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“Best QB of the 2012 NFL Draft Class” Is Not a Close Question

Feb 2, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) celebrates with the Lombardi Trophy after beating the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In Erik’s recent thread about racial stereotyping and NFL QBs, there was some discussion about the best QB of the 2012 draft class. But at least in terms of accomplishment, the answer is obvious. That’s right — Mr. Brandon Weeden! No, seriously, it’s Russell Wilson. It’s obviously Russell Wilson.

Let’s start with the regular season NFL ratings — no need to use context adjustments since they’re exact contemporaries:

Wilson: 80G, 2281 Att, 8.0 Y/A, 2.0 INT%, 99.6 rating

Luck: 70G, 2651 Att, 7.0 Y/A, 2.6 INT%, 87.3 rating

This is…not close. Wilson has 10 more starts, and he’s been a lot better. And this is just passing — we’re not even considering here that Wilson has 483 rushing attempts at 5.6 Y/A (albeit with 46 fumbles), while luck has 286 attempts  at 5.0 Y/A and 38 fumbles.  Not coincidentally, turning to advanced metrics, Wilson also had a substantial edge. Starting last year and working backwards, in DVOA Wilson has ranked 15th, 3rd, 14th, 8th, and 6th; Luck has ranked 13th, 32nd, 11th, 16th and 19th. Obviously, Luck’s 2015 was an injury-based anomaly, but then Wilson played almost all of last year on a bad ankle and they were still about even. (If you care about ESPN’s ranking — which you probably shouldn’t! — Wilson has been better every year except 2016.)

At face value, then, Wilson is way ahead so far. The only way you can rank Luck even or ahead is based on contextual adjustments — but there’s no way this will fly. O-lines? You hear a lot about the Indianapolis offensive line, which certainly haven’t been very good, but nobody has had worse pass-blocking lines than the Seahawks of the Tom Cable era.  Wilson has been one of the five most-pressured QBs every single year of his career — while Luck has more typically been middle-of-the-pack. Outside of Seattle, you just hear a lot more about Luck’s allegedly bad o-line because while Wilson gets rid of the ball quickly and is (at least when not playing on a severely injured ankle) unusually effective under pressure, while Luck likes to risk hits and sacks to make plays under pressure, which is suboptimal short term and really bad long term.  Anyway, the fact the metrics don’t account for protection understates Wilson’s value relative to Luck, not vice versa.

How about the other surrounding talent? Again, it’s hard to see any edge for Wilson here. I think very few people would rather have Baldwin than Hilton, and Erik observed the late Jermaine Kearse is one of the worst starting wideouts in the league. At this point, sportswriters in thrall to either GROUND AND POUND nostalgia and/or racial stereotyping will give Marshawn Lynch undue credit for Wilson’s success, but the problem is that 1)there’s no evidence that the quality of a team’s running game has a substantial impact on the quality of a team’s passing game 2)Wilson had his best year when Lynch was injured and ineffective. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all, but I don’t think Wilson’s better running game makes up for the much worse pass protection he gets, and it certainly can’t explain the gap between them.

The traditionalist sportswriter, at least if Wilson was white, would at this point mention Wilson’s Super Bowl win and subsequent appearance, but given far superior defenses Wilson has played with I wouldn’t put much weight on that — given the quality of the organizations they’ve played for Luck’s 3-3 postseason record isn’t much less impressive than Wilson’s 8-4 (especially since in one of Wilson’s wins he was awful for 3+ quarters, granting that the aforementioned Mr. Kearse was directly responsible for at least three of the picks.) It’s a positive for Wilson but compared to Luck I’d say a minor one at most. But since Wilson has been much better in the regular season, he doesn’t need any additional edge.

We don’t know yet who will have the best career. But as of now, Russell Wilson is the most accomplished QB of the 2012 class, by a substantial margin.



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