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Sleeping in Seattle - Is Russell Wilson No Longer a QB1?

The thing about writing a "bold predictions" article is that you're essentially going 20 percent on data and 80 percent on gut instincts, so when I wrote a few weeks ago that Russell Wilson would finish outside of the top 10 at the quarterback position I definitely felt like there was a chance of it happening, but I wouldn't have put money on it.

Well... Week 3 is here and Russell Wilson might not be a fantasy QB1 anymore. While it sounds absurd after Wilson finished as the overall QB1 last year, he was the QB12 in 2016. He's surrounded by arguably the worst talent of his career and is missing his top WR and TE from a year ago. There are more question marks surrounding Wilson than at any time in his professional career. Can he answer those questions?

Let's look at some of the reasons why we can't give Russell Wilson the benefit of the doubt at this point based on all the things happening around him in Seattle.

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The Case Against Russell Wilson

Two games aren't enough for us to make 100 percent accurate predictions off of, but the patterns that are developing in Seattle are worrisome. It started before the season began, when Seattle let tight end Jimmy Graham go and entered this season with Nick Vannett and Will Dissly at the position. It continued when Doug Baldwin started saying before Week 1 was even here that he'd spend the entire season having to manage his knee issues. It's all compounded by an offensive line that Pro Football Focus has ranked as the 29th-best, or fourth-worst, in the league through two games, with Duane Brown anchoring a line that's made up of four other players with a PFF grade below 60.

We've seen Wilson succeed without weapons around him and a struggling line in front of him, but even last year's team was wildly more talented at the receiver position with a healthy Baldwin and Paul Richardson still in Seattle. Replacing Richardson with veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall is definitely not something that should make Wilson owners feel good about their investment.

How has that all affected Wilson so far? Let's check out some of his advanced stats and efficiency numbers from 2017 and from this season. First up, this chart of his Index stats from Pro Football Reference:

2017 2018
Adjusted Yards Per Attempt Index 106 102
Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt Index 103 93
Completion Percentage Index 96 92
Interception Percentage Index 105 77

Here's the important thing to know: these stats are scaled so that 100 is average, higher than 100 is good, and below 100 is below average. Wilson has seen a drop in all of these this year, but the trend gets more concerning when you factor in that this year's numbers are all the worst of his career and, for the most part, last year's numbers were second-worst. The lack of viable weapons around Wilson is starting to show in his passing numbers. Last year, he masked that with his second-best season as a runner since joining the league, but this season Wilson only has five carries while also being sacked a league-high 12 times. IN TWO GAMES.

Relative to the other quarterbacks in the league, Wilson isn't playing at the level that Seattle -- and fantasy owners -- need him to. It's not Wilson's fault, but in a league where quarterback play seems to be on the rise after a down year in 2017, seeing a star put up noticeably worse numbers is concerning.

While we're on this statistical thing, here are some efficiency stats from PlayerProfiler from 2017 and 2018:

2017 2018
Play-Action Completion Percentage 63.6 60.0
Deep Ball Completion Percentage 34.8 27.3
True Passer Rating 106.7 81.5
Fantasy Points Per Dropback 0.52 (#3) 0.46 (#15)

Wilson isn't producing the same numbers on a per-pass basis that he did in past seasons. It's only been two games, but it's impossible to ignore at this point that Wilson can't do everything on his own this year.

Through two games, Wilson is getting 2.86 seconds on average to throw the ball. Last season: 3.05. While it seems like a small difference, it's been enough to drop him from second in that stat down to ninth. When you think about Wilson at his best last season, it was Seattle's star using his movement to keep plays alive and find receivers down the field. His average intended air yards was 9.8 per pass attempt last year, a number that has dropped to 9.3 this year. Again, it seems like a little thing, but the little things add up in the NFL.

Sure, there are counterarguments. Wilson has already shown in the past that he's capable of putting a team on his back. Getting Baldwin back at some point will give him the steady receiver that he needs, Tyler Lockett has done a good job finding the end zone and should be able to excel when moving back into a smaller role, and the team has a possibly good running back, Rashaad Penny, that they just drafted to go along with Chris Carson. That running back duo is an improvement over what Seattle had last year.

But that running game can't take pressure off of Wilson without improved line play, and unlike other positions where young players can emerge mid-season to help a team, this line is what it is. In fact, that line could get even worse as Justin Britt (shoulder) and Ethan Pocic (ankle) have missed practice this week. For a team teetering on the edge of a full collapse, those injuries could lead to a disastrous performance this week against the Cowboys.

So, is Russell Wilson still a QB1? It's tough to say anything one way or the other, but his lack of weapons and Seattle's porous offensive line make him a difficult player to trust this season when so many quarterbacks are in better positions. Don't be shocked to see him outside of the top-10 in fantasy points at the end of the year.

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