By Danny O’Neil
One month into the 2012 season, the city of Seattle couldn’t agree on whether Russell Wilson was the best quarterback on the Seahawks’ roster.
Now, just over a month before training camp, that same city seethed at the failure of a national columnist to include Wilson near the top of the NFL’s next generation of great quarterbacks.
“Of all the young star quarterbacks coming off breakout seasons,” Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN.com wrote of Wilson, “he still has more to prove than any of his peers.”
The fact that sentiment can inflame an entire city the way it did is testament to just how well Wilson played in December and January. That there are places in the rest of the country that remain unconvinced speaks to the skepticism that endures even into Wilson’s second season.
And before we dive into the specifics of the argument, let’s pause for a moment and recognize how great it is for Seattle in general, and Wilson in particular, to have a place at the table in this debate. For the first time in more than five years, there is no doubt about this franchise’s quarterback of the future.
The only question is how good Wilson is going to be, and for as much faith as he inspired in this city last season, there remain the unconverted who will point to other circumstances to explain the team’s success.
You know the song by now: Wilson averaged only 25 passes per game last season, reaping the benefit of a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league and playing in an offense that ran it more often than all but one team in the league. And don’t forget, Wilson still stands 5 feet, 10 and 5/8 inches.
All of that is true.
Now that doesn’t mean Wilson is going to be a quarterback who’s good – but not great – as Chadiha projects. But by the same token, the fact Seattle won its final five regular-season games and averaged 38.6 points during that stretch is no guarantee that Wilson is destined for a spot in the upper echelon of the NFL’s quarterbacks.
Wilson didn’t shoulder as much an offensive load as Andrew Luck did in Indianapolis or Robert Griffin III in Washington or even Cam Newton has over the past two years in Carolina.
But to say he was a placeholder under center whose primary job included a handoff undersells what Wilson did over the second half of last season. Because while Seattle may have remained a run-first team, Wilson was much more than a game manager.
He was the player the team turned to down the stretch of close games. The one who led Seattle on a 97-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter at Chicago and followed that up with an 80-yard scoring drive after Seattle’s defense inexplicably allowed the Bears to force overtime.
Wilson is the player who put Seattle in position to win at Detroit in Week 8 and the one who had Seattle 32 seconds from playing for the NFC Championship after leading a 21-point fourth-quarter comeback in Atlanta.
He passed for 26 touchdowns in the regular season, matching Peyton Manning’s record for NFL rookies. His improvement was systematic over the course of the season, addressing first his third-down passing then his red-zone production and finally becoming a threat to run the ball himself.
The result was a rookie season that answered any questions Seattle had about its future at quarterback. But any doubt that both the Seahawks and their quarterback have something left to prove was answered before his sophomore season began because even after seeing that rookie season, there are those such as Chadiha who don’t believe he’s on the cusp of greatness.