Quarterback debates are everywhere in today’s age, and no debate has been more prominent or discussed than the Peyton Manning–Tom Brady debate. Whether you prefer Manning or Brady, there’s no denying both are the 2 greatest quarterbacks the 21st century has seen thus far, offering a multitude of elite seasons.
While Manning was racking up MVP/All-Pro awards, Brady was racking up postseason success. Whenever the Patriots and Colts faced each other, it was automatically must see TV. While the Patriots dominated early, the Colts themselves came up with a dominate streak of their own in the middle of the 2000s’. It’s arguably the greatest 2-player rivalry in NFL history.
Just like players passing the torch to the next leader when their time has ended, the same has started to happen with Manning/Brady. I’m of course talking about Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.
Drafted in 2012 by the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck became the successor to Peyton Manning down in Indiana. To the surprise of many, Luck single handedly carried a team that went 2-14 the previous year to an 11-5 season and the playoffs. His play in the clutch (7 game winning drives) became unheard of for a rookie, and since then he’s lived up to the height and then some, coming off a career year in 2014.
Also coming out of 2012 is Russell Wilson, from the 3rd round. While not on the Patriots, Wilson seems like a spiritual successor to Brady, being a rival to Luck’s Manning. The drafting of Russ shocked many analysts, and an even bigger shock came when he not only won the starting QB job, but also provided one of the greatest and most productive rookie seasons from a QB ever. He followed up with an MVP caliber season in 2013, contributing to the Seattle Seahawks’ first Super Bowl victory, and the city of Seattle’s first championship since 1979.
The QB class of 2012 was originally hailed as one of the greatest in NFL Draft history, but it’s since boiled down to Luck/Wilson, with Ryan Tannehill gaining momentum based on his 2014 season. With Colts and Seahawks fans (not to mention high media figures) arguing over which QB is better, it’s become a 2nd rate Manning/Brady.
So which QB is truly better? This is where someone who isn’t a Colts or Seahawks fan comes in. I won’t sugarcoat anything; Luck and Wilson are 2 of my favorite active QBs, thanks to their unique playing styles, involving a heavy use of mobility and deep ball throwing. I hope to enjoy more out of both of these signal callers for years to come.
To emphasize who I think is the better QB, I’ll make a fair case for both QBs, using stats, athleticism, arm strength, postseason play, ability in the clutch, and overall value, amongst others. So without further delay, let’s start the debate.
If my goal were to hastily make a debate, and then solely base it on stats, I would’ve had this article up the day I thought of it. That won’t happen with me (or this article); I’m more interested in diving deeper from what I’ve seen watching film of both QBs, studying their mechanics, decision making, etc.
Having said that, here’s a chart of Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson when using raw stats.
As you can see, Luck dominates the volume stats, such as completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, interceptions (…), and yards per game. On the other hand, Wilson dominates the more efficient stats, such as completion percentage, passer rating, touchdown percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating, and interception percentage.
Despite the fact that Luck has thrown more interceptions, his INT% isn’t too far off from Wilson’s, likely due to his volume. I’m not high on the passer rating statistic, but Wilson’s would be 2nd all time with enough attempts (needs 1,500 to qualify across all major statistic sites).
Wilson wins the raw statistics challenge, though there’s more to that than the casual audience believes.
Both quarterbacks possess a commonly found passion of throwing the ball deep. From 2014’s Deep Ball Project, I graded Andrew Luck as an A-, and Russell Wilson a B+.
Both QBs have cannons for arms, and both can showcase their arm strength on big plays, but Luck’s just has a little more zip in it, so he wins this round.
This isn’t a contest. Both quarterbacks are very mobile and capable of buying time in the pocket to make big plays happen, but Russell Wilson may be the most mobile QB I’ve ever seen. While Luck can scramble effectively, Wilson’s style just seems more authentic, and he is able to avoid multiple defenders and extend the play to times beyond what most QBs can. He also uses this mobility to pick apart open receivers, as seen in several games.
Russ’ legs win this one.
While the mobility debate was the opposite of a challenge, both Luck and Wilson have possessed an uncanny ability to be successful in the clutch in their first 3 seasons. See the chart below.
Shoutout to SBNation’s Topher Doll for helping me create this chart. Follow him for my sake, as he is highly informative and equally passionate about the NFL as I am.
So who wins? Both have been spectacular playmakers in this situation, and I wrote about all of Wilson’s game winning drives here. From 2012-13, Luck was probably the winner, but Wilson’s consistency through his first 3 seasons (5 game winning drives in 2012/2013/2014, as well as the record for most GWD in a QB’s first 3 seasons) gives him the edge.
Neither of the QBs win this section, because I’m simply listing the unique records that both QBs own.
First, Andrew Luck.
Next, Russell Wilson.
Now, it’s on to a section I’ve heavily researched on in comparison to everything else in this article.
You’d probably think this is easily in Wilson’s favor, but research says there are a few factors that make Wilson’s numbers look significantly more efficient than Luck’s. While Wilson wins the turnover battle (Luck has 9 TD and 12 INT, while Russ has 12 TD and 6 INT), the key is looking beyond TD-INT ratio. After all, Luck has not been blessed with the Legion of Boom defenses like Wilson has.
Luck’s already had 29 games in which his defense has given up more than 20 points. In comparison, Wilson has only 14. Both Luck and Wilson have seen their defenses (more on that shortly) give up more points per game, but Luck’s has given up nearly 30 a game. Wilson’s? A measly 18.9. If you’re wondering where that ranks among active QBs, see the chart below.
Godspeed to Matt Ryan.
Wilson’s defenses have given up the 2nd fewest amount of points per game of any QB on this chart (minimum of 4 postseason games) at 18.9. Luck’s? the 2nd most at 29.8.
You’re still probably thinking: “Didn’t Luck’s constant turnovers force so much pressure on the defense?” Quite the opposite. See the chart below.
As you can see from the chart above, 66.7% of Luck’s picks came when he was already trailing by 14 or more points. The numbers are 33.3% for Wilson. Naturally, these turnovers came on riskier plays where the Colts were forced to gamble when they were already down big, yet for some reason the narrative has people thinking Luck’s turnovers put them in those holes to begin with. Coincidentally, when Wilson trailed by 14 against the Packers in the 2014 NFC Championship Game, he threw 2 picks himself before leading an excellent comeback later in the game. No one is safe.
I care less about picks in this situation, and that is because play calling forces teams trailing big to aim for riskier plays, which, obviously, lead to certain death in most cases. Would Wilson’s efficiency be the same if he had Luck’s defense? Unlikely. Then again, 4 of his 6 playoff interceptions came in one game (Packers 2014), so his numbers would look way better without that blemish.
Now that I’ve cleared up the TD-INT ratio, what about the actual play? It’s a lot closer between Wilson and Luck than what’s seen on the raw stat sheet. Wilson has a higher passer rating (RW=97.8, AL=70.8), but when using ESPN’s QBR, Wilson has a 58.4 average, while Luck has a 54.4 average. Pretty close.
Despite having 2 more games (8 to 6), Wilson has only attempted 202 passes compared to Luck’s 260. Still, Wilson has a higher Y/A (9.01 to 7.03), and a higher CMP%. In general, the numbers for Wilson pretty much look more efficient than Luck’s this time of the year.
Overall, Wilson gets the edge, but just barely if you ask me.
Do I need to dedicate a couple of paragraphs to this section? Not really, especially since I already gave away most of my reasoning in the “postseason” section. Wilson’s defense is far superior to Luck’s. Wilson wins this debate. Or is it Luck? Hmmm…..let’s move on.
There’s really nothing positive to say against both units, as they are among the worst in the league. Luck’s been constantly getting hit due to the lack of pass protection, while Wilson’s been forced to scramble on every play it seems. Both quarterbacks make their offensive lines look way better than they actually are in this case, due to their unique playing styles and talent.
No one wins this one. Because why bother?
Andrew Luck had Trent Richardson from 2013-2014. Russell Wilson has Marshawn Lynch, in my opinion, the #1 runningback in the league. No contest there.
However, Wilson himself adds another dimension to Seattle’s run game. While his passing play declined last year in comparison to 2012 and 2013, his running ability soared. Wilson’s unique mobility allows him to evade multiple defenders a la every good mobile QB currently in the league, but what puts Wilson over the edge is his ability to create yards out of nothing on improvisational stunts.
Winner winner chicken dinner for Wilson, but his impact on the run game increases the margin significantly.
This is a debate that usually ends up one sided, but outside T.Y. Hilton, there’s little consistency amongst Luck’s receiving core. Early in his career, Wilson had solid deep options in Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, and the underrated Doug Baldwin remains a nice backup. On the other hand, Luck got to play with Reggie Wayne for a bit, and now gets guys such as Andre Johnson and Phillip Dorsett, while Wilson gets Jimmy Graham.
I’m sure Wilson would love to play with a guy like Hilton, though, especially coming off a season like last year. Closer than people would imagine, but Luck wins this battle.
As top 10 quarterbacks, it’s obvious Wilson and Luck are the keys for both teams making the playoffs every year. Both make the players around them better, excel in the clutch, and without them, wouldn’t be close to being competitive, let alone in the playoffs.
However, I have to side with Luck. His value covers up more holes in his team than Wilson does with his. Both QBs have inconsistent casts on offense, but Wilson has the better run game (which he also impacts), defense, and coaching, The Colts have a flawed run game, inconsistent receivers (much like the Seahawks), bad defense, and poor coaching. Yet, Luck’s stellar play under this scenario has allowed him to near single handedly carry the Colts into the playoffs each and every year.
If you ask me, I can’t go wrong with either QB, but I’d rather have Luck if I’m selecting a QB to build around, based on the information and research given above.
Regardless of which side you choose, as well as how you process the information I’ve given, my goal with this article was to give a fair case for both QBs, while at the same time giving my opinion on who’s better. So, thanks for reading, and see you on Thursday Night.