Russell Wilson has built a career on defying expectations. Collegiate spread quarterbacks aren't supposed to win Super Bowls. Small quarterbacks aren't supposed to dominate. MVP candidates aren't supposed to make $750,000 per season. Most importantly for our conversation, quarterbacks that throw the ball 420 times per season aren't supposed to have fantasy relevance. Yet, in an era defined by lopsided pass-vs-run ratios, Russell Wilson has managed to carve out fantasy relevance in spite of playing in a run heavy offense.
Wilson's Season Rank, NFL Passing Attempts
- 2012 -- 392 attempts (26th in the NFL)
- 2013 -- 406 attempts (22nd)
- 2014 -- 452 attempts (19th)
Wilson's Fantasy RankING
- 2012 -- QB11
- 2013 -- QB9
- 2014 -- QB5
In spite of ranking no higher than 19th in attempts, Wilson has delivered QB1 numbers in all three of his seasons, and cracked into the Top 5 at the position last year. How is that possible? How, in an era where some quarterbacks push toward 700 attempts, can a signal caller achieve fantasy greatness on just 450 attempt? It's all about efficiency.
Russell Wilson is one of the most efficient fantasy quarterbacks in NFL history
In order to understand how Wilson defies the odds, I took a look at all quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 500 fantasy points (using FBG scoring) and computed their Fantasy Points per Touch (Fantasy Points / Passing Attempts + Rushing Attempts).
Table 1: QB Career Fantasy Points per Touch (Min: 500 FPTs) -- 4 pts per Pass TD, 6 pts per Rush/Rec TD
Wilson ranks behind only Aaron Rodgers in NFL HISTORY in terms of his fantasy productivity per touch. While it's true Wilson's rushing ability (rushing yards tend to have 2 to 2.5x more value than passing yards) contributes to his fantasy value, it would be a mistake to overinflate the impact of his legs. Table 1 uses FBG Scoring -- 6pts per rush TD, 4 pts per pass TD, but if we use 6 points for all TDs (rushing and passing), WIlson remains among the all-time best.
Table 2: QB Career Fantasy Points per Touch (Min: 500 FPTs) -- 6 pts per Pass TD, 6 pts per Rush/Rec TD
Wilson ranks 4th all-time EVEN IF YOU VALUE PASS TDs EQUIVALENTLY WITH RUSHING TDs. He's a special player; and it boggles the mind to think about what Wilson's fantasy ceiling is like if he ever fields a more balanced, pass-happy offense.
Elite Productivity Without Elite Supporting Talent
You would think Russell Wilson's ability to transcend his limited pass attempts would be directly related to having an all-star cast of skill players to work alongside. But we know that's simply not an accurate depiction of his receiving corps over his first three seasons:
Seahawks Players 10+ Receptions (2012-2014)
Enter Jimmy Graham
The Seahawks surprised many by trading center Max Unger for All Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. To say Graham is the best receiving weapon in Wilson's NFL career would be an understatement:
- 78 games
- 613 targets
- 386 receptions
- 4,752 yards
- 51 touchdowns
- 781.2 fantasy points
Graham is demonstratively better than Wilson's typical recieving options; particularly in the red zone. Skeptics believe Graham's numbers will fall now that he's playing in Seattle. Logic dictates otherwise. Pete Carroll and OC Darrell Bevell didn't trade a young, talented starter on the offensive line to acquire an All Pro tight end with the idea of forcing him into a minimalist role. The reason the Seahawks haven't featured the TE in recent years is because they didn't have players at the position to warrant the focus. Now they do.
Let's Not Forget ABOUT Natural Progress
I'm constantly surprised by the lack of imagination that permeates our hobby. We have a natural tendency to take what happened last year and assume that's the ideal starting point for a given player's statistics in the upcoming season. History tells us that's a foolhardy assumption to make. Players' careers generally follow an arc -- reaching a peak and then ebbing downward. Very few quarterbacks -- particularly those with Wilson's metrics -- peak in their 3rd season. In other words, Russell Wilson is an ascendant player. Barring injury, we almost certainly have NOT seen the BEST from Wilson yet. For opposing defenses, that's a frightening thought.
- Wilson remains an ascendant player, and has displayed elite ability as a passer (63.4% completion rate, 8.0 yards per attempt) and runner (103 rushes, 625 rushing yards per season)
- The Seahawks added Jimmy Graham -- the first truly dominant receiving option in Wilson's 4 NFL seasons
- Wilson was a Top 5 fantasy QB in spite of ranking 19th in attempts last year; but the addition of Graham and slight regressions to the defense argue for a continued increase in pass attempts in 2015 and beyond
- The Seahawks have won a Super Bowl and appeared in another by throwing the ball less than 450 times per season
- Wilson is due a contract extension, and the lack of a new deal could be a distraction
In three NFL seasons, Russell WIlson has finished 11th, 9th and 5th among fantasy QBs. That's in spite of ranking in the bottom third of the league in pass attempts, and having the likes of Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse as his best receivers. Wilson is an ascendant player and history dicates he'll be given more freedom to execute the offense, not to mention more passing attempts (particularly if the defense takes a minor step back toward the pack). With a floor as a mid-level fantsy QB1, the addition of Jimmy Graham adds the upside that puts Wilson among the must haves at his position. If you miss out on Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck, Wilson makes a stellar consolation prize in the 4th or 5th round
Thoughts from Around the Web
Our own Sigmund Bloom highlighted Wilson as one of the big winners in NFL free agency:
Russell Wilson, Seattle - There’s no subtlety here. Wilson gains one of the best weapons in the middle of the field and red zone in the NFL. Wilson added lethal running ability last year to basically cement top five status for 2015 going into this offseason, with Jimmy Graham in the mix, it’s fair to ask if he can rival Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck for “elite” fantasy QB status. If the Seahawks start to open up the passing game as the Steelers did for Ben Roethlisberger as his career progressed, that might answer the question for us.