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Scouting Russell Wilson – The Asterisk


If you’ve read any of my notes here on 12th Man Rising, you’ll know that I approach football from a passion perspective. I’m in love with the game of football and the Seahawks in particular. I’m not even close to being in the statistical wizard category with my fellow writers. (Although I love reading their stuff!)

But I read this article yesterday and I found it intriguing, especially as we reach the end of the regular season and the pundits are struggling to categorize Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. So let me take this statistical approach and help the pundits look back at what they may have missed with a certain Mr. Russell Wilson.

The article was about Andrew Luck, RG2 and other QBs in their class. The updated Lewin Career Forcast v2.0 lays out a statistical formula for evaluation based on the following criteria:

  • Career college games started, with a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 48.
  • Career completion rate; however, this is now a logrithmic variable. As a quarterback’s completion percentage goes down, the penalty for low completion percentage gets gradually larger. As a result, the bonus for exceedingly accurate quarterbacks such as Tim Couch and Brian Brohm is smaller than the penalty for inaccurate quarterbacks such as Kyle Boller and Tarvaris Jackson.
  • Difference between the quarterback’s BMI and 28.0. This creates a small penalty for quarterbacks who don’t exactly conform to the “ideal quarterback size.”
  • For quarterbacks who come out as seniors, the difference in NCAA passer rating between their junior and senior seasons. (For quarterbacks who come out as juniors or redshirt sophomores, this variable is always 5.0, which is the average increase for the seniors in our data set.)
  • A binary variable that penalizes quarterbacks who don’t play for a team in a BCS-qualifying conference.
  • Run-pass ratio in the quarterback’s final college season, with a maximum of 0.5.
  • Total rushing yards in the quarterback’s final college season, with a minimum of 0 and a maximum of 600.

“The biggest question about LCF continues to be the importance of games started. This is still the most important variable in the equation. Any quarterback projection system based on past performance is going to highly value collegiate games started. From 1990 to 2005, it was far and away the most important variable in determining the success of highly-drafted quarterbacks. However, there are questions about whether the rise of the spread offense is leading to number of quarterbacks who come into the NFL with a lot of collegiate experience yet still unprepared for the NFL-style game. Other quarterbacks have come into the NFL with less experience and done very well. The best example of this would be Cam Newton, who seems like the kind of guy who is built to break this system. He started only one year of Division I ball and looked like a huge risk, then put together one of the best rookie quarterback seasons in NFL history. Aaron Rodgers is another player who was underrated by the system; given the success of Newton and Rodgers, perhaps we need to consider adding junior college experience to the variable for collegiate games started.”

“It’s important to understand that LCF is meant to be a tool used alongside the scouting reports, not instead of the scouting reports. What matters is not which quarterback is ahead of which other quarterback by 100 points. Instead, what’s important is who has an overall good or bad projection. Scouts still come first and foremost, but this method is valuable as a crosscheck device and should be part of the conversation about quarterback draft prospects.

With that in mind, Here are the projections for this year’s quarterbacks. These numbers represent an estimate for passing DYAR in years 3-5 of a player’s career. The top prospects will be above 1,200 DYAR, and we should avoid quarterbacks below zero. Let’s start with the top two guys, two of the highest-rated quarterbacks in LCF history who will also be the first two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.”

Robert Griffin, Baylor: 2,530 DYAR Important stats: 40 games started, 67.0% completion rate, senior passer rating rose 45.3 points, 161 carries for 644 yards.

Andrew Luck, Stanford: 1,749 DYAR Important stats: 37 games started, 66.4% completion rate, senior passer rating dropped -0.5 points, 47 carries for 150 yards.

The article goes on to rate other QB’s in the draft:

Nick Foles, Arizona: 1,391 DYAR Important stats: 33 games started, 66.9% completion rate, 43 carries for -103 yards.

Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: 1,362 DYAR Important stats: 38 games started, 64.6% completion rate.

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: 1,011 DYAR Important stats: 25 games started, 69.5% completion rate, 26.8 BMI

Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M: 730 DYAR Important stats: 19 games started, 62.3% completion rate, 55 carries for 296 yards.

Brock Osweiler, Arizona State: 248 DYAR Important stats: 14 games started, 60.3% completion rate.

And then… the Asterisk. Russell Wilson:

The Asterisk

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin: 2,650 DYAR Important stats: 48 games started, 60.7% completion rate, senior passer rating rose 64.1 points.

And here is the narrative that goes with this rating:

“I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the ridiculous projection that the Lewin Career Forecast spits out for Russell Wilson. Yes, that projection is even higher than the one for Robert Griffin. No, it doesn’t particularly mean that Wilson is a sleeper prospect. There are a few things going on here that the LCF is just not designed to account for.

First and foremost, the change in Wilson’s passer rating between his junior and senior years is insane. Remember that earlier I noted that Griffin had a larger senior year passer rating increase than any quarterback in our data set? Well, Wilson’s senior year passer rating increase is 40 percent larger than Griffin’s. But does it matter when the quarterback is playing in a completely different offense for a completely different school in his last year of college eligibility? At Wisconsin, Wilson got to pick apart defenses that were concentrating on stopping Montee Ball. At North Carolina State, I doubt opponents were quaking in their boots at the thought of Mustafa Greene and Dean Haynes. It goes without saying that there isn’t another quarterback in the LCF data set who transferred between his junior and senior years.

There’s also the issue of height, another data point where there’s nobody in our data set that can be compared to Wilson. At first, it seems strange that LCF doesn’t include a variable to discount short quarterbacks, but when you look at the data set that went into creating LCF the reasons are pretty clear. There’s no penalty for being 5-foot-11, like Wilson is, because there are no quarterbacks in the data set who are shorter than 6-foot-0. There’s no penalty for being only 6-foot-0 because the two quarterbacks who are 6-foot-0 are Drew Brees and Michael Vick.

Quarterbacks who are Wilson’s height simply don’t get drafted in the first three rounds of the draft, period. The FO master database only includes three quarterbacks who are below six feet tall: Seneca Wallace, Joe Hamilton, and Flutie. That’s a fourth-round pick, a seventh-round pick, and an 11th round pick from 25 years ago. Even if we go all the way back to 1991, the only quarterbacks taken in the first six rounds at 6-foot-0 or shorter were Vick, Brees, Wallace, Joe Germaine (fourth round, 1999), and Troy Smith (fifth round, 2007).

Wilson too will probably be drafted on the third day of the draft, round four or later, which would render his absurdly high LCF moot.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 12 Mar 2012”

I can appreciate that the writer Aaron Schatz didn’t quite know what to make of Russell Wilson. I mean who has a senior year passer rating increase of 64 points? But when we look through the lens of the 2012 Season, we see Russell getting drafted higher than the projected fourth round or later, winning the starting job in training camp and making statistically improbable improvements throughout the 2012 NFL season. Now, on the cusp of week 17, he’s actually being mentioned in the same breath as Luck and RG3 as the potential rookie of the year.

The key word here is “potential” and I submit to you that Russell had that potential all along. Unfortunately, his potential came with an asterisk. Fortunately for the Seahawks and the 12thman, Pete and John ignored the asterisk at looked at the potential.