Russell Wilson sets his own standard as a franchise QB
RENTON, Wash. — He has won one Super Bowl and is on the verge of playing in a second, but Russell Wilson humbly acknowledges he still scouts NFL quarterbacking royalty from afar.
"I want to have smarts like (Peyton) Manning," Wilson said during his Friday news conference at Seattle Seahawks headquarters. "I want to be able to make the throws like (Aaron) Rodgers. I want to be able to be clutch and accurate like Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
"Those guys all have something exceptional. I’m just trying to get a little bit from each guy."
The funny thing is those future Hall of Famers can learn a thing or two by watching Wilson.
Yet of the four quarterbacks involved in Sunday’s conference championship games, Wilson is getting the shortest shrift — and it’s not just because he enters the NFC title showdown against visiting Green Bay as the league’s most diminutive quarterback at a shade under 6 feet tall.
Brady has led New England to three Super Bowl titles and two more appearances. Rodgers is expected to win his second NFL Most Valuable Player award after another brilliant season with the Packers. And while the 26-year-old Wilson already has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy like those two QBs, another member of the 2012 draft class, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, is far more hyped because of his dynamic performances in a pass-first offense.
Even when the Seahawks win, it’s usually another aspect of the team that gets the credit like the Legion of Boom-led defense or Marshawn Lynch-fueled running game. Take last Saturday’s 31-17 playoff victory over Carolina. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor’s 90-yard interception return for a fourth-quarter touchdown was far more celebrated than Wilson’s three touchdown passes that put Seattle in position to seal the win in the first place.
"I don’t necessarily think of him as a typical franchise quarterback," Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said of Wilson earlier this week. "But for this team, he’s our franchise quarterback because he does everything we need him to do and more."
Wilson just doesn’t do it in the way we’ve come to expect from the game’s elite, nor get the respect that should come with it.
He doesn’t throw as often as most of his peers because that’s not what’s asked of him on a team that runs the football so well. He doesn’t have to lead epic comebacks on a regular basis because the Seahawks are usually playing with a lead. Unlike the standard franchise quarterback, he doesn’t have a receiving corps or top target that is going to wow anyone either.
The perception of Wilson as primarily a "running" quarterback doesn’t help his image either with traditionalists accustomed to the top signal-callers staying in the pocket. But that stereotype isn’t reality. Although he did rush for 849 yards this season — the NFL’s highest total for a quarterback since Michael Vick in 2006 — Wilson also threw 20 touchdown passes. His 72 career TD passes are the sixth-highest total of any quarterback through their first three seasons in NFL history.
Another overlooked statistic that speaks of Wilson’s aerial prowess: He has the NFL’s highest postseason passer rating (109.6) of any QB with at least 150 attempts.
Wilson stressed that carrying the football isn’t his intent unless he’s keeping on a read-option play or the pass coverage dictates he should turn up-field.
"As a runner, I just try to get down and get as much as I can get," said a smiling Wilson, whose ability to avoid big hits has helped him avoid serious injury in the NFL.
Wilson doesn’t just win games (Seattle is 36-12 since he started as a rookie). He doesn’t lose them either. Wilson threw only seven interceptions this season and didn’t commit a turnover by fumbling.
Wilson also possesses the same intangibles as the great ones from whom he continues to seek advice during the offseason.
"When I think of a quarterback, first I’m thinking a leader," Seahawks tight end Luke Willson told co-host Mark Dominik and me Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "He’s a tremendous leader on and off the field. On top of that, he’s a guy who is just able to make plays. He just might not make them in the traditional quarterback ways all the time."
"Who can really argue he’s not a franchise guy? He fits all the criteria for me."
Wilson will soon be paid like one. He is in line for a lucrative contract extension this offseason, which is the first chance the Seahawks will have to extend his rookie deal under rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
In the future, it isn’t outlandish to think Wilson will be the standard by which other quarterbacks are judged. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said styles have changed noticeably since "classic pocket-passers" Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were drafted by Atlanta and Baltimore respectively in 2008.
"In the last five or six years, all kinds of guys have come in with an assortment of abilities that go outside the drop-back, in-the pocket guy," Carroll said. "We’ve seen teams have success with those guys. It’s opened up the opportunities for a lot of players.
"I think college football has added to that with the dynamic offenses they run. You see quarterbacks with all kinds of abilities that maybe we would not have thought highly of in the past."
Some current college QBs are asking Wilson for tips on becoming better. One lesson he can preach from personal experience: Ignore the public "franchise quarterback" debate.
"A lot of people talk about who’s the best quarterback and all that kind of stuff," Wilson said. "I really don’t pay attention to it. I just try to do my job and do (it) better than anybody else. Every game, that’s the focus. Try to find a way to win."
That is something Wilson does with the best of them.