Player Spotlight: Russell Wilson

A detailed examination of Russell Wilson's fantasy prospects for the 2015 season.

Defying Expectations

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

RankFirstLastYearsAttsRushFPTsFPTs/Touch
1 Aaron Rodgers 2005--2014 3476 377 2,578 0.669
2 Russell Wilson 2012--2014 1252 308 1,015 0.651
3 Steve Young 1985--1999 4149 722 3,159 0.649
4 Y.A. Tittle 1960--1964 1435 85 968 0.637
5 Cam Newton 2011--2014 1923 467 1,454 0.608
6 Earl Morrall 1960--1976 2107 151 1,373 0.608
7 Frank Ryan 1960--1970 2030 286 1,401 0.605
8 Len Dawson 1960--1975 3724 285 2,380 0.594
9 Bart Starr 1960--1971 2599 170 1,643 0.593
10 Colin Kaepernick 2011--2014 1117 262 818 0.593
11 Michael Vick 2001--2014 3152 850 2,362 0.590
12 Roger Staubach 1969--1979 2958 410 1,984 0.589
13 Don Meredith 1960--1968 2308 242 1,501 0.588
14 Tony Romo 2005--2014 4210 233 2,613 0.588
15 Daryle Lamonica 1963--1974 2601 166 1,624 0.587
16 Peyton Manning 1998--2014 9050 425 5,546 0.585
17 Daunte Culpepper 1999--2009 3201 512 2,168 0.584
18 Sonny Jurgensen 1960--1974 4165 170 2,517 0.581
19 Nick Foles 2012--2014 894 83 562 0.576
20 Randall Cunningham 1985--2001 4289 775 2,896 0.572
21 Ben Roethlisberger 2004--2014 4952 377 3,028 0.568
22 Steve Grogan 1975--1990 3593 445 2,294 0.568
23 Robert Griffin III 2012--2014 1064 242 740 0.567
24 Terry Bradshaw 1970--1983 3901 444 2,455 0.565
25 Fran Tarkenton 1961--1978 6467 675 4,012 0.562

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

RankFirstLastYearsAttsRushFPTsFPTs/Touch
1 Aaron Rodgers 2005--2014 3476 377 3,030 0.7865
2 Y.A. Tittle 1960--1964 1435 85 1,168 0.7686
3 Steve Young 1985--1999 4149 722 3,623 0.7438
4 Russell Wilson 2012--2014 1252 308 1,157 0.7418
5 Earl Morrall 1960--1976 2107 151 1,651 0.7310
6 Frank Ryan 1960--1970 2030 286 1,693 0.7309
7 Len Dawson 1960--1975 3724 285 2,856 0.7124
8 Daryle Lamonica 1963--1974 2601 166 1,952 0.7053
9 Peyton Manning 1998--2014 9050 425 6,606 0.6972
10 Tony Romo 2005--2014 4210 233 3,096 0.6969
11 Sonny Jurgensen 1960--1974 4165 170 3,015 0.6955
12 Don Meredith 1960--1968 2308 242 1,771 0.6943
13 Bart Starr 1960--1971 2599 170 1,909 0.6893
14 Roger Staubach 1969--1979 2958 410 2,290 0.6800
15 Cam Newton 2011--2014 1923 467 1,614 0.6755
16 Nick Foles 2012--2014 894 83 654 0.6697
17 Colin Kaepernick 2011--2014 1117 262 918 0.6653
18 Daunte Culpepper 1999--2009 3201 512 2,466 0.6641
19 Philip Rivers 2004--2014 4678 288 3,292 0.6629
20 Terry Bradshaw 1970--1983 3901 444 2,879 0.6626
21 Ben Roethlisberger 2004--2014 4952 377 3,528 0.6620
22 Tom Brady 2000--2014 7170 471 5,038 0.6594
23 Bob Berry 1965--1975 1173 109 845 0.6589
24 Steve Grogan 1975--1990 3593 445 2,656 0.6577
25 Fran Tarkenton 1961--1978 6467 675 4,696 0.6575

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)

RankPlayerPosTgtsRecsYdsRecTDFPTs
1 Doug Baldwin wr 221 145 1969 11 264.3
2 Golden Tate wr 165 109 1580 12 240.3
3 Marshawn Lynch rb 122 96 879 7 760.7
4 Zach Miller te 116 77 859 8 133.9
5 Sidney Rice wr 116 65 979 10 159.8
6 Jermaine Kearse wr 114 63 914 5 123.8
7 Luke Willson te 67 42 634 4 87.4
8 Robert Turbin rb 55 43 427 2 147.5
9 Paul Richardson wr 44 29 271 1 33.1
10 Anthony McCoy te 28 18 291 3 47.1
11 Percy Harvin wr 27 23 150 0 30.2
12 Cooper Helfet te 24 12 185 2 30.5
13 Ricardo Lockette wr 22 16 277 2 39.7
14 Michael Robinson rb 18 15 153 2 32.2

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
Let's compare Graham's 16-game averages against the Seahawks TE corps over the last three years:
 
StatGrahamSEA TEs
Games 16 16
Targets 137 86
Recs 87 54
Yards 1,051 714
TDs 12 6

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. 

Positives

  • 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

Negatives

  • 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

Final Thoughts

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

Projections

YEAR GCMPATTYDTDINTRSHYDTDFumL
2012 SEA 16 252 393 3118 26 10 94 489 4  
2013 SEA 16 257 407 3357 26 9 96 539 1 5
2014 SEA 16 285 452 3475 20 7 118 849 6  
2015 PROJ-Dodds 16 291 443 3517 27 10 97 611 5 3
2015 PROJ-Henry 16 297 470 3740 28 11 95 600 4 3
2015 PROJ-Wood 16 300 465 3650 26 10 100 600 4 5
2015 PROJ-Tremblay 16 298 475 3538 21 11 114 834 5 2

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.