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Why is Russell Wilson Good?

Updated on May 3, 2014
Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin analyzes sports, with an especially strong penchant for statistical breakdowns.

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson | Source

Russell Wilson is an amazing young quarterback in the NFL. This is a simple fact that cannot be denied or refuted. His performance in the first 2 seasons of his NFL career has been impeccable, but when one goes to breakdown all the physical measurables of Wilson, his productivity becomes even more awe-inspiring.

Russell Wilson stands 5’11’’ tall, well under the NFL prototypical norm. So he must have a phenomenal arm, like say a short-ish Drew Brees? Actually, no. The eye-test on Russell Wilson reveals a quarterback with a fairly average arm, at least NFL-wise. He can make all the throws, but only just. Well, he must be insanely fast, like say a Robert Griffin III? Actually, no. He is quite fast and elusive, but not on an elite level. At the NFL combine he recorded just under a 4.6 40. Yes, fast, but there are any number of QBs performing in that neighborhood of speed.

Russell Wilson is a short quarterback with an average arm and slightly above average speed, so the more interesting question becomes not what Russell Wilson has done in his career so far, but how the heck he's been able to do it?

Russell Wilson Season Passing Stats


Russell Wilson Season Rushing Stats


He Got Lucky

The Seahawks Were Already Talented

First off, I didn’t title this section “He Got Lucky” to diminish the accomplishments of Russell Wilson in any way shape or form. Athletes mold their own destinies for the most part, but at some point, to be a great athlete, you have to get lucky. This is as true for a quarterback as any other position, and a number of things had to happen for Wilson to have the early career success he has had.

The first lucky thing that happened for Wilson is that he was not a high draft pick. As a third-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, Wilson dodged the bullet of getting stuck on a really bad team. Many promising young quarterbacks’ careers are ruined right out of the gate either due to injury because of a poor offensive line or the destruction of their egos because the team asks them to do too much and they perform poorly.

To give an example, Hall of Famer Troy Aikman’s Dallas Cowboys went 1-15 his rookie season. For any readers that were around to watch that season, it was quite simply gruesome. You could tell that Aikman was an elite talent the few times he was able to get a pass off, but he spent the majority of that season on his back. The lingering effects of the blows to his head during his rookie campaign very likely played a role in his retirement after 12 seasons.

Like Wilson, Aikman eventually “got lucky” because the Cowboys were willing to put tremendous talent around him. A quarterback has little to no say regarding talent recruited. Yes, a good quarterback can develop talent around him, but this only goes so far. The team has to have or be willing to recruit in some substantial talent around the quarterback in order for there to be great success.

Aikman’s story had a happy ending. Many QBs stories do not. A prime example of this is Archie Manning. 14 seasons in the NFL, most of them with the woeful New Orleans Saints, yet when his peers speak of him, they speak of a Hall of Fame caliber talent on an inferior team that never put forth the effort to build a franchise around him. Archie Manning never “got lucky.”


Wilson Fit the System

Russell Wilson probably would have eventually been successful as long as he had been given the opportunity to play, but the Seahawks having one of the best defenses in the NFL certainly helped him to have an immediate impact. For a young quarterback, a good defense minimizes the magnitude of any mistakes the quarterback makes. It also keeps the young QB from trying to do too much and the turnovers and missed opportunities that occur as a result.

Offensively Wilson also found himself in a good situation from the get-go. The Seahawks do plenty of grinding it out on the ground, ranking 3rd and 4th the last two seasons in rushing. Not only is a good running game a young QB’s best friend, but this sort of offense also fits what Wilson is most used to. At North Carolina State and to a larger extent at Wisconsin, where Wilson played collegiately, they ran the ball a lot, not requiring the QB to put up gaudy passing statistics to win games.

Pete Carroll is Willing to Take Risks

As important as Russell Wilson being surrounded by good talent right out of the box was to his success, had it not been for Pete Carroll, he may never have seen the field. The NFL is a copycat league. 90% of the coaches do exactly what all the other coaches do. Compared to college football, for example, the NFL instigates very little major innovation. Most everyone is scared to do anything even a little different.

Love him or hate him, unlike most NFL coaches, Pete Carroll can see the forest and the trees. He has an imagination. Most coaches would not have drafted, let alone started as a rookie, a quarterback who is under the cutoff height of 6’3’’, regardless of the talent they saw displayed by said QB right in front of their faces. For whatever reason, being different terrifies most NFL coaches. Lucky for Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll is not afraid to deviate from the norm if he feels it will result in success.

You don’t think this is true? Just ask Doug Flutie. Flutie never really got a fair shake in the NFL, despite consistent success when given the opportunity, and arguably the greatest career ever by a CFL QB. Flutie may have been 5’10” on a good day, yet was able to lead the Buffalo Bills to a 10-5 record in 1999. In one of the most idiotic coaching moves in the history of the NFL, Wade Phillips opted to bench Flutie for Brad Johnson in the Bills playoff game. Why? One can only guess, but most likely solely based on the fact Johnson was 6’4”.

It was clear to everyone in the NFL community that Flutie was the better QB, but he didn’t meet protocol. It is scary to think, but it is a very real possibility that if Wilson had been drafted by the wrong team, we would have been denied the joy of ever getting to see him play.

Russell Wilson Career Playoff Passing Stats (5 games)


Russell Wilson Playoff Rushing Stats (5 games)


Game Management

We’ve already established that Russell Wilson is short, has an average arm, and doesn’t have Randall Cunningham or Michael Vick type speed. He was lucky to get an opportunity to play in the NFL because of the league’s usual adherence to the prototypical, and he wound up on a team that was already really good.

So what is it about Russell Wilson, besides situational factors, that makes him great. Only the most important determining factor in the success of any quarterback: game management. Russell Wilson is one of the best game managers out there. He rarely makes mistakes. For all the insane numbers being put up by players like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, the only stat that really matters when you’re QB is the “W”. In high school, in college, and now at the pro level, Russell Wilson has always been supremely efficient, breaking the college QB rating record with a 191.8 and the NFL rookie QB rating record with a 100.0.

It isn’t by dumb luck that Russell Wilson has such a head for strategy. He is very, very intelligent. Not many people in the NFL today were able to get their degree in only 3 years, and it is also plausible that his experience in minor league baseball helped to prepare him for the NFL and understand sports as a business. In addition, it didn't hurt that he entered the NFL a year or two older than most rookies.

If you look at other quarterbacks at this juncture of their career, very few were doing what Russell Wilson is able to do. Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, etc.: they may have been putting up larger numbers, but they were also making lots of mistakes. The physical talent was there, but not the game management skill.

In fact, it is really hard to find a comparable player to Russell Wilson. In physical attributes, Wilson is somewhat reminiscent of Rodney Peete, but Wilson is obviously a much better player. His “just good enough” arm strength and amazing on-the-field presence reminds one of Joe Montana, but Montana took longer to develop, was slow, and had near prototypical height. Fran Tarkenton, a smallish qb able to accomplish great things over the course of his career and use his elusiveness to extend plays, is a decent comparison, but he endured a lot more growing pains than Wilson.

From a physical standpoint the most notable part of Russell Wilson’s game is probably his better than average speed, but what makes him a star is what rests above his shoulders, and as much as good luck has helped him to get to where he is at so quickly, it is not by accident that Russell Wilson is here.

Vince Young was primarily an ineffective quarterback with a world of physical talent. His teams with the Titans had success despite him because of brilliant defense. Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl with the Ravens mainly by doing nothing. He didn’t turn the ball over. He didn’t make many plays. He didn’t get in the way of his Ravens’ defense, and the defense was so good, they won it all. I use these two examples because they exemplify what Russell Wilson is not, a champion via outward consequences. Without Russell Wilson making plays and managing the team, the Seahawks don’t have as much success.

What is the Primary Reason Russell Wilson Has Been Successful?

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The Future

The future looks bright for Russell Wilson. Much of the Seahawks’ talent is young and impressive, and without any bonehead moves by management, there is no reason to believe the Seahawks won’t be contenders for many years to come. 2 Pro Bowl appearances, 2 playoff runs, and a Super Bowl in only 2 years in the league is a strong start. If Wilson has about 8 more successful seasons, he may find himself in Canton someday.

With his track record, it is very hard to imagine a healthy Russell Wilson being anything but efficient. It is hard to envision him ever making a run at the career yards or touchdowns mark either, because that isn’t his game. He is the sort of field general that brings a team lots of “Ws” through selfless, efficient play, not 4,000-5,000 yard passing seasons.

The main determining factor of Russell Wilson’s career success again falls under the luck category. It is the most important luck factor in all of sports. Will he stay healthy? If he does, it would seem there is nothing to stand in his way.


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    • Larry Rankin profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Bill: I agree. People were like what the heck, and I was skeptical. But he is really shaping up to be an all-time great.

      I think people often either talk about what a great athlete he is, which he is a pretty good athlete, or what a good situation he lucked into, which he did.

      But they don't give Wilson credit for what I feel is his greatest skill, which is that he is exceptionally bright and calm under pressure.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I didn't see this fine article about my Seahawks. How did I ever miss this one? Well I'm here now.Wilson is an exceptional player, especially considering his relative lack of experience. I remember when he was named the starter....everyone was shaking their head and wondering if Pete had lost his mind. Turns out he knew exactly what he was doing.

    • Larry Rankin profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Rankin 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for the insight. Personally, I'm not a Seahawks fan. Actually a Rams guy, so life's hard right now, lol. But I admire Wilson as a player, even if I want him to lose. It's hard to say how good Wilson would be if he hadn't found himself in such a fortunate situation, but I know not many young QBs could have done a better job. If we switch Andrew Luck with Wilson in the draft, is luck as good as Wilson has been at the Seahawks and is Wilson as good at the Colts as Luck? If you look at Wilson thru HS, college and pro, he has never played poorly. The same is true of Luck. Luck meets all the preconceived notions of what a QB should be. Wilson doesn't. The cop-out answer is that time will tell us if this thing with Wilson is real or just circumstantial, but my gut seems to think Wilson is the real deal.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      4 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Great article. Living in the NW, I'm a little exhausted by all the Russell Wilson "love." And I get a lot of grief about it. Although he is a great guy and very intelligent QB, I just think that when this 'Hawks run is over, he might not be able to pick up the slack. If he has to put up 24+ points a game, they're in trouble. He is not getting any taller, or faster. Defenses will only get more sophisticated. Voted up.

    • Larry Rankin profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Rankin 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for the kind words. Can you think of anybody that has played as smart as Wilson in his 1st 2 years at QB? I can think of a few people in the neighborhood, but nobody that has had fewer negative rookie or sophomore moments. For example, Joe Flaaco and Matt Ryan come to mind, but they were still not as sharp as Wilson has been his 1st 2 years.

    • prospectboy profile image

      Bradrick H. 

      4 years ago from Texas

      Great concise write up here. I think you hit the nail on the head in regards to the primary reason Russell Wilson has had the success he has had in his still young career, and that's his intelligence. Wilson has amazing game intelligence for a young quarterback. He reads defenses way better than the like of a Kaepernick or Griffin. He's truly a special player. You broke his strengths down extremely well in this article. Voted up, shared, and tweeted. Great job!

    • Larry Rankin profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Rankin 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      RGIII is definitely in a less enviable situation in Washington, but besides being a little skinny, he meets all the prototypical measurables. On top of that, he is not just fast, but track star fast.

    • Writer David profile image

      Writer David 

      4 years ago from Mobile, AL

      He doesn't fit the prototypical measurements set forth by NFL scouts eons ago. He just wins. That' an intangible that is often overlooked by scouts. I thought he would be a good backup QB who could start in a pinch. Like so many, I fell for those measurements that are seemingly set in stone. You can't measure the heart in someone like Russell Wilson. Both he and RGIII are outstanding individuals. RGIII just doesn't have anyone to compliment him the way Wilson has.

    • Larry Rankin profile imageAUTHOR

      Larry Rankin 

      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      I agree. It is fascinating to me he is able to do it with such an atypical skill set and stature.

    • georgescifo profile image


      4 years ago from India

      Russell is not Good, rather he is simply outstanding..


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