quarter

I’m not really into 4th quarter come backs as a measure for QBs. There’s too many examples of players who don’t play well early in the game, forcing the 4th quarter situation. I don’t think we should give people credit for surviving a situation that they created by playing poorly. I also know that many people don’t agree with me. So lets take a look anyways.

Wilson’s 4th quarter QB Rating was 102.7, which was 5th best in the NFL. I really wish that PFF and total QBR splits like this were available, but they aren’t at this time.


All you have to do is look at all the bolded phases where his stats are compared to his NFL peers and you’ll know what I’m going to write here. We all knew Wilson was good last season, but has it really sunk in just how well he played? I’m not sure it has.

Also keep in mind that the first 3 and half games were fairly brutal. Wilson showed flashes of what was to come, but he also showed that he was a rookie and the numbers were pretty bad. I remember looking at PFF’s performance ratings after 3 games and seeing Wilson sitting at 31st in the league, just above Blaine Gabbert.

This is significant because it shows that over the final 12 games, he played better than any of the stats listed above. The stats from those final 12 games are being “weighted down” by the first 4, and yet his final numbers are still among the league’s best. If only the stats were available over just the final 8 or 12 games, I’m guessing Wilson would be even higher in the rankings in every category.

Russell Wilson is very good. You heard it here first.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/acshon.jackson Acshon Jackson

    Hey Keith, I went back and read the article you wrote after the draft about why you hated the Russell Wilson pick. I get the feeling that you don’t feel the same way now, but I don’t remember a mea culpa. I’m a player fan when it comes to the collegiate level of football. I cheer for my alma mater, Rutgers, but they sucked while I was a student, so I never developed an emotional attachment to the team. Wilson was my favorite player to watch since he stepped in for Dan Evans at NC state. I immediately thought he had the type of game that could translate well to the NFL. His success at Wisconsin, while surprising to most, just confirmed that. I think that at times sports analyst outsmart themselves and make evaluations too complicated. He excelled at his position in two different pro-style against BCS defenses. Played under center and had very (emphasis on the “very”), few batted passes. Less than the taller Luck and Tannenhill. He scores off the charts on every measurable (except for the height) and intangible. I, the non-expert, thought that he was better than Luck or Griffin and still do. His talent and success are practically screaming, “Hey you NFL teams! Pick Me!.” But of course talent evaluators and experts outsmart themselves. I give Seattle a little credit for actually paying attention to what their eyes, ears, and brain was telling them. But even they waited until the 3rd round.

    Think about what this young man has had to overcome to get to where he is at right now. NC State he was 5 on the depth chart. Wisconsin, he had about 2 months to learn a whole new offense and he was voted by his peers as team captain. Seattle, 3rd rounder who was number 3 on the depth chart. Nothing was handed to him. This is one of the many reasons I believe, when it is all said and done, he will be a HOFer. The young man doesn’t know what quit means. I am not a Seattle fan, but it gives me great satisfaction to see that Russell Wilson is excelling and stomping all over “conventional thinking.” I will continue to route for his success. I am not surprised, as the experts.

    • 12thMan_Rising

      I have been planning a “look back” at that article for some time now. I’m still trying to figure out the angle to take. I want stand by my reasoning and thought process, but don’t want to come off as a guy who’s trying argue that he wasn’t wrong. Clearly I was, and I have no problem owning my mistake on his evaluation.

      • http://www.facebook.com/acshon.jackson Acshon Jackson

        Thanks Keith for your response and your candor. Although athletic talent evaluation will never be an exact science and there will always be mistakes, I think the lessons that evaluators should take from Wilson’s performance is that, they should never be dismissive of a player because of one perceived physical flaw and to trust their analysis on the player’s performance. Use the information collected for the player’s performance amongst his peers and try to project how he would perform on the next level. I am not naive and know that this is easily stated from someone not paid to make these evaluations. I am also aware that if you are investing millions of the team owner’s money you can’t just go on gut feeling, but to dismiss a player over a couple of inches, when your eyes tell you that he is a phenomenal player, seems counterintuitive.

        Dogmatic thinking is not conducive to success in a progressive sport such as the NFL. So maybe, its not over-analysis after all.

        • 12thMan_Rising

          The question that we don’t have the answer to is this: Does Wilson success mean that height doesn’t matter for NFL QBs, or is he the exception that proves the rule?

          Is it just that he’s the “*perfect storm of awesomeness?” Perhaps he sets the bar for the skills required to be successful. You have to be THAT good at everything in order to make it as a 5-10 1/2 QB in the NFL. And then what’s the likelihood that we see another player who’s that good at everything?

          *I think I should trademark that phrase.

          • http://www.facebook.com/acshon.jackson Acshon Jackson

            He Just might be a once in a lifetime player (considering his height). I would never say that height doesn’t matter. Although extreme, I don’t think a dwarf will be able to play well in the NFL. I just think that if you have a guy that is just barely below the “QB height Mendoza Line”, but scores off the chart on everything else. He is worth a look and kick of the tires. Conversely, we had guys like Jamarcus Russell who was off the charts on measurables, but his play had all types of red flags. The Raiders, regretfully for them, gave him a chance.

            I don’t know if RW is some kind of trail blazer for shorter QB’s, but he does show that we can’t dismiss a QB for lack of height. The caveat here though, is that he has to be outstanding in every other aspect of the position.

          • Michael Terry

            Personally, I think we do know the answer, you just have to accept it. Here’s a quote from Chip Kelly at a Nike coaching seminar:

            “lf the quarterback is not tall, look at his hands.
            That is the biggest coaching point to finding
            a quarterback. How big are his hands, and how
            well can he control the football? The height of
            the quarterback is not the important thing. No one
            playing quarterback throws over the line. They
            throw through lanes in the linemen. The important
            thing is the size of their hand”

            Track down the talk and you’ll understand that Chip Kelly isn’t a football genius by accident. He has an incredibly detailed technical understanding of all aspects of running a football program. His model and efficiency is incredible. In short, if he says something, close attention should be paid.

            Wilson has huge hands of course. So, it’s clear to me what’s happened with this “QBs must be tall meme” is that the strong correlation between height and hand size has warped peoples’ mental model. It’s so much easier to see height and humans already have a very strong tendency to overrate the abilities of tall men due to evolutionary history.

            Humans are just an assortment of biases, all of us. As someone who spends a lot of effort trying to clear biases from my decision making, it’s disheartening to see how easily everyone falls for easy platitudes at decision time. Whenever there’s a short QB, almost every single article will quote some variation of “99 out of 100 times, a short QB won’t make it”. Well, no shit, because EVERYONE has heard that a million times and people don’t think for themselves, so already at the high school level, a shorter kid has to over perform to get a shot. And it just gets harder from there.

            People like to pretend sports is the last meritocracy, but it’s just not a meritocracy at all. People use poor eye tests and crude models to weed out swaths of people at every level. This is how I knew last preseason, when I first found out about Wilson and studied up on him, that he would be better than Griffin and Luck. To get this far as a short QB, he had to be that much better, like Jesse Owens having to jump a foot in front of the fault line to not get disqualified.

            I would bet a lot of money that if we could do a double blind study on QBs, and adjusted for arm strength and hand size, two *actual* good KPIs for a QB that are also correlated with height, height would be a non factor. People should be looking at the direct KPIs, not proxies.

            Incidentally, if you want to see an example of why hand size is so important, rewatch the replay of Kaepernick’s SB interception from the close and behind angle. He overthrew his receiver because the ball slipped out of this hand.

          • Michael Terry

            Also, I’m guaranteeing now that Manziel is going to be another superstar short QB. He also has gigantic hands.

          • http://Allcougdup.com/ All Coug’d Up

            We have to also remember that the Colts and Redskins did their homework and got exactly what they wanted and needed out of Luck and RGIII. Wilson just happened to be a guy who meets the Seahawks’ perfect criteria in the system. He would still be really good in a lot of offenses, but who’s to say he’s as terrific in a pure pro-style offense where a tall qb is coveted? Carroll and Bevel have done a masterful job of making an offense that takes advantage of all of Russell’s skill sets at the same time, so that’s pretty awesome for everybody.

          • 12thMan_Rising

            One of the things i like about Pete, and the coaches he hires, is that they change what they do in an effort to fit the players they have, instead of the other way around.

          • http://www.facebook.com/acshon.jackson Acshon Jackson

            I think you need to give Wilson a little more credit than that. He played in, now 3, “pure pro-style” offense and excelled. I assume you are talking about the read-option as not being “pure pro-style”. Remember he never ran the read-option until he got to the pros. He played in the West Coast offense at NC State and out of the Power-I at Wisconsin. I don’t know what he played in in High School. Also, you have to remember the read-option makes a very small fraction of the Seahawks plays. I’d be willing to bet maybe even less than 10% of their offensive snaps. You just remember them because the read-option was sensationalized by the media and there were big and exciting plays out of the read-option. So, I disagree with the assertion that he is a system QB. You would have a more valid argument labeling the RG3 and Luck as system QB’s. They play in a similar offense that they played in college. RG3 was a spread read-option guy and Luck a lot of 2 TE sets. Same thing they do now. Although, it is my belief they too would excel in another type of offense.

          • goofyrider63

            There aren’t always definitive answers for everything. But here, I think are a couple of good points that were overlooked in assessing Wilson. He has incredible natural talent that was displayed before high school (that story about him as a ball boy for his brother’s little league team is becoming legend). He has always been extremely determined and focused (clearly instilled at an early age, and still evident). And, his determination has compelled him to learn and incorporate whatever he needs to excel.

            He’s made deep impressions on every coach and player he’s ever worked with, and then some. He’s always had to prove himself in order to advance; he was never handed anything.

            In this age of the technology, all this info is easily googled. A lot of it’s been there even before the draft. But, if your mind was already made up, why bother with fairly blatant evidence to the contrary? Plus, following the crowd is always easier.

          • 12thMan_Rising

            You right about these things getting overlooked, and the information being available.

            The problem is that these stories are available about almost everyone. I remember reading about everything Jamarcus Russell had “overcome” to become a star. Most of it is bad reporting on slow news days.

            It’s very hard to filter out the legitimate information (like the stuff about Wilson) from the crap. After a while of reading so much of this stuff, it’s easy for analysts get to get numb to it.

            I know that sounds like an excuse. The real problem is the lack of access to the players themselves.

            Take Bruce Irvin. most draft analysts knew of his arrest history and move him down on their boards for character baggage. Teams that had interviewed him knew that his experience wasn’t a character problem, and saw that the experience had provided him with maturity and perspective. It wasn’t until after the draft that we got to know the real Irvin and realized the mistake.

            it’s also a mistake that will repeat itself every year. Agents don’t let the players do interviews, so the lack of information problem will never go away.

    • goofyrider63

      Wow, it’s like you read my mind verbatim, Jackson. Wilson’s story truly is a lesson on the failure of dogmatic thinking. Not everything in life fits nice and neat into a cubbyhole. It would make things easier, but it’s just not reality.

      One of my favorite examples regarding Wilson is the whole “The Asterisk” fiasco. I remember reading it with amazement before the draft. Even when trying to distill qb abilities to the most dispassionate accessment humanly possible, the author couldn’t help himself. How could Wilson be that good at that height? As a rookie? It’s never happened before, so history says it’s impossible.

      With that logic, we wouldn’t have airplanes or cell phones or a black president.

  • Hawkman54

    This to me is a great example of trust what you see, and not so much on the combine. If a player has it during a college season ( preferably two or three seasons) then he more than likely will carry that with him. As a opposed to a great combine and a avergae or slightly above regular season. The eyes rarely Lie !!!!

    • 12thMan_Rising

      The problem was that what we needed to see wasn’t really in his tape. That O-line gave him HUGE throwing lanes on most passing downs. There wasn’t a lot of instances where he had to see over the linemen to spot his receivers.

      After a while, the uncertainty because of lack of evidence became “he likely can’t” This was where the mistakes were made. Or at least it’s where the mistake was made on my part. I wasn’t willing to bet on the unknown.

  • http://twitter.com/HavokHawk Havok

    Many teams will be destroyed because of the Wilson pick and looking to repeat magic. The NFL has been continually honed to what works and what doesn’t for the past 100 years. There’s a reason for conventional wisdom and that’s because gut instincts on players hearts and other “intangibles” lose GM’s jobs. Wilson is an enigma that needed a chance taken on him. Fortunately we got him at the front of his logical window in the draft. He honestly could have went anywhere during the take a chance picks of rounds 3-5. The Browns are the big losers here. He could have changed their franchise.

    • 12thMan_Rising

      The Browns, Jets, Jaguars, Cardinals and others… until they find a definite franchise QB it’ll be “we should have Russell Wilson” from all their fans. It will be really annoying for an voice of reason within those fan bases.

    • http://www.facebook.com/acshon.jackson Acshon Jackson

      I agree with you that it is easy for me to say, “How could everyone over look Russell Wilson?” (no pun intended). I know that GM’s are reluctant to take such risks because it could mean their jobs. Other than Brees, Jeff Garcia, Tark, and even Vick, there have been very few successful QB’s that are 6′ and under. Most have failed or been relegated to backup rolls. My only contention is, which of them, Brees included, had a pre-NFL resume like Wilson? Not only his success in his stints in two different pro-style offense, against BCS defense, but what he had to do to get the job of starting QB. For me, this would have trumped the 2″ that he lacks. And this is before his combine measurables. But like I said, its easy for me to say when my job isnt on the line.