Russell Wilson: The Next Steve Young?

Russell Wilson has never run away from comparisons to Drew Brees. After all, Brees is Wilson’s idol. Nobody has argued with the idea that Brees is the high end of what Wilson could be as a quarterback in the NFL. What is not to like about a Super Bowl-winning, MVP-caliber player mentioned in the same breath with the Seahawks new starting quarterback? Well, we have all missed a crucial element of Wilson’s game that differs significantly from Brees. Wilson can run. He can really run. Wilson ran for more yards in his four part-time preseason games (150 yds), than Drew Brees has run for in any single season. That’s a big enough difference that it was worth looking for better comparison.

There have been ten quarterbacks in pro football history to run for at least 400 yards in a season and have a passer rating over 83.0. Take a look at the guys on the list:

Randall Cunningham
Steve McNair
Michael Vick
Daunte Culpepper
Steve Young
Rich Gannon
Jeff Garcia
Donovan McNabb
Cam Newton
Frank Filchock

Cunningham and Vick are more athletes that can throw, than quarterback who can run. McNair is an interesting one, and worth another look. His passing style and tendencies don’t match up well with Wilson, at least in my mind’s eye. Culpepper was a massive man who threw over defenses and ran through them. Jeff Garcia was a garbage man. He was a rich man’s Dave Krieg. There were frantic scrambles and unorthodox throws, but he got the job done at a high level. Still, Wilson has a stronger arm and is a more polished passer. The game comes easier to him. Cam Newton is a breed by himself. Donovan McNabb was another strength guy when it came to running more than elusiveness and speed. Frank Filchock played when there were dinasaurs roaming the Earth. That leaves Steve Young and Rich Gannon.

Interestingly, Matt Flynn has often been compared to Gannon, even by Gannon himself. Flynn would never be the runner Gannon was. Gannon only accomplished the plus 83.0 and rush for over 400 yards feat once. Young managed to do it four times, with a passer rating over 100.0 each time. No other player has rushed for more than 400 yards and thrown for 100+ passer rating more than once.

Young was a fantastic athlete that could run and throw with almost equal ability. He ran strategically, only when there was a chance to pick up an easy first down. He rarely took on defenders, but instead ran out of bounds or slid willingly. His concussion problems were evidence that he didn’t avoid contact quite as much as he would have liked. Still, he ran enough to keep defenses honest. His passing was precise, strong and on time. He was the quintessential athletic quarterback. He wounded you with his legs, but he killed you with his head and arm.

He was also a winner. No other quarterback on this list won a Super Bowl. Young did it, and threw 6 touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl MVP award as well.

Wilson is a rare breed, and may follow the path of Newton in redefining the quarterback position his own way. The Young comparison, though, feels right on a number of levels. Wilson runs with similar purpose and intelligence. He is cerebral and under control. There is a surgical precision to the way he approaches the game. Neither Young nor Wilson ever appear rushed. And both are relentless winners.

Young had the benefit of developing behind Joe Montana, but some would say many of his prime years were wasted on the bench. Wilson will not need to worry about that.

This all may seem ridiculous before a player has played their first regular season snap. All these are so far are similarities. Wilson has years of work to do before any real comparisons can be made. However, comparing him to a player largely because they are both short while ignoring a key part of his game felt a little lazy. We will see if the Young model suits him better.

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