32 For 32: Will Russell Wilson Repeat as the Fantasy QB1 in 2018?
From an undersized two-star high school prospect to the top fantasy quarterback in the league, Russell Wilson’s football journey has been incredible to watch. His overall QB1 finish in 2017 is the crowning jewel of an already stellar career that also includes two overall QB3 finishes. He’s also been QB11 or better every season since entering the league in 2012.
Wilson’s talent is nearly impossible to dispute. But for fantasy owners faced with the proposition of buying an asset near peak price, it’s important to investigate before making a final decision. Is it reasonable to project Wilson to finish this season as the QB1 based on historic trends? If not, should we expect him to remain in the top-tier of fantasy quarterbacks?
ODDS OF A QB1 REPEAT
No QB since the 2005 season has finished as the overall QB1 in consecutive seasons. However, posting consecutive top-three finishes is much more common.
Finishing as a top-three QB is extremely difficult. You have to avoid major injuries, fight the natural effects of aging, and weather changes in coaching and surrounding personnel. But for a select group of QBs it’s become a near-annual occurrence. So while recent history might be against Wilson repeating as the overall QB1 this season, he appears to have joined the ranks of the truly elite yearly finishers at the position. Is his efficiency as both a passer and a runner, coupled with the Seahawks’ offensive roster, enough for him to cement his place among the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady as perennial studs at the position?
AS A PASSER
Quite simply, Wilson is one of the most efficient and accurate throwers in the NFL from a clean pocket. At every depth of target, he easily exceeds league-average passers in completion percentage. But where he truly separates himself is on downfield throws where his accuracy actually improves compared to his peers. For the sake of comparison, the following graph shows the career-long, clean-pocket completion percentage for Drew Brees, a frequent comparable for Wilson, as well as one of the most dependable fantasy quarterbacks of all time.
Brees has been more efficient on short and immediate throws, but Wilson’s downfield accuracy surpasses Brees’ around the 40-yard mark. Granted, a much larger percentage of throws occur in the short/intermediate range, but this hows how amazing Wilson’s efficiency has been compared to one of the most prolific passers in NFL history.
AS A RUNNER
Back in April, Anthony Staggs penned an excellent piece discussing the sustainability of QB rushing production. He found that quarterbacks who have amassed 2,000 career rushing yards typically peak as runners between age 25 and 26, with a sharp decline generally starting at age 30. Anthony points to Wilson’s growth as a passer as a reason he may not see as sharp a decline in overall fantasy production, but his research paired with Wilson’s age is still worth noting. The table below shows Wilson’s career rushing production as well as the percentage of his total fantasy points from rushing.
Two main takeaways here:
- Wilson relied heavily on his rushing production during his first top-three season in 2014.
- However, he managed a QB1 and a QB3 season despite a significant decrease in the percentage of fantasy points resulting from rushing.
It’s clear Wilson’s fantasy value is boosted by his running ability. It provides a safe weekly floor owners can generally rely on. And while we probably shouldn’t expect a large chunk of Wilson’s production to come as a runner moving forward, his growth as a passer offsets this to a large degree.
Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham are gone, which opens up 31 percent of the team’s targets and 35 percent of the team’s air yards from last season. Graham’s departure will be felt most in the red zone where he saw a league-leading 26 targets last season, converting 10 into touchdowns. We should expect a bump in opportunity for Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, two of his Wilson’s most efficient targets during his career.
Since entering the league in 2011, Baldwin has been incredibly efficient at nearly every depth of target compared to league-average WRs in terms of RACR — a metric created by Josh Hermsmeyer that combines catch rate and yards after catch.
Despite dealing with a host of injuries in his three-year career, Lockett has been one of the most consistent downfield receivers in football boasting a career 66 percent catch rate with an average depth of target of 12.5. His speed and downfield prowess fit perfectly with Wilson’s deep-ball accuracy.
Seattle also signed wide receiver Brandon Marshall to a one-year deal. Coming off an injury-riddled 2017 season, it’s unclear how much juice the 34-year-old has left. In 20 games since the start of the 2016 season, Marshall has averaged just 47 receiving yards per game with three touchdowns during that span. The Seahawks were thin at receiver, so adding Marshall makes sense. As one of just four WRs in NFL history with three or more 100/1000/10 seasons, Marshall’s track record is undeniable. I’m open to the idea of a slight resurgence for Marshall, now playing with a hyper-efficient quarterback. But overall, I’m viewing it as only a marginal bump for Wilson.
The offensive line remains a legitimate concern after allowing an 8.1 percent Adjusted Sack Rate last season, 26th in the league. Wilson’s elusiveness mitigates this to a certain extent but until we see significant improvement from the existing offensive line group — or a willingness to invest from the Seattle front office — Wilson’s time to throw will continue to be a worry. The hiring of new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is another potential concern. Emphasizing the importance of the ground game doesn’t bode well for Wilson’s potential volume, assuming Seattle does lean more on the run game regardless of its effectiveness. However, we’ve seen this narrative before. Unless the offensive line takes a major leap forward and the defense remains dominant in spite of crucial roster turnover, I’d expect Wilson to be relied upon heavily in 2018.
Seattle underwent major changes in the offseason, including the losses of Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Sheldon Richardson. We could see noticeable regression on defense as a result, which may force a more pass-heavy approach on offense. And despite investing a substantial amount of draft equity in Rashaad Penny, it’s yet to be seen if the Seahawks can actually stick to a more run-heavy approach given their recent offensive line woes.
ESPN’s Mike Clay has Wilson projected to finish as the QB5, while the aforementioned Anthony Staggs pegs Wilson as his QB3. According to TwoQBs’ Redraft ADP, Wilson is the third quarterback off the board, nestled tightly between Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson. Questions about Wentz’s recovery from a knee injury and second-season regression for Watson are legitimate, and in my opinion, make Wilson the safest of the three. In 2QB dynasty leagues, Wilson sits at QB2, according to TwoQBs’ Dynasty ADP, between Wentz and Aaron Rodgers. It’s impossible to predict career longevity, but at age 29, Wilson could easily anchor your roster for the next five-plus years, making age a lesser concern. I prefer Wilson, but it’s admittedly a very tight cluster.
History is against Wilson posting another overall QB1 finish in 2018. If you’re a strict adherent to the “buy low, sell high” philosophy, now is the time to test the trade market. But given the high level of efficiency and accuracy Wilson has displayed throughout his career, a QB1 season is still possible, although a top-five finish is the more likely outcome. The only scenarios in which I’m not buying or holding Wilson are a complete rebuild in dynasty or true streaming approach in redraft.