ESPN’s Mike Sando: Seahawks’ Russell Wilson likely to be ranked outside of top-tier QBs again
Russell Wilson passed for more than 4,000 yards, rushed for 489 more and scored a combined 38 touchdowns in 2016. His 110.1 passer rating led the NFL.
But, fair or not, the Seahawks quarterback will still likely be considered a “Tier 2” quarterback by NFL coaches and evaluators.
ESPN senior NFL writer Mike Sando is in the midst of his third annual QB Tier Ranking column where he speaks with dozens of coaches and scouts who place the NFL’s starting signal callers in any of five potential performance tiers. Last year, Wilson ranked in Tier 2, No. 8 overall, behind Phillip Rivers, while Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were listed in Tier 1.
Sando told “Brock and Salk” Tuesday that although Wilson has “rocketed up,” he doesn’t expect the 27-year-old to join those top ranks in 2016.
“He was already on the cusp of being top tier and I think that’s where he’ll stay. I don’t think people will dramatically change,” he said. “Basically, last year for him, the people who had him coming out of college and saw him a certain way with limitations had to admit he was better than that. I think he’ll still be there. I don’t think he’s going to pass Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I don’t think he’s going to pass Ben Roethlisberger.”
Here is how Sando describes the top two tiers:
• Tier 1 QBs can carry their teams week after week and contend for championships without as much help.
• Tier 2 QBS are less consistent and need more help, but good enough to figure prominently into a championship equation.
Sando says the most interesting thing will be how Wilson is perceived in comparison to reigning MVP Cam Newton. He noted that both Newton and Wilson finished the season on fire, but they are also still viewed as playing the position differently than the traditional way and that both benefit from having great defenses and offenses that love to run the ball.
“Those are all sort of code words in the quarterback world as far as whether it makes your job easier to play in a certain context,” he said. “And in some ways it makes it harder. So how do you give these guys their due and who comes out ahead?”
Sando said the more than 4,000 yards and 34 TD passes should break through some barriers of Wilson’s critics, but not all of them. Brock Huard asked whether there is ego at play for talent evaluators who projected him wrong back in college. Sando said that could be the case.
“College scouting reports die hard. I do believe that’s true,” he said. “It almost takes like that extra year to make the Pro Bowl or not make the Pro Bowl. Those perceptions, they take a while. And rightfully so. They have to prove it and you don’t just get the benefit of the doubt the first year.”
“People have very firmly entrenched in their mind what you have to do to be a great quarterback,” he added. “And when you haven’t had to throw the ball to win consistently, that lingers in people’s minds. Right or wrong.”
Sando says the biggest thing Wilson can do to vault up the list of perception is to start strong and put together a full season, unlike last year.
“Is it going to take them anther half a year as a team, as a staff, as players to be what they’ve always been the second half of the year?” Sando asked. “To me, that’s the test. And to me, their entire legacy depends on it because that first half of the season is critical for determining whether you’re playing at home in the playoffs.”
Sando said the elephant in the room is Andrew Luck, the Colts QB who was a resounding Tier 1 pick heading into 2015 season before his disastrous, injury-filled campaign. Sando believes he will be downgraded, but only slightly.
“So the question becomes: Is it Newton, Wilson, Luck? Is it Wilson, Luck, Newton? I don’t know yet,” he said. “But those three younger guys are really interesting now in just how they are perceived.”