Russell Wilson vs. History

Being a rookie quarterback in the NFL is not an easy life. Russell Wilson looks like he could be one of the great ones, but what does that mean? It can be fun to imagine Wilson taking his pre-season play and carrying it right into the regular season. I decided to see what history has to say about the chances of that happening.

Wilson has compiled a 119.4 passer rating thus far. Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with a 122.5 rating last season. Nobody else was over 110.6. The best rookie rating was 84.5, by Cam Newton. Let’s take a look at the best rookie quarterback ratings in NFL history. The results would be sketchy if there were no constraints put on them, so the following is limited to rookie quarterbacks that started at least 10 games during their rookie seasons:


Amazingly, only 10 quarterbacks in the history of professional football have thrown for a passer rating over 80.0 during their rookie season. Five of those ten happened in the last eight seasons, and four of those eight happened in the last four seasons. The feat is not common, but is becoming more so.

For context, a passer rating of 80.0 would have rated as 21st in the NFL last season, just ahead of Tarvaris Jackson’s 79.2. Seahawks fans want better quarterback play than what they saw last year, so perhaps aiming a little higher makes more sense. A rating of 85.0 would rank in the top 15, at least as of last season. Technically, only four rookie quarterbacks in history have eclipsed that mark (Note: Newton’s 84.5 rating got rounded up to 85 in the chart above).

One of Wilson’s best assets is his ability to create with his feet and run. It is hard to imagine him running for less than 300 yards over the course of a season given that he has already run for 150 in three pre-season halves. Check out the best rated rookie passers in NFL history, regardless of numbers of games started, who have rushed for more than 300 yards in their rookie years:


Yikes. That’s not a happy picture. Only two rookie quarterbacks in the history of the NFL have rushed for over 300 yards and even been above the 70.0 rating mark. That is disappointing to see. Newton was a revelation last year, and it seems unfair to expect Wilson to match what Newton did. So what does that mean for Wilson, assuming he gets the starting nod?

Before answering that, I was curious to see how much things changed in a player’s second season. First, let’s look at 2nd year players who started at least 10 games:


That’s a dramatic jump from what rookies were managing. Three players broke the 100.0 rating mark, and 18 were over 85.0. Thirty-two 2nd year quarterbacks have gone over the 80.0 level. Now, we can see if there was a similar bump for quarterbacks that run the ball effectively:


Again, we see a large increase in the success quarterbacks had when they were in their second year versus their first. Four quarterbacks went over 95.0, and seven went over 80.0. Compare that to zero and one for rookie quarterbacks.

None of this is to say Wilson cannot be the first rookie quarterback to rush for over 300 yards and go over an 85.0 rating. It does not mean he is incapable of becoming the fifth rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL to go over 85.0. Heck, he may not need to with this team. The value in understanding the history here is that we can better assess what a good rookie year would be for Wilson. It does give me pause, knowing we have a very good fourth year player that could start. The ceiling for rookies seems far lower than I would have expected, and the jump for even a player entering their second year is far higher than I expected. Wilson has the aura of a once-in-a-generation player. The question remains whether a terrific year by rookie standards will be the best this team can put on the field this year. Should Pete Carroll shock the world and name Matt Flynn the eventual starter, this could be a big reason why.