Tom Brady vs. Russell Wilson: Comparing the First 3 Years

The raw passing stats between the two Super Bowl quarterbacks are fairly similar, but whose metrics are better?

Few things in the NFLosphere are as debate-enticing as two primo quarterbacks dueling it out. When you add the Super Bowl implications? Forget about it.

The comparisons are going to come frequently and with an inescapable in-your-faceness that only the two-week layoff of the Super Bowl can allow.

So it's nearly impossible that you haven't seen some graphics floating about comparing the passing numbers -- and quarterback record -- of Tom Brady's first three years as a starter stacked up side-by-side with Russell Wilson's.

Something like this.

Tom Brady34-1210,227693861.91%
Russell Wilson36-129,950722663.42%

Well, raw stats are great, and I still like them, but everyone knows they don't tell the whole story. And no, it's not that Wilson's defense was better and that made his stats look better. Defense has basically no impact on quarterback performance.

And I don't really need to show you a table for the rushing stats. Wilson has tallied 1,877 regular season yards in his first three years on 308 carries, and Brady totaled just 216 yards on 120 attempts.

But what about the advanced stats? Not all passing yards are created the same. They don't all mean the same. That is to say, 10-yard passes on 3rd-and-5 net a first down. 10-yard passes on 3rd-and-20 don't. They affect the raw stats the same, but our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric weight them differently, as their impact on putting points on the board are different. Considering this, who had the better first three seasons?

The Metrics

Just like Wilson had the edge in raw stats, he appears to have the edge in our metrics, too.

PlayerYearPassing NEPRankPass NEP/Drop BackRankTotal NEPRank

Brady's combined Total NEP for his first three years as a starter (60.82) doesn't even come close to Wilson's Total NEP in his same span (319.16). Brady's total contribution barely ekes out Wilson's worst Passing NEP (47.65), too.

But before you pull out your Jump to Conclusions mat, remember that "appear" is a misleading word. (We all read Tom Jones, right?)

While it's very true that Wilson's metrics dominate Brady's in their first three years, we have to account for historical context.

Historical Context

Passing numbers are up across the board, and that has impacted NEP numbers overall. But even though Brady's numbers are diminutive compared to Wilson's, he was pretty good compared to his historical peers, except in 2002. Here are the mean and median ranks of the quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs in each year, roughly 30 per season. The mean and median exclude the high and low Passing NEP so that the comparisons are less about the extremes and more about the rest of the field.

BradyPassing NEPMean*Median*HighLow

Brady's 2002 campaign was below average. But if you're a big Pats fan -- or if you have a great memory -- you'll know that in 2002, Brady led the NFL with 28 touchdown passes. How was his Passing NEP so low? Well, a few reasons. As a rough indicator, his yards per attempt (6.3) was the lowest mark in his career, and he didn't complete a pass longer than 50 yards (the only time he's failed to do that -- in the seasons he played more than one game). Brady posted a career-low 0.02 Passing NEP per drop back, too.

But on to the good: Brady was above-average in 2001 and 2003 based on his ranks (8th and 11th, respectively), and his metrics in those years were significantly above the actual median and mean.

But what about Wilson?

WilsonPassing NEPMean*Median*HighLow

Wilson also had two seasons significantly above the league average, but his passing this year nose-dived, and he actually dipped below the mean. Still, his metrics this year weren't as bad as Brady's in 2002, relative to the league that year, and when factoring in three consecutive top-10 finishes in Total NEP, it's hard to argue that Brady had a better first three years than Wilson did.

Of course, Brady does now hold three of the top-12 Passing NEP seasons since 2000: 259.40 (in 2007), 213.10 (in 2011), and 186.79 (in 2012). And he has two of the six seasons better than 200.00.

But if you really want to compare him to Russell Wilson, then it's pretty safe to say that Wilson's metrics win out.