Russell has been somewhat of a miracle for the city of Seattle and beyond. Entering the NFL in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, he had his doubters both from around the league and within the fan base of the Seahawks. People were unsure. It’s rare to have a franchise quarterback enter the league in any round other than the early first. Russ joins some pretty prestigious names not picked up in the first or second round, Kurt Warner (undrafted), Tom Brady (sixth round), Tony Romo (undrafted) and Joe Montana (fourth round) all have that same chip on their shoulder from teams that (hugely) underestimated the talents of these men.
As I’m sure you’re well aware, drafting a QB at in the first round is far from a sure thing, there have been busts all over the place over the years, Ryan Leaf (#2 pick in 1998), JaMarcus Russell (#1 pick in 2007), Rick Mirer (shudders, #2 pick, 1993 by Seattle) and Johnny Manziel (#22 pick in 2014). Every quarterback has something negative about them, they’re human after all, the unknown question is always can they overcome that problem or correct it. That’s the big question mark, “Is it solvable”. Russell’s big question mark was his height, teams prefer their QB’s to be in the 6”2’ – 6”5’ range. Russ measures in at 5”11’, scouts and general managers around the league had a legitimate concern about him being able to see over the five gargantuan offensive lineman standing right in his line of sight. It’s pretty much the only reason he wasn’t a first round lock, he had a great collegiate career and is a true winner. He is a model citizen with zero character concerns, he says the right things at the right time and does the right thing at the right time.
When Russ entered the league, he was in a 3-way quarterback battle for the starting role against new free agent pickup Matt Flynn and the prior year’s starter, Tarvaris Jackson. Many had Flynn pegged in as the starter however it became clears very early on that Russ was the real deal and subsequently was named the starter week 1 of the 2012 season. And as they say, the rest is, well, history.
But how will Russ continue to improve his game going into next season? He’s certainly got a lot more on his plate these days with a wife, 2 children and countless other commitments to sponsors and the like. His life can no longer solely revolve around football and that’s fine, will it hamper his progression? I don’t think so in the slightest. He is a veteran in this league now, he’s been there done that, he knows the score. He doesn’t need to invest every second of every day into improving, although I bet he tries.
He certainly had all the chips against him last season. He had absolutely no run game to get him into a rhythm and rely on at key moments in games, his play caller was questionable at times and his offensive line was allowing an ungodly amount of pressure very quickly. Frankly, it’s a miracle he managed to do what he did given all the circumstances going against him.
He made the most passing attempts of his professional career (553) while completing 339 of them for a respectable 61.3% completion percentage. He led the league in touchdowns with 34 and came within 17 yards of surpassing 4000 yards for the third consecutive season. He was also middle of the pack league wide in interceptions thrown with 11 on the season, his joint highest since entering the league in 2012 (he had 11 in 2016, 8 in 2015, 7 in 2014, 9 in 2013 and 10 in 2012). Very few quarterbacks keep the ball safer than Russ. It’s all part of the Pete Carroll philosophy and a reason why he does, at times, hold onto the ball for too long in certain situations. Nobody is perfect, right? He was also sacked the fourth highest league wide in 2017 with 43. Only Tyrod Taylor (46), Matthew Stafford (47) and Jacoby Brissett (52!) were put on the ground whilst still holding the ball more last season. With some of the stats he has going against him, it’s nothing short of spectacular that the team managed 9 wins last season. The 2017 Seahawks had their weaknesses, no doubt, but it’s safe to say if Russell Wilson wasn’t on the field, the team would have been picking considerably lower than #18 in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Obviously when predicting how he will perform in 2018 requires some questions to be assumed as they can’t be answered –
Will the play calling from Brian Schottenheimer fit with Russell’s strengths?
Will the offensive line improve in pass protection?
Will the run game, at the very least, remotely resemble that of an NFL calibre offense?
Given his past seasons, even if the answer to one, two or three of those questions is ‘no’, Russ will still do whatever it takes to make this team competitive. Assuming The answer to at least two of those questions, or dare I say it, all three, is ‘yes’ Russ could be primed to have his best season to date. It’s safe to assume (providing the run game gets going, anyway) that he will not lead the league in passing TD’s, Pete Carroll was adamant in his end of season presser that he wants to get back to establishing the run, thus taking away passing TD’s and replacing them with rushing scores. Sure, it’s not as sexy as a 40-yard bomb into the end zone but, ultimately, all fans should care about is points on the table, not how they are scored.
Another concern I have is the how the team will look in red zone efficiency next season. Jimmy Graham won’t be back in 2018 and he accounted for a large proportion of the red zone targets. As a team, Seattle ranked in the top third (12th) in red zone scoring percentage last season, the highest they’ve ranked in years. They scored touchdowns on 55.56% of trips to the red zone last year. That stat shot up in 2017 as they were rated 25th in 2016 with a percentage of 47.62%, they matched their 55.56% in 2015 however were ranked 16th league side and 2014 saw them ranked 20th overall with a percentage of 51.52%. I guess if the run game proves successful next season that will, almost certainly, equal out the loss of Jimmy’s red zone threat, or even improve it. He picked up 10 touchdowns last season and the average amount of rushing TD’s teams scored last season was 12. Provided Seattle’s run game is slightly above average next year, that’s only 2 touchdowns Seattle needs to find from other players (they had 4 rushing last year so 12-4=8+2= Jimmy’s production).
With the departure of Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson, Russ will likely fall back on ol’ faithful Doug Baldwin. I’m also expecting a big year from Tyler Lockett who had a minimal impact last year. These two are almost certainly going to be his number 1 and number 2 choices with Jaron Brown right up there as well. We may also see Amara Darboh step up and be more trusted by Russ as they build their chemistry and learn each other’s tendencies. Although just having Doug Baldwin on the roster is going to help Russ out no end, the pair were named in the top 10 QB/WR combos’ in the entire league recently. He is our Antonio Brown or Julio Jones, even if he’s only just starting to get the recognition he deserves from the rest of the league.
In summary, I’m not expecting a massive jump in Russ’s performance in 2018 as, quite frankly, he was already very impressive in 2017. I’d expect his total yards and passing touchdowns to fall if the emergence of the run game takes off (Drew Brees threw for nearly 1000 yards less and 14 less TD passes once the Saints got a dominating run game), but his completion percentage, average yards/pass and interceptions rates ‘should’ all improve. With an established run game, it should hopefully get Russ into a rhythm earlier in the game and we won’t see such massively skewed stats when looking at how he performs in quarters one, two and three compared to the fourth quarter, if the team can get the running backs going, it really does take the weight of the world off Russ’s shoulders which can only be a good thing. I can say with absolute certainty that as long as Russ is on the team, Seattle always stands a chance to win games, and not every team can say that.
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