A new quarterback, a refreshed offense, an overrated defense.
Is Russ Cooked?
The Denver Broncos’ present and future hinge on that simple question. If the Broncos traded two first-round picks, two-second rounders, tight end Noah Fant, defensive tackle Shelby Harris, some loose change, old magazines, pocket lint, and Drew Lock for the still-in-his-prime Russell Wilson, then they have launched themselves into a Super Bowl window, albeit a narrow one.
If the Broncos mortgaged their future for the decline phase of a set-in-his-ways veteran, however, then look out below.
Wilson posted his lowest DVOA and DYAR since 2017 last year. He posted a career low in passing yards and his lowest touchdown total since 2013. Many of his other rate metrics reached four-year lows in 2021. A midseason hand injury that forced him to miss three games and left him looking shaky upon his hurried return had a lot to do with the statistical drop-off. But Wilson is now 33 years old and no longer runs the way he used to, so we must at least entertain the possibility that he peaked in the late-2010s.
Wilson did rebound significantly late in the 2021 season. After averaging 6.3 yards per attempt, throwing just four touchdowns, and enduring 13 sacks in 134 attempts in his first four games after the hand injury, Wilson averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, threw 11 touchdowns, and took just seven sacks in his final five games (Table 1). The Seahawks posted positive passing DVOA in each of those games. The level of competition wasn’t spectacular (Texans-Bears-Lions-Cardinals, with a loss to the Rams mixed in), but DVOA accounts for that, and it’s not like we’re analyzing some unknown youngster enjoying a late-season hot streak.
So Wilson’s rough 2021 season was likely the result of injury. That’s a relief. The Broncos now have a bona-fide top-tier quarterback for the first time since Peyton Manning’s timing belt snapped during the 2015 Super Bowl run.
That frees us to ask other questions about the 2022 Broncos, like…
Should Russ Cook?
The narrative around Wilson sounded more like a 1970s vigilante movie with each passing season in Seattle. [Deep, movie-trailer narrator...