Russell Wilson – Denver Broncos
Denver has continued to seek a quarterback since Peyton Manning’s Super Bowl winning team in 2015-16, with a revolving door of “wow, remember him?” names, including Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, and more. It should come as no surprise they were very aggressive in acquiring a QB they can trust.
Sending Drew Lock, Noah Fant, Shelby Harris, multiple first round picks, and more throw-ins to Seattle, the Broncos acquired the quarterback who defeated them 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. Will the investment be worth it?
Russell Wilson is coming off an up-and-down 2021 season, where he posted a statline of 3,113 yards, 65% completion percentage, 25:6 TD:INT, with 9.3 Passing Total Points Per 60 Plays, good for 18th-best among QBs with at least 100 attempts. Looking back at the first half of 2020 while he was an MVP candidate, his 15.6 Total Points Per 60 Plays, third best in the league. Aggregating over the last two seasons, WIlson ranks just inside the Top 10.
Drew Lock recorded 5 Passing Total Points Per 60 Plays in 2020, ranking 28th in the league, and Bridgewater’s 10.0 in 2021 was 14th-best, which ranked a smidge higher than Wilson. It should be noted that Wilson was struggling with a finger injury for most of those games.
The Broncos of the future are going to hold a different identity, and it isn’t just from the QB change. Vic Fangio was fired, and former Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is taking over as Head Coach. While Hackett was not the primary play caller, he was heavily involved in devising the game plans that gave Aaron Rodgers back-to-back MVP awards.
The 2021 Packers mostly operated out of 11 personnel, but their 12 personnel usage ranked 2nd-highest, and they ranked 4th-highest in 4 WR sets. Trading Fant to Seattle suggests that Denver might not be leaning too hard on the 2 TE packages, but the four-wide looks would be a new feel for Wilson.
The 2021 Packers called more passes with four receivers on the field than the Seahawks did the last three years combined.
The Packers used motion at the fifth-highest rate in the league, on 54% of plays, a stark contrast to the third-lowest 31% motion rate by the Seahawks. This is one of a number of ways in which the offense Wilson leaves was a bit stale.
Rodgers was extremely effective in short dropbacks, with a league high 118.5 IQR (SIS Independent Quarterback Rating, which factors out things outside a QBs control like dropped passes and dropped interceptions). Comparably, Wilson ranked 9th at 103.0, and Bridgewater 14th at 97.1.
Even on short drops, Wilson separates himself with his downfield aggression and willingness to let the play develop. He ranked one spot better than Rodgers in IQR on deep drops, with a throw depth of 18.9 yards on average, much higher than any other QB (Rodgers was at 11.5). This was all under a league-high pressure rate of 54.5%, which it should be noted is partly his doing by extending plays. Wilson continues to be one of the league’s best on deep drops with long throws.
With a receiving room of Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Albert Okwuegbunam, and KJ Hamler, Wilson will have weapons at all levels of the field, even if the top two aren’t in the same tier of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
Denver paid a high price to find some consistency at the QB position. The Broncos were in the postseason mix last year at 7-10, and with Wilson’s improvements and an offensive scheme that will resemble 2021’s best, they could be considered contenders. Right now, they sit at the 5th-highest odds to win the Super Bowl at 12-1, which is impressive considering the other teams in their division.
Carson Wentz – Washington Commanders
After striking out on Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell WIlson, the Commanders found themselves looking at yet another year with a QB desire. With a new name, logo, and uniform set, Washington opted to trade for former division rival Carson Wentz, giving multiple mid-round picks to Indianapolis in the deal.
Washington has continuity in head coach Ron Rivera. After a year as the second-most frequent users of play action, they found a QB that came from the 4th-highest play action team in Indianapolis, meaning Wentz will be asked to do a lot of the same.
On play-action passes, Wentz performed the same or slightly worse than the incumbent Washington QB, Taylor Heinicke, in all of IQR, Total Points Per Play, Positive %, Completion %, On-Target %, and Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt, among many others. Simply put, Wentz is probably a lateral move..
Both of these quarterbacks have reputations of making things happen when things go awry, but in 2021 they were both middling at best.
Carson Wentz vs. Taylor Heinicke, 2021, Under Pressure
Where Wentz shows up as an improvement over Heinicke is when the pocket stays clean. This is particularly true on non-play-action dropbacks, but it shows across all unpressured dropbacks.
Carson Wentz vs. Taylor Heinicke, 2021, Clean Pocket
The bottom line for Washington fans is, not great. Wentz comes at a much higher salary than Heinicke, and if his 2021 performance is to continue, he offers an improvement on vanilla dropbacks with clean pockets but is at best as good as Heinicke otherwise. He is a good enough starter to keep Washington out of the league’s cellar where many teams acquire their QBs of the future, but I’m reserved on calling them a playoff team yet.
For more on the QB carousel, check out the latest edition of the Off The Charts Football Podcast.