Russell Wilson & Robert Griffin: A Quantitative Look


I’d first like to start off by saying that I’m not a fan of awards that aren’t based on metrics such as rookie of the year, comeback player of the year, etc. It’s like asking me what my favorite movie is. Depending on the time and my mood I will give you a different answer. Instead, I can give you a grouping of my top movies in no particular order. This is how I view the rookie of the year selection. Clearly there are a few offensive rookies that should be considered. In my opinion they are Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin, and Alfred Morris. Sorry Andrew Luck, but if you lead the league in interceptions, you can’t be considered.

On defense the group is Bobby Wagner, Casey Hayward, and Chandler Jones. Sorry Janoris Jenkins, you have lots of talent but aren’t very disciplined at this point and need to improve.

Being the quantitative geek that I am, I have decided to compare Wilson and Griffin using some sort of quantifiable metrics. (Don’t worry, there will be lots of graphs, too.) Since I personally don’t really care who wins this award I came into this analysis without a dog in the hunt.

Let’s start by looking a quick set of basic metrics.

As you can see, Griffin edges out Wilson is every category except for touchdowns. That being said, Wilson’s TD/INT ratio is only 2.6 while Griffin’s is 4. Don’t get me wrong, they are ridiculously close but objectively Griffin has the edge in these basic stats. They also both threw 393 times and Griffin has only 82 more yards than Wilson. Wilson also attempted a higher percentage of deep throws than Griffin.

While those baseline stats are nice, they don’t really add much color. For instance, Seattle played a harder schedule than Washington. Seattle’s opponent’s winning percentage was .505 while Washington’s was only .494.

There is also the fact that both quarterbacks are not qualitatively all that similar. Keith wrote an article illustrating just that point. Given that, I thought it would add more clarity to break out the separate aspects of their games — passing, rushing, and total against the quality of the opposing defenses in those same categories. Let’s first look at rushing.

First, I include the game that Griffin did not play in because I believe that if a player gets statistical credit for playing a certain way and thereby accepting the risk of playing in such a way, then the costs of those risks should also be factored in. In this case, it’s the game that Griffin sat out. (In all fairness, Wilson also sat out about 2.5 quarters of the season.)

Some quick data information. The defensive averages are the average of a certain type of yard in games up to that game not counting yards from a Washington or Seattle game. So, in essence, a quarterback’s numbers won’t be used against himself. It’s his performance compared to the defenses performance against every other opponent, rushing and passing.

The quarterbacks’ cumulative average is the average of all games played up to the end of each week. I prefer this average because it shows trends rather than a flat line over the entire season.

You can see above that Griffin generally ran for more yards per game than did Wilson. This is both a stylistic difference in the players and a difference in play calling. Griffin was provided with an offensive scheme much more catered to his abilities as a mobile quarterback while Wilson was basically forced to stay in the pocked for the first half of the season. Wilson clearly began running more in the last third of the season and that moved his average up a bit, while Griffin was up and down all season. Griffin’s best rushing games came against Minnesota, New York, and Philadelphia. Wilson’s came against Chicago, Buffalo, and St. Louis.

Now let’s look at the two quarterbacks’ aerial statistics.

The passing data and charts show a different story. Wilson’s passing average increased by nearly 50 yards per game over the season while Griffin’s dropped by almost 100 yards per game. Even if you don’t count the Cleveland game his average still drops by over 100 yards a game over the season.  Both Wilson and Griffin ended the season averaging nearly the same however, 195 and 200 yards per game respectively.  I do think the upward trend of Wilson though speaks more to his actual development while Griffin trended down most of the season and became prone to injury toward the end. I would prefer to have a steady-as-she-goes upward trending quarterback like Wilson than someone who is a spectacular player when they’re healthy, but is unable to play a complete season. (Paging Michael Vick! Who, ironically, also had the best selling jersey in the NFL, before he decided he’d rather kill dogs for sport.)

The final set of charts shows the quarterbacks’ QBRs in each game overlayed their QBR rank and their opponent’s defensive rank for each game. I highlighted in green the games in which the quarterback was ranked first in QBR for the week. The ranks are at the top of each column.

Russell Wilson had three weeks where he was the best performing quarterback in the NFL. Those games came against Miami, Buffalo, and San Francisco. Seattle also played an average ranked defense of 13th. Washington’s opponents averaged19th. That’s a substantial difference in quality of defensive opponent. Griffin finished the season with a 71.4 QBR while Wilson had a 69.6 QBR.

In the end, I would probably vote for Wilson because I’m a Seahawks fan. I don’t see enough discernible differences between the two players to make an overwhelming case one way or the other. A vote for either man is completely defensible. In the end, I’d put money on Griffin to win, largely because of media bias and ignorance that is generally displayed week to week by too many of the people that get to vote in this popularity contest. I doubt many of the voters have done even the level of analysis I’ve done here. I’d value the award if there was some sort of objectivity inserted into it. Right now it’s more subjective than Olympic figure skating and gymnastics.

There are a lot of other conclusions and analyses that can be drawn from these charts and the underlying data but I already feel like my head is so far up my own butt in doing this that I should probably stop. If you want the data to go down the rabbit hole with me, let me know. I was unable to find any sort of massive database available from the NFL or ESPN that could be downloaded so if you want the individually and painfully collected data to do something else with it, I’ve got it.

*I refuse to use the pretentious and obnoxious III moniker. As far as I know there isn’t a Robert Griffin I or II in the NFL. Same goes for all the idiots putting “JR” and “SR” on their jerseys for no reason. This is more a statement to the ridiculous trend of players to get creative on their jerseys than a stab at just one player. I’m getting off my soapbox now.