The Stats Don't Lie: Russell Wilson Is Better Than Tom Brady Was In His Early Career
The rise of Tom Brady is one of the most romanticized stories in NFL history. A sixth-round draft pick who was initially an afterthought as a prospect, Brady took advantage of an injury to starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe during his sophomore campaign, seizing that coveted title for himself before becoming the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl (at the time) by besting an iconic counterpart in Kurt Warner.
Russell Wilson has a remarkably similar story thus far, except he didn’t have to benefit from the incumbent starter suffering an injury. After Wilson dropped to the third round of the NFL Draft, he snatched the starting job for himself during training camp of his rookie year. He then won a Super Bowl in his second year in the league (becoming the third-youngest QB to do so, behind Ben Roethlisberger and Brady), as his team pounded an inner-circle Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning.
Not only do their underdog stories parallel each other – the numbers from the pair's first respective Super Bowl campaigns are very similar, with Wilson holding a decisive edge in passing touchdowns and QB rating.
You might argue a more viable comparison for Wilson's championship season is Brady's second full year as a starter in 2002. Okay, fair enough.
Wilson still bests Brady by a wide margin in QB rating (101.2 to 85.7) and yards per attempt (8.2 to 6.3) while edging him in completion percentage (63.1 to 62.1). Brady did throw for 400 more yards than Wilson — but needed nearly 200 more attempts to do it.
Clearly, Wilson gives his team a better chance to win football games than Brady did early in his career. And we haven't even gotten to the value Wilson adds with his legs.
Wilson has already doubled Brady's career rushing yards in just three seasons, totaling 1,877 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns and a 6.1 carry average. Wilson gained 849 rushing yards for Seattle this season. Brady has 823 rushing yards in his career.
Yet Wilson doesn't receive nearly the same amount of credit as Brady does for the rings he earned.
Instead, people constantly attribute the lion's share of credit to the Seahawks defense. Many of those same fans likely recall Brady carrying the Patriots to consecutive Super Bowl wins — but their memories are not serving them well.
Here, I'll defer to Grantland's Bill Barnwell, who recently opined that the Patriots fielded the NFL's best defense in 2003 and 2004, the years of those famed Super Bowl victories.
“Here, in the early days of the Tom Brady era, the Patriots were a defense-first team that protected the football and tried to avoid putting too much on Brady's shoulders. A staggeringly deep, talented defense delivered consecutive titles during these seasons, leading the league in scoring defense in 2003 before tying for second in 2004.”
What's funny is that this narrative doesn't necessarily apply to Wilson anymore. Sure, Marshawn Lynch can still switch into Beast Mode at any time and ease the load on Wilson. But “Danger Russ” has taken on more responsibility in Seattle's offense with each passing year while simultaneously limiting turnovers.
Admittedly, Wilson's performance in the first 56 minutes of the NFC Championship was erratic, at best. But every quarterback has bad games. One ghastly performance against a premier team shouldn't sentence Wilson to being slapped with the “game manager” tag, as some critics retroactively have.
Back in 2002, the Packers also coaxed four turnovers out of Brady in a 28-10 loss during the regular season. Brady only passed for 183 yards while throwing a lone touchdown, three picks and fumbling twice, losing one. The loss dropped New England to 3-3, and they ended up missing the playoffs at 9-7 one year after winning the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks have avoided the dreaded Super Bowl hangover, and Wilson has shown plenty of times that he can not only help Seattle win — he can carry them to landmark victories.
During a Super Bowl rematch in Week 3, the Broncos limited Lynch to a meager 3.4 yards per carry on 26 attempts. Wilson picked up the slack and was brilliant in leading the Seahawks to a 26-20 overtime victory. On the game-winning drive, Wilson was 4-for-6 for 35 yards and scrambled four times for 21 yards.
In a key Week 12 matchup against division-leading Arizona, Wilson picked apart one of the league's toughest defenses. He completed 17-of-22 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, adding 73 yards on 10 rushing attempts to help Seattle win 19-3.
A month later in a road contest against those same Cardinals, Seattle took control of the NFC West in a 35-6 rout as Wilson helped the Seahawks compile a franchise-record 596 yards. He accounted for 427 of them — 339 yards and two touchdowns through the air, 88 yards and one score on the ground.
What else does a guy have to do to be recognized as one of the NFL's unquestioned top-tier quarterbacks?
Wilson has displayed the potential to morph into a combination of Brady (passing ability and intangibles), Drew Brees (undersized slinger with elite accuracy) and Randall Cunningham (running ability).
He's also set to become the youngest QB to start two Super Bowls, breaking the record set by none other than Brady. On Sunday, will he also best Brady's mark of becoming the youngest signal-caller to win two Lombardi Trophies?
If he does, not only should Wilson be regarded as one of the sport's best modern quarterbacks — he could be on track to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
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