As promised in my “matchups of the game” piece this week where I embarrassingly predicted a close Seahawks win, this article is dedicated to making a comparison that I’m surprised hasn’t come up more this season, the comparison between Bobby Wagner and Lofa Tatupu in their respective rookie seasons. I realize that there was a time when Lofa Tatupu was absolute royalty around here and he led the Seahawks defense that helped them reach the Super Bowl in 2005. As such the bar is high. The thing is the more I looked into this comparison the more it seemed like a logical one. Tatupu and Wagner were both drafted in the 2nd round (45th and 47th respectively) and both immediately established themselves as core pieces of not only the defense but the team as a whole. Both MLB’s are slightly undersized at 6 feet tall and under 245 pounds (Tatupu was 238, Wagner is listed at 241) but have compensated with quickness and fantastic instincts. Wagner is a little bit faster than Tatupu was but their profiles are very similar. Part of the Tatupu legend is that he came in and asserted himself as a leader on day 1 and while the same cannot quite be said of Wagner it’s clear that he is a key to making this defense work. Below is a chart comparing their basic stats, keep in mind that Wagner has 3 games to play and seems to be cranking up his pace down the stretch, 3 INT’s in the last three games being an example.
This paints the picture of two players who are not so far apart. The identical interceptions and yardage is kind of eerie actually, although Wagner had one pick stolen from him due to a questionable penalty. Tatupu eclipses Wagner in Sacks and Pass Deflections aka the J.J Watt categories but Wagner has not been asked to rush the passer extensively this year. Wagner has been a more prolific tackler especially when you consider that he has 3 games remaining this year. Looking at these numbers alone Tatupu appears to be the more effective player, although not by a ton. Where the comparison gets interesting is when we delve into the more advanced statistics a little bit courtesy of advancednflstats.com. I have provided most of these statistics on a per game bases to help mitigate the difference in playing time between the two players.
Positive Win Percentage Added
+Win Percentage Added/G
Positive Expected Points Added
+Expected Points Added/G
By these measures Wagner seems to be the more effective player. The most significant difference seems to be the tackling where again Wagner excels by producing 146% of the tackles of the average player at his position to Tatupu’s 104%. It should be recognized that Tatupu’s statistics here are excellent but Wagner’s are simply off the charts. There isn’t a single metric here that Tatupu edges out Wagner on unless Wagner falls off a cliff in the last three games and isn’t able to bring up his +EPA or SC. That being said these statistics aren’t perfect. +WPA is a very context dependent stat which is better for telling the narrative of a game than truly evaluating individual players. Also both +WPA and +EPA are based solely on plays that are a positive for their team. This caveat is designed to prevent players from being penalized when making good players on plays that are negatives for their team such as diving tackles to prevent the offense from scoring after a big gain. As a result these statistics are more a measure of play making ability than consistency or mistake free football. None of these stats are perfect, but Wagner’s dominance across the board in more advanced statistics cannot be ignored.
This article was not crafted to show that Wagner is having a better rookie season than Tatupu had or to try and figure out exactly who is better and by how much. I wrote this article to demonstrate that Wagner is having a season in the same league as one of the most successful Seahawks rookies of all time. Tatupu brought things to the table that cannot be quantified in these charts and he and his 2005 season will live on forever in the memory of Seahawks fans. I have no interest in trying to tarnish that. The purpose of this piece is to demonstrate that Bobby Wagner is special, more so than people realize. Perhaps another Super Bowl run will be needed for Wagner to get Tatupu-like recognition, but even if the Seahawks don’t make a Super Bowl run this year we ought to appreciate the remarkable rookie performances we are seeing on this team from Wagner to Russell Wilson to Bruce Irvin. I know we are all focused on the present and the 2012 playoff picture but whatever happens this year the future is bright in Seattle and Bobby Wagner is a big reason why.