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Charting Russell Wilson’s NFL Career

It’s no secret that Russell Wilson’s 2-year stint with the Denver Broncos was widely panned as a disaster — not only because of the high price paid by the Broncos franchise for his services — but also because of the team’s struggles on the field in the process of posting a dismal 13-21 record during Wilson’s tenure. We’ve heard about the Broncos’ pervasive dysfunction in 2022 under Nathaniel Hackett, fired after only his first season as head coach. We’ve also seen and heard evidence of the stormy relationship during the 2023 regular season between Sean Payton and Wilson.

Apart from the rumors or snarky comments from those who have criticized the Steelers’ “new” quarterback, the facts suggest that Wilson’s record with Denver was a definite anomaly with respect to his overall career. For this reason, it appears that Wilson’s past two seasons might have more to do with geography than with his advancing age or diminished skills. That’s why there’s certainly no reason at this point to prejudge the amount of fuel Wilson might have left in his tank.

The first fact which speaks very well for Russell is his sheer durability. Prior to missing five games during two seasons with the Broncos, Wilson had played in an incredible 144 consecutive regular-season games. Other than the routine bumps and bruises which every NFL quarterback endures during a long season, Wilson has been a paragon of physical resilience during his 12 years in the league.

Dividing Wilson’s career into three segments of four years each, we see a QB whose NFL path has traveled full circle. For example, during his past four seasons (2020-2023), Wilson has averaged 3,480 yards passing per year. By comparison, during his first four years in the league (2012-2015), a period which includes the Seahawks’ 2013-14 SB championship year, Wilson had a nearly identical 3,494 yards average passing per year. But the similarity doesn’t end there. During his past four seasons, Wilson has averaged 26.75 TD passes per year compared to 26.5 TD passes per year during the 2012-2015 period.

In a nutshell, Wilson’s stats indicate the Steelers should anticipate quarterbacking at least as solid during the upcoming season as Seattle was getting during Wilson’s first four years in the NFL. Also considering Wilson’s maturity and his atypical detour in Denver, the chances seem pretty good that his performance in 2024 will be more akin to the middle four years of his career (2016-2019) when he averaged 3,940 yards passing per year and passed for an average of 30.25 TDs per year.

Another Wilson stat that jumps out is the huge drop-off in his Quarterback Rating (QBR) which occurred between his final 2021 season with Seattle and his first season with Denver. Wilson’s QBR plummeted 36% from 60.6 as a Seahawk in 2021 to his career-low 38.7 as a Bronco during the 2022 season. Overall as a Bronco, Wilson’s QBR was an anemic 44.7.

But this poor level of performance entirely conflicts with Wilson’s career average QBR of 62.47. Wilson also had eight turnovers by fumbles in 2023 — certainly not a stat typical of his career but probably something that had a lot to do with the level of criticism he was receiving from pundits and the Denver sports media. Wilson never has thrown an excessive number of interceptions. His career ratio is 334 TD passes to only 106 INTs.

Looking at the big picture of Wilson’s entire career, there’s no reason why he couldn’t be successful for the Steelers in 2024 and beyond. His physical skills appear still to be quite good and he has more than demonstrated his capability to survive a grueling season. In fact, if history is any guide, Justin Fields might have difficulty getting work during the upcoming season.

I must admit that I’ve been among the skeptics after the Steelers made their dramatic offseason moves at quarterback. But taking a closer look at Russell Wilson’s body of work, it seems more likely that Steelers Nation can look forward to watching essentially the same QB this September as the one who led the Seahawks to a number of successful seasons during the period 2012-2020. While it’s too early to tell whether Wilson can be the catalyst for making the Steelers a serious contender, it’s probably equally premature to count the veteran out.


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