Football Godfather: Russell Wilson


No one can claim they were the "first" aboard the Russell Wilson bandwagon, but I certainly helped cut down some trees to build the wagon. Photo by Neal D.

No one can claim they were the “first” aboard the Russell Wilson bandwagon, but I certainly helped cut down some trees to build the wagon. Photo by Neal D.

I’ve been asked 2-3 times a day for the past two weeks what my take on Russell Wilson was before the season. I know many of you have read my thoughts on the Seattle quarterback, but I’m going to share those original takes, some thoughts about leadership and why Wilson could be the football equivalent of Al Pacino in the Godfather. I’m also sharing a sample of my 2012 RSP Post-Draft Overall Tiered Dynasty Cheatsheet in this post for those who are new to the Rookie Scouting Portfolio – especially those seeking a reason why they should be get the RSP publication every April.

Cheat Sheet

This cheat sheet is separated into color coded tiers. Blue highlight are top‐tier picks. I expect them to make an instant fantasy impact as at least bye‐week options and within 2‐3 years develop into quality starters capable of QB1, RB1, WR1, or TE1 production. Green highlight are players that have similar upside as the top tier, but on average will need more time or work to see the field as a starter or regular contributor.

Red highlight are eventual starters, but may need 2‐3 years to attain that status. On average, this group’s upside is not as great as the preceding tiers. White highlight have the potential to develop into talented situational players within 2‐3 years. Some may exceed this projection and even become stars, but fewer in this tier have that potential than the tiers preceding them. Yellow highlight are projected backups. Just like the positional rankings, players in bold are prospects that I believe are undervalued and have the upside to develop into starters regardless of their starting point.

Value Designation

Next to each player is a value that I generated based on analysis of nine dynasty drafts. Note that it is so early in the dynasty drafting season that these values may not prove accurate even 2‐3 weeks from now. Proceed with caution with this designation and only consider it a guidepost. I calculated the average pick number for each player and I developed a designation is shorthand for the difference between how I value a player and his average spot selected:

  • Par -
  • OverX
  • Under X

“Par” means I valued the player within +/‐ 5 picks of his average spot selected. Over “X” means I value the player at least five spots lower than his average spot selected. The X represents the number I would add to the players’ average selected spot to feel he’s at his appropriate value according to my rankings. Stephen Hill is an “Over 11.” I think he’s overrated by 11 spots of his average selection spot. He’s average pick spot is 12.8 (pick 12 or 13). Add 11 spots to it and I think if a fantasy owner can get Hill with pick 23 he got good value. Realistically this won’t happen in many drafts, but it should help readers reconcile how to approach my rankings and average value. If Hill were an “Under 11,” then I’m recommending 11 spots be subtracted from his average selection spot and either pick him earlier or recognize there is value on the draft board. Note: Not all players will have a value designation.

Quarterback Running Back
(2) Andrew Luck  Par IND (1) Trent Richardson Par CLE
(3) Robert Griffin  Par WAS (4) Doug Martin Par TB
(12) Ryan Tannehill Under 6 MIA (7) David Wilson Par NYG
(13) Russell Wilson Under 27 SEA (8) Ronnie Hillman Under 10 DEN

Wilson’s Value Designation of Under 27 was the largest value of the 122 players I ranked on the full cheatsheet. Admittedly, Ryan Lindley, who was second, with an Under 22, didn’t fare so well – but I would take his situation into some account as well. On the other hand, Dwayne Allen (Under 14), T.Y. Hilton (Under 14), and Chris Givens (Under 10) were pretty good. I think you can see why I liked the Colts draft this year.

Wilson's on-field leadership reminds me of Al Pacino's Godfather: quiet and ruthless (photo by Football Schedule).

Wilson’s on-field leadership reminds me of Al Pacino’s Godfather: quiet and ruthless (photo by Football Schedule).

Back to Wilson. My greatest concerns about him was whether there would be a team willing to buck the old-guard mentality about quarterback height. You can see this caution diminish as the pieces I share with you below progress from pre-draft to post-draft. If you’re new to the RSP blog or somehow missed my thoughts on Wilson here’s what I have been saying about him:

  • Futures: Studying The Asterisk: My debut column at Football Outsiders was an analysis of Russell Wilson’s game, not at Wisconsin – where he had a line bigger than most NFL teams that dominated most opponents – but at NC State, where I believe he faced more aggressive and athletic defenses and thrived with a lesser collection of talent. In this analysis I show definitely that Wilson has the arm, anticipation, and improvisational smarts to become a starting NFL quarterback. I compared Wilson’s style to Drew Brees in his early-April analysis and then analyzed Bree’s game in this piece to show how an NFL team would have no problem finding open passing lanes for Wilson. In other words, without having to say it – the idea that Wilson was too short was hardened bullshit lodged in the minds of football traditionalists whose logic against Brees wasn’t based on the game as much as it was based on past biases ingrained in the game.
  • Undersized-Underrated: This blog post explains why Wilson’s work in Wisconsin’s offense that thrives with the running game and takes its shots deep with a play action game featuring movement, would easily transfer to the NFL. The Seahawks used a lot of these play action concepts for Wilson to be successful down field this year.
  • Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Prince, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and the Difficulty of Comparisons: This piece is not just about Russell Wilson, but why player comparisons are often misunderstood. This column is one I’ve still have readers mention to me months later.

Elsewhere

Thoughts Today

I have to say that I’m a converted Seahawks fan and Wilson’s addition and success with the team has been the final nail in the coffin of my history with the Tennessee Titans. I followed the Titans because Steve McNair, Eddie George, and a tough defense played a physically and emotionally resilient brand of football that reminded me of my beloved 1980s Cleveland Browns before Art Modell took them to Baltimore where the last vestiges of that team remains today.  My wife is probably having involuntary nervous ticks just from the fact I’m putting this story out here in the universe once again, because she’s heard it so often in such a short period of time. It’s my own personal Three Stooges’ Niagara Falls story.

I can’t cheer for the Ravens because in my heart that city didn’t get my team the right way. Baltimore should have known better than city not to lure a team away from city with a tradition as deep as Cleveland’s. I’m not mad at Ravens fans. It’s not their fault, really. It’s just the nature of business. But It’s painful watching the Ravens. I love Ray Rice’s game. I was chopping wood for his bandwagon as early as Russell Wilson’s. I went to the University of Miami, so don’t even talk to me about Ray Lewis. He should have been a Brown. He is a Brown. They just sent him to the wrong city. Ozzie Newsome was one of my all-time favorite players. The fact he’s such a good GM for what was my team, feels like he’s the NFL Anakin Skywalker turned Darth Vader thanks to the evil emperor Art Modell.

Again, I know it’s just business. Modell isn’t the only one at fault here. The Cleveland city government and Modell were like two dysfunctional spouses screwing up their kids – the people of the city – at every turn.  So for those of you who are all about loyalty, and stuck with the team in Cleveland known as the Browns I respect that. Perhaps one day I will have a team I’m loyal to again, but nearly 20 years with the Titans has been a good run. I hope to have the same kind of run with the Seahawks.

I share this with you because the resiliency is hard not to notice with Wilson. He’s the beacon for this team. Watching him in the season opener against a Cardinals defense that gave the Patriots fits later that month, Wilson had that game won for the Seahawks if not for a Braylon Edwards’ dropped pass. Wilson put that ball exactly where it was supposed to go and you could tell by his reaction that he expected to win this game. He’s such a polished guy when it comes to the way he interacts with others, but what I notice is that quiet, laser-focused intensity.

If I were to characterize the five rookie starters from this draft class, here’s what I see and understand this is infotainment more than hard-hitting analysis:

  • Andrew Luck: The Colts quarterback is the type of guy that you probably want to hate based on all the hype of him being the most prepared NFL prospect with the most smarts for the game since Peyton Manning. But as you get acquainted with him, you realize that he doesn’t take that shit seriously. What he does care about is football and he’s a football player first, quarterback second. He’ll knock the slobber out of defenders as a blocker and if he throws an interception, he’ll try to put that guy on the sideline for the rest of the game with a good hit. You can’t hate him for being a front-runner because he earns that title every day.
  • Robert Griffin: Griffin’s the guy that you know has potential to be a tall tale in every way and when he arrives in your locker room, you still can’t believe it. Everything is off the charts: speed, agility, execution, intelligence, and most of all the willingness to humbly grind yet balance it with leadership that belies his years. He’s also a nasty-tough player with Steve McNair-like toughness that turned Dr. James Andrews into a soap opera starlet last week.
  • Ryan Tannehill: Tannehill is that kid in backyard pickup games who looks like an average guy but when it’s time to pick teams he does himself no favors by telling the captains to pick him first because he’s the best player of the bunch. They dismiss what they think is noise and wait to pick him last. He then proceeds to make a strong case to prove his point, which is exceedingly painful to the competition while you’re feeling pretty lucky that you didn’t let him slip by. I think that’s what Tannehill did at Texas A&M as the walk-on when he told Mike Sherman the coach made a mistake not to award him the starting job over Jerrod Johnson. Still, he accepted the role of wide receiver and was the best one on the team. When he got his shot at quarterback, he was excellent at times. There’s a lot to like about Tannehill’s NFL future.
  • Brandon Weeden: There’s a laid-back, Cowboy thrill ride going on with this guy. He likes being aggressive and he doesn’t worry about making mistakes. There’s a little Brett Favre in him in that respect – both good and bad. I kind of see him as Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove. There are times he freaks you out, but you can’t help but like his daring.

Then there’s Wilson. To me, Wilson is like the Godfather. Quiet, charming, refined, but he’ll rip your heart out.  I’m sitting with 20 of my best Footballguys in Vegas two weeks ago, and we’re watching the Seahawks fall behind early, but I didn’t even worry because Wilson is all business. I initially thought the same thing when Atlanta was up 13-0 and Brian Billick was commenting on the lack of emotion on the sidelines. While I wasn’t optimistic at half-time, there is one thing I recognize with Wilson that I learned in my days a manager: teams adopt the attitude of strong leadership.

Let me emphasize that I said strong leadership, not good leadership. In my past business life, I knew a manager who was a strong leader, but he thrived on chaos. He got great short-term results but he wore everyone out at every turn and he burned bridges. He was eventually promoted and his successor turned out to be a good leader. The successor was a strong leader but he was quiet about it.

He focused on the details. He believed that separation from the competition came from preparation and focus. He also believed it mean staying calm and focused on the little adjustments when things weren’t going well and eventually you’d be back in game. When his bombastic boss would try to to instill his brand of over the top leadership (and don’t get me wrong, high intensity, vocal leadership can also be great) based on chaos to this manager’s operation, he’d quietly ask his boss to meet with him about something urgent in an office and then light into his boss. I saw it and it was pretty impressive in this situation because he fought for ownership of his style, had proof of results, and set the boundaries of expectations for his boss’ behavior while managing upward.

This quiet leader’s team took on his persona and that operation was one of the best of its kind that I saw in my years in that industry. Russell Wilson reminds me of that guy. Pete Carroll shared with the media that Wilson told the Seahawks that he had issues with past coaches and went into detail. Carroll liked this about Wilson, while it worried others. I don’t know what Wilson said, but I’d bet money that Wilson’s issues were things he shared openly, honestly, and professionally with coaches and Carroll like that because he’s not some 1950s, square-cut throwback in a leadership role who doesn’t really know anything about leadership.  As long as Wilson stays healthy and the Seahawks can continue to develop talent around him, he’ll be special.

Categories: Evaluations, Players, QuarterbackTags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12 comments

  1. Cool write up. As a Seahawks fan since the Curt Warner, allow me to say, “Welcome. Plenty of room on the bandwagon.” :)

    • Thank you and perhaps they can draft a technician like DeAndre Hopkins in 2013 ;)

      • I hope and pray John Schneider is as enamored with Hopkins as I am. Seattle has a history of drafting for need in round 1, which means DT, DE, or LB will be the likely options this year.

        I really hope not.

        If there is a player to buck that trend for, it’s Hopkins. In various ways he reminds me a lot of Roddy White, Torrey Smith, and even Sidney Rice. And like all three of those guys, he’ll be drafted much later than he should have been.

  2. RW favorite line is separation is in the preparation

  3. Matt,

    If you were a GM building a roster, and you were given the choice between Luck, Griffin and Wilson as your Franchise QB, who would you pick? And in which order?

    • kieswill,

      I don’t know if you have seen the RSP Writers Project, but this was part of the project. Check out this link and you can find my team(s).

      http://mattwaldmanrsp.com/rsp-writers-project-menu/

      I don’t think I would veer away from my original pick of Wilson, although there are strong arguments to be made for all three depending on the make up of the rest of the team. I picked Wilson last summer because I saw him as the biggest bargain of the rookie QBs and nothing about that has changed.

      • Matt,

        Yep I did see your writers project, really enjoyed reading the different justifications for building a roster.

        But Luck, Wilson and Griffin all had different values under the RSPWP.

        What I’m really interested in is, all things being equal, who would you take to be your franchise QB?

        Pretend that you are building a roster and Luck, Griffin and Wilson are all on exactly the same salary/contract so there is no bargain. In which order would you take them?

      • Sounds like a cop-out but I’d be happy if you just handed me one of them and said, “Here.” I have to think about this more before I can give you a definitive answer

        Before the 2012 season it would have been Luck, Griffin, and Wilson in that order – and Wilson wouldn’t have been far away from either Luck-Griffin. After Griffin’s injury, a chance to see the players in their offenses, and the direction of the team, I’d probably pick Wilson just over Luck because I love the way Wilson developed. He played with abandon in the preseason to win the job. When his coach asked him to play conservative football early in the year and only open up his game at the end of halves, he did so.

        That’s a tall order to ask for a guy with Wilson’s improvisational skill. Then mid-season forward, Wilson was given the nod to open the throttle and did so. He also did it without a veteran like Reggie Wayne. I’d say it’s very close among those three quarterbacks, but based on Wilson’s ability to keep this team in games,

        I’d say Wilson barely – and I mean barely – over Luck. In fact, I’ve changed my mind several times about Luck v. Wilson just while answering this question. It’s a really tough call. Let’s not forget Griffin, who has the potential to be the best of the three because he might be the best deep ball thrower of the three. He’s every bit as smart and just as hard of a worker. I really don’t know how you can say it’s an easy decision among these three players. I think Luck is the safest choice of the three. I love what Wilson showed as a leader and game manager. Griffin’s combo of physical skills-smarts-and toughness is off the charts.

  4. Great answer, appreciate you taking the time to flesh that out.

    It’s funny that 6 months ago, if you’d asked most any football person this question, they’d have locked you up in the loony bin and threw away the key for daring to include Wilson in the discussion with the other two.

    Full credit to you for being one of the very few who recognized Wilson’s potential in college. I get the feeling that if you were a GM needing a QB, you would have picked Wilson in the 2nd round, been absolutely crucified and ridiculed by the media/fans/NFL yet obviously would have had the last laugh.

    And Pete Carroll would lying awake in bed, fresh off a 7-9 season that led to whispers about his job security, muttering under his breath “Curse that bloody Waldman, swiping my QB of the future from under my nose! If only we’d taken him instead of Irvin!”

  5. I know I speak for several of my Seahawk friends who read your report regularly. Welcome. Us Sonics fans know your Browns angst.

    Something special is brewing in the Northwest. Pete and Wilson are going to turn traditionalism in the NFL on it’s ear. Not just at QB either, I expect a few GMs to start drafting longer corners.

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