Yesterday Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN said on his radio program that he had awarded Stanford QB Andrew Luck the highest grade he had awarded to any prospect since John Elway. Kiper did not detail, or even mention, any of the criteria he uses for his grading system, but one suspects that on-field production was not heavily weighted.
If it were, then it is certain that Luck would not be the highest graded draft prospect since Elway. In fact, he would not be the highest rated quarterback prospect in this year’s draft alone, because he is far from the most productive college quarterback available to be drafted. That would be Robert Griffin III of Baylor.
But everyone knows about, and is talking incessantly about, the tremendous pro potential of Robert Griffin. Today I want to focus on a quarterback who was also more productive than Andrew Luck, but a quarterback whom no one mentions in the same breadth as Andrew Luck.
Russell Wilson, quarterback from the University of Wisconsin, may not have the size or intangibles that Stanford QB Andrew Luck has, but last season he outperformed Luck both in overall adjusted performance, and performance against common opponents.
Ranking the QB prospects by adjusted college QBER
On this blog, I judge Quarterback performance using a formula I call Quarterback Efficiency Rating (“QBER”). Quarterback efficiency rating calculates the number of net forward yards produced by the quarterback for every “non-productive” play (sack or incompletion). Last season in the National Football League only one team (Baltimore Ravens) made the playoffs without having a quarterback whose QBER was above the NFL average. So efficient quarterback play meshes with winning, especially in this era of the forward pass.
Below I provide a ranking of the top college quarterback prospects (as listed on NFLdraftcountdown). My ranking does not involve intangibles or physical measurements. It only involves college production according to Quarterback Efficiency Rating (“QBER”), adjusted for opponent. (QBER= Yards Rushing + Yards Passing – 30xTurnovers – Yards Sacked / Incompletions + Sacks). So, the chart below has the rankings in column one, the “run support” received by each Quarterback in column two, the Quarterback’s 2011 QBER, the collective QBER allowed last season by the Quarterbacks opponents, and the Quarterback’s adjusted QBER, which is simply QBER – Opponent.
The Top NFL QB Prospects ranked by Adjusted QBER
|Prospects||Run Supp||QBER||Opp||Adj QBER|
|R Griffin III||5.32||33.12||13.72||19.39|
RGII is tops, but Wilson a close second
As you can see, the top prospect measured by efficient college production is Robert Griffin III. Griffin’s production numbers are eerily similar to the numbers put up the previous season by former Auburn QB Cameron Newton (Newton posted a 33.43, adjusted to 20.11). Newton, of course, went on to have an outstanding rookie campaign. Griffin, with his accurate passing and olympic speed, should be hell on NFL defenses. The only question mark with him is durability. He does not have the same fullback size possessed by Newton. Nevertheless, if I were an NFL general manager, I would be hard pressed to pass on Griffin.
But we knew about Griffin. The quarterback whose outstanding numbers are being completely overlooked is the Badger’s Russell Wilson. Wilson threw against the toughest overall defenses that any of the top prospects had to face, and he put up the second best overall QBER. That is outstanding. Yes, Wilson had great run support. However, if you look at the first column on the above chart, I list the average yards gained on the ground for each QB’s team. As you can see, Wilson’s run support was only slightly better than the run support afforded Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. So it is a bit of a myth to say that Wilson was throwing against a lighter deck.
But as good as Wilson looks in the chart above, he looks even better when one compares his performance to the performance of the other prospects against common opponents.
Wilson vs. the Field vs. the Common Opponents
There are common opponents between Wilson and five of the other QB prospects. Two opponents common to 4 of the prospects (Wilson, Luck, Nick Foles of Arizona, and Brock Osweiler of Arizona State) are Oregon and Oregon State. One opponent common to both Wilson and Boise State QB Kellen Moore was UNLV. And, of course, Wilson and Michigan State’s QB Kirk Cousins shared four common opponents in the expanded Big Ten. As you can see below, in each scenario, Wilson wayyyyy outperforms every one of his rivals.
QBER: Wilson vs. Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, and Brock Osweiler (common: Oregon and Oregon State)
1. Russell Wilson…..31.01
2. Nick Foles…..14.85
3. Andrew Luck…..14.51
4. Brock Osweiler….9.16
QBER: Wilson v. Kellen Moore (common opponent: UNLV)
1. Russell Wilson….61.81
2. Kellen Moore, Boise St…..16.07
QBER: Wilson v. Kirk Cousins (common opponents: Nebraska, Indiana, Ohio State, and Minnesota)
1. Russell Wilson…..24.86
2. Kirk Cousins…..15.31
Wilson way out front against all common opponents
As you can see, Russell Wilson outdid all of against common opponents, and most of the numbers are not even close. Most impressively in my mind, Wilson well outdid Luck and the other Pac 12 draft prospects against the mighty Oregon Ducks, an opponent that had over a month to view tape on Wilson and prepare itself to stymie Wilson’s attack in the 2012 Rose Bowl. Yet he excelled in that game. The Ducks never laid a glove on him all day long. Wilson and Monte Ball combined to keep Wisconsin in the game on a day when the Wisconsin defense was giving up long touchdown plays left, right, and center (literally).
In the Rose Bowl game, Wilson put on a performance that will never be forgotten by Badger football fans. With the bright lights shining on him, Wilson was simply brilliant. He posted a QBER of 30.44, which was +19.81 better than the Ducks extremely aggressive pass defense had been allowing to that point. Wilson made one mistake all day, an interception, and it probably cost Wisconsin the game. But somehow, even with that mistake, Wilson nearly succeeded. Wilson, in pure Roger Staubach fashion, almost pulled off a miraculous 70 yard, 18 second drive that would have led the Badgers to the winning score, and would have made him immortal. But Coach Bret Bielema’s idiotic game management cost him the precious two seconds he needed to completely work his magic. Thus, the clock ran out as he tried to spike the ball to give himself one last shot at the end zone, a play that many in Badger Nation, myself included, are almost certain would have ended with a touchdown.
By contrast, Andrew Luck had one of his worst games against Oregon. The unlucky Luck posted a pretty feeble 9.53, in a Stanford loss that basically crippled Stanford’s shot at a national championship. Luck’s performance was below the Oregon passing defense’s average, so the best prospect since Elway did not distinguish himself in that game. The second best performance against the Ducks defense was posted by Arizona’s Nick Foles with a QBER of 11.07. Still, that was nowhere near what Wilson did. Wilson basically lapped the Pac 12 field twice.
Wilson did the same to Kellen Moore, the Boise State quarterback, versus their common opponent, UNLV. Yes, UNLV sucked, but Wilson abused them to a degree that was much worse than any abuse Moore was able to inflict against the same defense.
Finally, in the Big Ten matchups, Wilson outdid his counterpart Cousins. In fact, Wilson outdid every one of his fellow prospects in EVERY ONE of the games played against common opponents except one. Against the Indiana Hoosiers, Kirk Cousins posted a QBER of 29.61, whereas Wilson, in a blowout, posted “only” a 19.45.
Should the Packers look at drafting Russell Wilson?
With backup QB Matt Flynn set to leave for free agency, the Packers might want to look to Russell Wilson. Wilson will almost certainly be available late in the draft, so they would not have to pay very much for a very productive prospect. Yes, Wilson is very short, but other short quarterbacks (Doug Flutie, Fran Tarkenton, Sonny Jurgenson, Drew Brees) have made impacts in the NFL, and Wilson had no trouble finding throwing lanes at Wisconsin, despite standing behind NFL sized linemen. And given what Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been able to do with the likes of Flynn and Aaron Rodgers, Wilson’s future could certainly take off in Green Bay.