Russell Wilson on path to greatness
Seahawks QB's early career matches Tom Brady's, and his future could, too
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson recently revealed something about himself that we rarely see in public: his ego. When visiting with reporters at a Texas Rangers game the other day, he informed everybody in attendance that his goal was to be the best quarterback in NFL history. It was a statement that created an instant buzz the second it left Wilson's mouth. It's also one that doesn't seem that insane, especially when considering that Wilson already resembles a future Hall of Famer who makes his living in New England.
There are already too many eerie similarities between Wilson and Tom Brady to think Wilson isn't embarking on a career that could one day compare favorably with that of the New England Patriots legend. Both quarterbacks were largely overlooked coming out of college (with Wilson falling into the third round of the 2012 draft and Brady famously lasting until the sixth round of the 2000 draft). They also won their first Super Bowl in their second seasons, as Wilson just led Seattle to a victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Wilson also has a strong defense and running game around him, which were the very assets that helped Brady blossom in his early years.
It's still doubtful that Wilson will be hoisting as many Lombardi trophies as Brady did at the start of his New England career -- the Patriots won three Super Bowls in the quarterback's first four seasons as a starter -- but that doesn't mean greatness isn't in his future. Wilson already has been named to two Pro Bowls and proved himself to be one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. As much as his current success still revolves around being an exceptionally talented game manager, you can't argue that the potential isn't there for bigger things. Brady was just as limited in the initial stages of his time in New England, right before the Patriots turned him loose on the NFL.
Many people tend to forget that aspect of Brady's brilliance. He didn't become the dominant quarterback he is today until after the Patriots won those three Super Bowls between the 2001 and 2004 seasons. Brady didn't even throw for 4,000 yards until his fifth year starting. He also didn't surpass the 30-touchdown mark until 2007, when he set a then-league record with 50 scoring passes.
The truth is that few people outside of New England saw Brady becoming what he is today. Bill Belichick built that dynasty with the help of a strong, veteran-laden defense and a running game that capitalized first on the power of Antowain Smith and later on Corey Dillon. The Seahawks have the same blueprint for their own success. The only difference is that it's becoming more apparent that Seattle coach Pete Carroll would be wise to allow Wilson to follow the same road Brady traveled to success.
Seattle already has given Wilson one major playmaker in wide receiver Percy Harvin. There are other decent options at receiver, but it would be nice to see the Seahawks add another explosive weapon. Brady's biggest leap as a quarterback came when New England added Randy Moss and Wes Welker to that offense in 2007. The next thing you knew, Brady was running an offense that revolved around his talents and was torching defenses on an annual basis.
It's hard to know exactly when Wilson will make that jump himself. It didn't seem like a logical possibility for him a year ago because there were so many other young quarterbacks who commanded the spotlight and dazzled with their own talents. While quarterbacks such as Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, Washington's Robert Griffin III and Carolina's Cam Newton were having responsibility for their team's success foisted upon their shoulders, Wilson was controlling a far more conservative attack in Seattle. In the first two years of his career, the Seahawks ranked 27th (2012) and 26th (2013) in the NFL in passing yards per game.
Don't be surprised if those numbers change in the coming years. Brady averaged only 189.5 passing yards per game in his first full season as a starter. But he also displayed more potential with each year that went by. He grew because he knew the offense better, trusted his talent more and found the coaching staff more willing to put him in positions to take chances. The chief luxury Belichick always had with Brady back then was the ability to fall back on the same conservative formula that had aided the Patriots in the first place.
Carroll has the same advantage with Wilson. The Seahawks still know that Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch is the key cog in their offensive success and the face of the team's smashmouth personality. Their defense also remains young and talented, with playmakers at all levels. Those strengths mean Wilson never has to press as he develops. His greatest gift is that he's always been able to grow with the understanding that this team can win in a variety of ways.
Wilson also will collect more Super Bowl rings, even though that won't happen as quickly as it did for Brady. The most underrated factor in New England's dynasty is that it emerged at a time when the NFL was largely devoid of great quarterbacks. The league had long since said farewell to some future Hall of Famers (John Elway, Troy Aikman and Steve Young), and other stars were plagued by injuries or inconsistency (Kurt Warner, Brett Favre). To understand what many teams were dealing with in those years, just remember that some of the leagues' top passers in 2003 and 2004 were Marc Bulger, Jon Kitna and Aaron Brooks.
That dynamic eventually changed for Brady, but it's already very much a part of Wilson's existence. One major reason it will be so hard for Seattle to build a dynasty is that the NFC is filled with quarterbacks capable of leading their own teams to championships. Wilson already has to contend with another young star in his own division (San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick), and older veterans with their own Super Bowl rings still have the potential to take their franchises back to the mountaintop (namely Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans' Drew Brees).
The upside for Wilson in all this is that he won't lack for motivation. When talking to those reporters in Texas, he talked about his excitement for another productive offseason of preparation with his receivers. Wilson already had proved what he could do with a full year to think about how he'd handle the position after winning the starting job as a rookie. Now he's contemplating how best to keep his team contending for more championships.
Part of that process clearly involves Wilson educating the world on what he expects from himself. He has gone from undersized and underrated to Super Bowl champion in the span of two relatively short years. The next step seems to be putting himself on a path where everybody will remember what he has done in this game once he's gone. If we look far enough down that road, we'll see there's another familiar face out there, one who's already been where Wilson so eagerly wants to go.