Is Russell Wilson Having the Greatest Rushing Season for a Quarterback Ever?
Russell Wilson's got it all. The looks. The charisma. The Super Bowl bling. Everything.
And he just so happens to be having one of the greatest rushing seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. No big deal.
Wilson enters Week 17 with 842 rushing yards with 6 touchdowns on the year. He is averaging 7.52 yards per carry. Where does he rank among the best of all time?
To best answer this question, we'll be using our Net Expected Points (NEP). On each play, there is an expected number of points a team will score on that particular drive. A good play increases that expected number of points; a bad one decreases it.
NEP tracks the expected points added or subtracted throughout the course of an entire season. So, if a player has a Rushing NEP of 10.00, that means a team with an average rusher would be expected to score 10 fewer points that year. This should show you just how stupidly valuable Wilson's legs have been this year. Let's get it poppin'.
Wilson vs. Other 2014 Quarterbacks
Before we expand this puppy and compare Wilson to his peers over the past decade and a half, it seems more prudent to compare him to his contemporary peers first. That said, it's really not a fair competition.
On the season, Wilson has rushed a total of 94 times. In those 94 attempts, he has compiled a Rushing NEP of 61.34. This means that he has gained the team 61.34 points this year with his rushing abilities alone. That equates to 4.09 points per game. That may not seem like a lot, but consider that this is a single aspect of Wilson's game that has only happened 94 times this year accounting for 61.34 additional points. That's nuts.
Not only is this the best mark among quarterbacks, it's the best mark of any player in the NFL. This isn't exactly strange for a quarterback to lead the category. as NEP skews towards players that pick up first downs, and quarterbacks do that at a higher per-carry rate than running backs. What is strange is how big of a lead Wilson has.
Checking in at second place in Rushing NEP is none other than Cam Newton. Newton's Rushing NEP sits at 33.93 entering Week 17. This means that the second best rusher in the NFL this year has accounted for more than 27 fewer points than Wilson has.
Below is a chart of the Rushing NEP numbers for each of the top rushing quarterbacks in the league this year. I know it's already established that Wilson is the best this year, but this is more to give you additional context into how good he has been.
The second column on the table is Rushing NEP per play. This should only further show you how ign'nt Wilson has been this year.
|Quarterback||Rushing NEP||Rush NEP/P|
Obviously these aren't all of the guys you would normally consider "rushing quarterbacks." A guy like Colin Kaepernick will have a larger sample size, thus more opportunities to have a negative Rushing NEP. NEP tends to skew towards the negative side for rushing, which is why it's best to always compare players with similar roles and rushing attempts.
Kaepernick, despite actually having fewer rushing attempts than Wilson (94 for Wilson to 86 for Kaepernick), still has a significantly lower Rushing NEP at 6.70 than Wilson. This simply means that Wilson has been far more efficient with his rushing attempts than Kaepernick. The same goes for other guys traditionally considered talented scramblers such as Ryan Tannehill and Andrew Luck. Wilson has simply been better.
Yes, Russell is pretty good at this football thing. But do these numbers stack up historically?
Running with the Greats
So we've established that Wilson is the top rushing quarterback of this year. But he doesn't have the freak speed of Michael Vick or the size of the healthy version of Newton. Surely he couldn't keep pace with these guys in their best years.
Just going off of the raw numbers, Wilson's season is plenty impressive. He has already become just the fifth quarterback since the merger to rush for at least 800 yards in a season (Vick did so twice). The others were Bobby Douglass, Randall Cunningham and Robert Griffin III.
But the raw numbers don't tell the full story. By looking at Wilson's NEP numbers, we can get a better view of how much has actually contributed to the team's offense with his legs. These analytics make Wilson look even tastier.
The chart below shows each of the seasons in which a quarterback finished with a Rushing NEP greater than 50.00. Now, our NEP stats only go back to 2000, so we miss a lot of Cunningham's sweetness, but we can still use this to evaluate just how sick Russ has been.
|Quarterback||Year||Rushing NEP||Rush NEP/P|
|Robert Griffin III||2012||59.29||0.52|
So y'all realize what this means, right? Based on Rushing NEP per play, Russell Wilson is having the greatest rushing season for a quarterback in NFL history. If he has another game like he had last Sunday, he would also just surpass Vick for the top spot in composite Rushing NEP. Da Gawd.
This new-found rushing ability hasn't just exponentially increased Wilson's swagginess; it has also had a positive effect on Seattle's offense as a whole.
Last year, the Seahawks' offense finished with an NEP of 79.55. This season, that has jacked all the way up to 119.78. You've seen what the defense can do. Now, you add in an offense that is even better than the one that won the Super Bowl last year. Much of this success is thanks to Wilson's legs.
Obviously Wilson won't just magically sprout the traits that make Vick and Newton such prolific runners. But even without that, he has been able to produce one of -- if not the -- best rushing seasons for a quarterback in NFL history. It, in turn, has helped the defending champs continue progressing offensively.
The scary thought around this is what will happen once Wilson puts the whole package together. What happens when he has some bonafide talent at receiver and he can make his arm more affective, thus opening additional running opportunities?
Regardless of all of those other factors, one thing is very clear: we are seeing a special season from a truly special, young quarterback. And at the end of the year, that guy could already have his second ring in three seasons. Take some time to appreciate the magic we are witnessing in the legs of Russell Wilson.