Is Seattle's Russell Wilson Top 5 Among NFL QBs?
By Corbin Smith
Seattle Seahawks third-year quarterback Russell Wilson was selected by his peers as the 20th best player in the National Football League according to NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2014 list. With that ranking, Wilson is considered a top-five caliber signal caller, which has stirred up a great deal of criticism from experts and analysts.
There's no denying that Wilson has been nothing short of impressive since joining the Seahawks as a third round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. In two seasons as a starter, he has made two Pro Bowls while helping lead the Seahawks to back-to-back playoff appearances and a 43-8 victory in Super Bowl XLVIII over the Denver Broncos. He tied Peyton Manning's rookie record with 26 passing touchdowns in 2012 and broke Ben Roethlisberger's record with 28 total victories in his first two seasons. He's one of the game's premier young quarterbacks, and he has earned the right to be discussed as one of the best players at his position.
But then there is the million dollar question- is Wilson an elite quarterback worthy of top-five consideration? According to other NFL players, he belongs in that elusive category, but experts remain skeptical despite his early success.
Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly pointed to Seattle's strong running game and defense as reasons why Wilson wasn't a top-ten quarterback, saying, "Wilson -- who I think is a good, but not elite, passer -- operates in an offense that takes a lot of pressure off him, meaning the Seahawks don't have to rely upon his arm to win games."
And as columnist Dave Dameshek points out in the same conversation, Wilson and several other great young quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are still playing under rookie contracts, which has given their respective franchises more money to bring in talent and depth at other positions. Eventually, the "Flacco Conundrum" will take place and all of these young guns will receive lucrative contract extensions like Joe Flacco did for the Baltimore Ravens following Super Bowl XLVII. Once that happens, less money will be available to build depth and more pressure will be put on the quarterbacks.
Wilson is surrounded by an ultra-deep roster with talented players at nearly every position, and his rookie contract has certainly opened up a lot of extra cap space to sign high-quality players like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett during free agency. With Seattle's top-ranked defense keeping opponents at bay, he hasn't had as much pressure put on him to win games throwing the football.
All of these arguments are valid, but most of the league's top quarterbacks have strong supporting casts around them. Manning has Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders to throw the football to. Aaron Rodgers always seems to have a large stable of receivers at his disposal. Wilson had to play behind an injury-ravaged offensive line for most of the 2013 regular season and seemed to be running for his life nearly every time he dropped back to pass, and yet, he found a way to steer his franchise to a Super Bowl victory.
Trying to rank quarterbacks is a tiring chore and there's no right answer. Every expert has a different way of viewing greatness at the position, and that leads to great variance when lists such as this one are developed. Wilson has a strong, accurate throwing arm and brings great mobility outside of the pocket, but his greatest asset may be his leadership intangibles. He commands respect in the huddle, and regardless of the offensive scheme Seattle employs each week, he's the unsung leader of this football team.
Wilson's status as a star quarterback continually gets ambushed because of the team he plays for and the run-first style it utilizes offensively. He has a ton of help around him and probably doesn't deserve to be in the same conversation with Manning, Rodgers, Tom Brady, and other elite quarterbacks just yet. But with the addition of Paul Richardson and a healthy Percy Harvin back in the lineup this season, expect Seattle to throw the football with more frequency in the future. In time, he will be an elite quarterback and the statistics will back it up.