Russell Wilson under the microscope: Pocket accuracy

I scouted Russell Wilson before I included him in my “Quarterbacks of interest” series in late 2011.  Typically when I scout a player I cover the basics (arm strength, mobility, style of offense, intangibles, etc)  without delving ultra deep.  I came away from my initial scouting experience of Wilson with a remarkably positive impression.  I thought Wilson had the best tape of any quarterback in this draft.  That said- if the players with the best tape always made for the best professional athletes, then teams would never draft busts nor spend millions on their scouting departments.  That’s why it’s critical to determine whether a player’s skills will project to the next level or not.  After breaking down Wilson twice, I am completely convinced that height will not effect him almost at all in the NFL.

However, there have been a handful of other concerns for Wilson, which I think are fair game.  Today, I’m going to break down the common assertion that Wilson’s accuracy “dips” when taking throws in the pocket.  For this exercise, I used the three compilations available on Youtube:  Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan State again in the Big 10 championship game.

@ Michigan State

One of the things that jumped out at me while charting all three of these games was how many of Wilson’s passes were attempted from the pocket.  Granted, the definition is a bit nebulous as Wilson moves around so much.  I generally considered the play to be a pocket pass if it was designed as such and thrown in an area that was intentional grounding eligible.  I excluded bootlegs or scrambles that took Wilson clearly outside the tackles.  For a guy that is so athletic and so short, I was surprised to see that Wisconsin didn’t move him outside the pocket more often.

Wilson threw 21 passes in this game.  16 of them were thrown from the pocket.  Wilson went 10/16 in the pocket and 4/5 outside the pocket.

Of those six pocket incompletions, two were intercepted.  The first interception was actually receiver Nick Toon’s fault for failing to look for the ball and adjust his route accordingly.  The second interception was a desperation deep throw across Wilson’s body that was slightly overthrown.  Had he been throwing to Sidney Rice, it probably would have been caught for a huge gain, but unfortunately for Wilson, his target didn’t quite have enough juice in the tank to reach it, and a converging defensive back swooped in for a sideline pick.  This was still arguably a poor decision for Wilson, and it was also an over-thrown ball.  Had it been throw a tiny bit less, he would have had a huge completion instead of a pick.  These would be the only two interceptions Wilson would throw in any of the three games.

Of the four remaining incompletions, one was a perfect deep ball that his receiver dropped.  Another was a hot read that led his target too much.  It wasn’t a great pass, but it’s the kind that should have been caught just the same.  Wilson’s two remaining incompletions were over-throws, including one that blew a sure touchdown.

Wilson also had an incompletion that didn’t count because it was ruled intentional grounding for a safety.

Wilson finished 10/16 in the pocket, good for a 62.5% completion rate.  He was 4/5 outside the pocket, good for 80%.  If you give Wilson credit for the two balls his receivers dropped, his pocket number increases to 75%.

Misc notes:

Wilson did not have a single throwaway in this game.  He hates to give up on plays and will almost always make something happen.

Wilson’s high completion numbers are even more impressive when you consider that he throws deep very often.  Wilson made plenty of mistakes in this game, and faced a very tough defense that barely gave him time to throw, and yet he still finished with over 10 yards per attempt.

Wilson’s big hands help him out a lot.  Wilson has a terrific pump fake because he can grip the ball so well.  He also has a nifty quick shovel pass and therefore effective fake shovel pass move.

Wilson isn’t as great a rusher as his combine speed would make you think, but he can buy time in the pocket like few quarterbacks can, while keeping his eyes (deep) downfield at all times.

Play action and bootlegs work well for Wilson’s skill set.  Bootlegs have an obvious benefit: they get him outside the pocket and they take advantage of his speed to buy time.  The play action also benefits Wilson because the act of turning around and running to the fake handoff has the added effect of dropping Wilson deeper into the pocket in less time than a normal dropback would.

Wilson had an awesome run for a TD in this game that was sprung by a perfect pump fake on the run to freeze an enclosing defender.  Wilson’s hard sell on his pump fake is one of his biggest weapons.

@ Ohio State

Another tough defense on the road.  Wilson took a fair number of sacks in this game as Ohio State has a very athletic defensive line.

Wilson threw 32 passes in this game, and only 4 of them were attempted outside the pocket despite all the pressure Ohio State brought all game long.

Wilson went 17/28 (61%) in the pocket and 3/4 (75%) outside of it.

Four of Wilson’s eleven pocket incompletions were throwaways forced by pressure or coverage.  Another was a drop where the receiver took a hit and couldn’t hold on.  Wilson also had an incompletion where he was hit as he threw.  More than half of Wilson’s pocket incompletons in this game had zero to do with his accuracy.  Most of Wilson’s remaining incompletions were over-throws on mid-to-deep pass attempts.  Take those six “excusable” incompletions out of the data set, and Wilson would have finished 17/22 in the pocket, a rate of 77%.

Michigan State (Big 10 championship game)

Wilson went 16/22 (73%) from inside the pocket and 1/2 (50%) outside the pocket in this game.

Wilson’s receivers really came through for him in this game, making several tough catches including a crucial catch on 4th and 6 late in the game.  They didn’t drop a single pass either.

Wilson also erased one of his potential incompletions when he caught his own pass after it was batted back to him.  Wilson is one of the few quarterbacks who is electric enough as a runner to actually make it worth catching his own pass, although sadly he lost two yards on the play.

Misc notes:

Wilson has a snappy fast shovel pass.  At one point early in the game a pass rusher came off the edge unblocked and Wilson froze the guy with a fake shovel pass then ran around him.  It was awesome.  Later Wilson scored with an actual shovel pass near the goal line after sucking in the defense by showing intent to run the ball outside.

Wilson caught a pass from his running back for a big gain.  NFL defenses will have to account for Wilson even when the ball isn’t in his hands.


Wilson doesn’t really have a pocket accuracy problem.  He does have a bit of a deep ball over-throw issue, and Wilson throws a lot of deep passes.  Because Wilson typically throws deep from within the pocket, his overall accuracy completion numbers dip as a result.  As for the reason why Wilson is good for a handful of overthrows a game, I’m not exactly sure of the reason, but I suspect it’s because he doesn’t step into his deep throws when making them from the pocket very often, instead relying on pure arm strength and overcompensating as a result.


  1. A. Simmons

    Kip and Rob,

    Nice write up. I’m getting way too high on Wilson. He looks about as can’t miss you can get with a 3rd round QB pick.

    You think one of you could get an interview with Bevell concerning Wilson? Bevell is a former Wisconsin Badger QB. Be interesting to hear his view. I know you guys have some insiders you talk to. Maybe an email Q&A with Bevell could be accomplished. Be a real interesting interview I would think.

  2. A. Simmons

    I noticed in the first Michigan State game that Rusell fumbled, tracked the ball, and pushed it out of bounds. Heads up play right there.

    Russell throws a nice ball and places the ball well. He seems to know how to use a tall receiver throwing the ball where the receiver has an advantage for a jump ball. His execution of screens and roll outs is superb. I noticed he led his receivers and they failed to go to the proper spot for a big completion. This is the type of guy you can really see shining if you give him effective weapons and time to build chemistry with them.

  3. James

    Of all the elements of QB play: leadership, reading the defense, decision-making, efficiency, presence, arm strength, release, accuracy, movement in the pocket, etc… Russell Wilson is superior; first-pick-in-the-draft superior. The only knock on him obviously is his height. He is basically the same height as Drew Brees, Fran Tarkenton and Michael Vick, all of whom met great success, so what exactly does he have to overcome, as these other QBs did, to be successful? Hugh Millen went into detail explaining why he believes that Russell’s height is too much of an obstacle to overcome. Hugh said that it was two-fold: the inability to see the play unfolding on the field and therefore decide in a split second where to go with the ball; and the inability to get the ball through the mass of humanity in the line as the pocket collapses. Brock Huard, another tall ex-Husky QB, completely disagrees with Hugh. Brock says that Russell shows Brees-like movement to shift in the pocket and find the open lanes to scan the field. As far as getting the ball over the line, Russell’s OL was bigger and taller than the Seahawks line, so he has already proven an ability to get the ball over his own o-linemen. If you believe that the NFL d-lines will collapse the pocket, and push the OL back into Russell faster than he faced in college, then just go look at the tapes. Considering that the Wisconsin OL was full of future NFL linemen, it was surprising how often Russell’s pocket collapsed almost instantly. I can’t believe his Seahawks line won’t give him at least as much time and space as his Wisconsin line afforded. And Russell has Fran Tarkenton-like ability to burst from the pocket and get into space and fire the ball downfield. This is not someone who comes from a junk-spread offense who has thrown nothing but bubble-screens and 7-yard slants. On the field, in a game, Russell looks like a franchise QB…. I can’t wait to see this.

    • Darnell

      good points. also worth mentioning is that dlinemen are taught to stay low and get leverage, so it isn’t like there are 6’5 DTs standing straight up.

    • Malt Liquor

      Well, Hugh Millen can barely put together a complete sentence.

  4. Hawksince77


    Nicely done thanks.

    But you didn’t point out perhaps the most impressive Wilson play of them all: on that first pick (if memory serves) didn’t he make the tackle? And not from behind his own line of scrimmage – no, Wilson turned into a safety and tracked the guy way up the field.


    • Doug

      saw that – very cool

    • A. Simmons

      I saw that tackle as well. That was great.

  5. Stuart

    Thanks for the good reading. I was only luke warm at the time of this pick but the more time that has passed, the more excited I get about this kid. I am a gambling man and I would bet that Russell Wilson will succeed in the NFL and eventually become a top 10 quarterback and our coveted QBOTF. His height issues allowed him to drop to us in the 3rd round. In time, this will go down in Seahawk history as the greatest 3rd round pick in franchise history.

    My take is Flynn will start and by the end of the exhibition season, it will become obvious to our FO that Wilson is a close 2nd already. The question will then be keep T Jack or Portis. T Jack is proven to be a fantastic back up but who is Portis really?

    If Portis steps up then T Jack will be traded for something. What would he fetch, a 5th rounder? He is too good just to cut/release. Would Portis clear waivers and actually make it to our practice squad? This is a fantastic dilema!

  6. Doug

    Ya, it’s a good dilemma to have : 4 decent QB’s

    I think TJack will be balling big time, he is healthy and a great athlete. I’m guessing that is Portis’ game too. Not sure about how well Portis understands the game yet.
    Flynn GETS it, and uses average skills and athleticism.
    Wilson has great physical tools, but we think he might have a brain too. Thatrs the best of both worlds.
    I just don’t know if height makes a difference or not, and he will apparently show us. He is being watched by every short QB in high school in a big way.

    What I like about Wilson more than anything is his uncanny accuracy. I think that is a natural gift that can’t be taught, and why I don’t see a long tenure for Tebow. It’s spotty for TJack, and Flynn has a good accurate ball, but an average arm.

    I’m dying for some mini-camp reports on how they are looking, altho Wilson isn’t there yet…

  7. Ben2

    love his athleticism and hope he starts this year over Flynn so we can see what we have before next yeas draft. Have a weird analogy/observation and was wondering if I’m nuts or if anybody else sees it: Lots of Wilson’s throws seem to have a different trajectory than taller quarterbacks, weird analogy but for some reason Wilson reminds me of an underhand pitcher like Chad Bradford. If you watch an underhand pitcher throw the ball it often has an upward trajectory then sinks back down again to the catcher – like a really flat parabola. Wilson throws look a little like this to me -up over the line and then back down to receiver. Bigger QBs, like an Eli Manning, throw with a less pronounce parabola shape (for lack of a better adjective) and sometimes even looks straight or downhill…more like a CC Sabathia to complete the analogy.

  8. Lenny253

    @ Kip

    So its a toss up between Wilson, Flynn, TJ for the job. We are only obligated to pay Flynn about 3 mil next season right? Why does everyone assume the job is Flynn’s? They already made his Jersey, lol.

    • Todd

      The NFL sure assumes Flynn will be starting, it’s the only reason the Packers game is prime-time. If Flynn was expected to be on the bench it would make the game lose it’s former backup vs starter storyline.

  9. Joe The Jarhead

    Any of Seattle’s true fans will not want that backup v starter drama for the packer game, because we will all want a shot at winning. The nfl assumes flynn will be starting for us because he is a known. The nfl loves knowns and since they spent so much time talking up that hack, they’ll look silly if he doesn’t start. I wish Seattle just gets over itself and starts Wilson from jump street and let’s flynn ride the pine where he belongs. Wilson is already a better qb than flynn and I see us having a puncher’s chance at 9-10 wins with Wilson leading this offense. He is the first Seahawk qb I have been excited about since Warren Moon. I want to see him on the field. Let flynn wash early and save ourselves the trouble of keeping him on life support for too long

    • Billy Showbiz

      Flynn dismantled two playoff teams in his two opportunities to start. Sure that’s not much to go on but all of this hack talk is way premature. Right now Flynn is the favorite to be our starting QB and we have one other guy in Wilson who has a chance to unseat him. Tarvaris is the “known” and we know that he is a decent backup QB in this league. Flynn has proven himself to be a tough competitor despite some physical limitations and I don’t expect that he is going to give up the job that easily. In his one year at LSU he won a national championship. In his two starts in the NFL he kicked ass. Give the guy a chance.

      • JS

        I wouldn’t say he dismantled 2 playoff teams. He played well against NE but they lost. He did not dismantle, only played better than expected. The Lions were on their 7th and 8th DBs were they not? I don’t want to take anything away from Flynn, but I do want to acknowledge other factors. Won’t be surprised if Flynn starts at first, but I expect Wilson to get starts at some point unless of course Flynn really is a stud. I’m so excited about Wilson though. I think he has a chance to be really good. I love the idea of an irrational athlete. Guys that defy logic. So many people cannot grasp the concept of a short QB, and give Wilson no shot. Is anyone prepared for Wilsanity?

      • Kip Earlywine

        I think Flynn is a good QB that was a great QB in Green Bay’s offense. I’m very curious to see how he does throwing to the targets he’ll have at his disposal here in Seattle.

        Things could get VERY interesting this Summer. I’m open minded enough to think that both Flynn and Wilson could struggle early, but it’s also possible both might look really good too.

        • hawkfan

          Couldn’t you say that about Rodgers or even Brady in New England? The only qb that has played in a place where his success has not been replicated is Peyton Manning. Cassell won eleven games in Brady’s place and even though he wasn’t Brady he played well there. Flynn also replaced Rodgers and played as good as Rodgers ever has. If you aren’t willing to give Flynn credit, then you can’t give Rodgers credit as well, because so far Flynn has played as well as Rodgers ever has in his games. If he continues that, which is not a guarantee, he can become an elite top 5 qb in this league. I just don’t get why people doubt him. In my view, he is just as good as Barkley with similar physical and technical skills, but Flynn is average and Barkley is a franchise qb, in peoples eyes. I just don’t get it.

          • Rob Staton

            Hawkfan – Aaron Rodgers has won a Super Bowl and has played consistently at an elite level over multiple seasons. Matt Flynn has won one single career game and even if he had matched Rodgers in his two starts (he hasn’t) it would still be a point that makes little sense. And there are plenty of legitimate reasons why Barkley is being rated as a superior quarterback.

            • hawkfan

              How is 6 tds and 480 yards not matching Rodgers and setting Packers franchise records along the way? Flynn is not Rodgers now and may never be, but there is nothing wrong with admitting that Flynn played against the same Lions that Rodgers plays every year and performed at a higher statistical level, than Rodgers has ever performed. Rodgers also benefits from those same receivers and Flynn had to face an elite defensive line. Flynn out dueled Matt Stafford, who is a franchise qb and had the kind of game nobody would say anything bad about if it was Rodgers or any other franchise qb. Personally, I watched the game a few times and even though some of the tds were unimpressive, you can see his potential with the touch he has in placing balls in and it showed on the game winning drive, when Flynn threw a pass on the outside shoulder to Jones (I think?), which showed elite accuracy and touch.

              Flynn may never be Rodgers due to arm strength, which is also why I see Barkley in the same way, since he won’t scare a defensive backfield deep without elite receivers, like at USC (Barkley with Woods and Lee) and Green Bay (Flynn with the assortment of receivers). I see Barkley and Flynn as similar, which is a compliment to Barkley, because I believe we can win with Flynn. They both had great receivers to throw to, which helped them, like they helped Rodgers and any other qb that has ever helped. I just want to honestly ask, what negatives do you see in Flynn and that you don’t see in Barkley and vice versa? Have you ever evaluated both comparing each other, because I see many similarities. They’re both guys that like to take chances and let their receivers make plays and that may not continue to work for either, because of their limited arm strength. They both have great accuracy and make up for their limited arm strength, with their awareness and they both have great technical skills. The college Flynn that went in the 7th is not this Flynn and I would hope you realize that.

              We will see what happens and who has the better career, but it will also depend on whether Barkley will land in a good franchise that we will develop him, like Green Bay did Flynn. Barkley may have more natural qb talent, but with the great qb coaching Flynn has gotten and I don’t see as big a gap some do. Make no mistake I love watching Barkley play and loved watching him dissect Oregon as a big Husky fan, but I have to look at this objectively and when I evaluate him, I see Matt Ryan and I see Matt Hasselbeck and I see that as what Flynn can be, which I would be happy with. Why would you take Barkley if Flynn can be the same guy, in my view? Obviously you have a different view and that will play into the decision. What do you see his upside as being and if it is just Matt Ryan, then do you think Matt Ryan is a franchise qb, because that is debatable? I wouldn’t trade up or draft him with other options, like Tyler Wilson, if his upside is not as great as those guys, when we already have, what I believe is a similar guy in Flynn. We’ll just have to wait and see and I’m going to enjoy this next college and nfl season.

              • JS

                If you’re not seeing a difference between the two players then start with age. All things being equal (I don’t think they are) Flynn is like 6 years older making Barkley way more valuable. He’s only 21 right now.

                • hawkfan

                  Age won’t improve upside. The physical tools won’t improve much from now, so you have to take the physical tools as they are now. The physical tools are a big part of a players upside and Barkley will probably be better technically, but I think that pretty much what you see is what you get with him. He’ll be a similar player when he’s Flynn’s age, which is a Ryan or Hasselbeck or even a Flynn type of player, which I don’t see the value of on this team, to take a top 5 pick on. I see Flynn as the same player as Barkley and they both have the same potential in my view. We’ll see.

                • hawkfan

                  I want to be able to get a qb with more max upside if we are picking a qb next year, like Thomas or Wilson, etc. I don’t see Barkley’s upside as in that group. If we didn’t have Flynn, you could debate who to take in my view, but Flynn lessens the impact of making a mistake, so I would take a higher upside guy and develop him behind Flynn, in the hopes that he would become a true franchise qb, which I don’t think Flynn or Barkley are.

                  • JS

                    Fair enough. I’m just not sold on Flynn as anything more than a slight upgrade over Tarvaris. He’ll have every opportunity to prove me wrong and I’ll be rooting for him the whole way, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what Russell has and if it is clear that he’s going to struggle then look to the draft again. If that’s how it plays out then I’m on board with your plan to go upside and develop behind Flynn for a bit. I’m not sold on Barkley as the top QB next year yet. There does seem to be some depth, but I still expect Barkley to be better than Flynn someday. I just can’t get over that it’s only 2 starts for Flynn so far. Great starts, but remember Billy Volek threw for 400 yards in back to back games and Volek was nothing more than a back up.

              • williambryan

                I like the way you think hawkfan. Barkley’s selling point to me, seems to be his masterful control of scheme and decision making, which also seems to be Flynn’s strong point (well decision making anyways), which were also Matt Hasselbecks strong points (IMO he had a top 5 all time control of his scheme under Holmgren). All this to me just makes me even more excited about Russell Wilson. He has amazing ability to master a scheme, and do it quickly, has proven to be a pretty great decision maker, and unlike these other guys, he is 2nd tier athletic (1st tier might be Vick and Seneca, 3rd tier might have Tjack and Alex Smith) and has every attribute you would choose for your franchise QB except height but now Drew Brees has proven that if you got enough of the other stuff, height won’t stop you from winning a Super Bowl.

                • hawkfan

                  It will be a great battle for the starting job in the future between Flynn and Wilson. Flynn has lower upside, but will play better in the short term, while Wilson’s upside makes him a much better future candidate for the starting job. I feel like Flynn will win this year due to experience, but if he doesn’t impress this year, Russell will have every opportunity to succeed over the next few years. We’ll see if he takes advantage of it.

                  It would be great if both guys succeeded, because we would trade the lesser one for draft picks to improve the team, like the Packers have been able to do. I’m rooting for both of them and I will only be pissed and disappointed if Jackson wins, because it will most likely mean that we have not improved the qb position. Thankfully I see very little chance of that happening.

                  Man, though, it would be great if Russell proved everybody wrong and changed all the preconceived notions about height and changed the game for all shorter qbs coming up in the future. The only thing I know is that the winner of the competition is going to be tested and a better qb. I’m going to love watching this and hopefully we have a great year of football ahead of us.

  10. Kev

    Wow JS, as Seahawks fans we’re all pretty jacked about Wilson, but maybe you should calm down and let this thing play itself out before you annoying our starting QB. Flynn, Wilson and TJ will compete and the guy who runs our offense the best will start.

    I get the impression that if another QB came along you start saying Wilson is too short.

    • JS

      I’m just having fun with it. I’m excited for this season. Truly, may the best player win the job. My opinion (which doesn’t mean much, like all of us) is that Wilson has the greatest upside. That doesn’t mean he should be handed the job though. If a better player comes along or is already on the roster then I’m on board without trashing Wilson’s height unless of course that really is the reason he doesn’t succeed. Again, I’m just having fun with the Wilsanity remark. I do have a lot of faith in this front office. They’ve exceeded low expectations so far. Let’s see how they do with real expectations. Though the rest of nation doesn’t believe in them so perhaps expectations are still low for the most part.

  11. Kev

    Oops-Anoint, not annoy

  12. Kev

    What we have now is 2 QBs with a lot of potential and 1 very serviceable backup. What we should be hoping for is that Flynn and Wilson both excell and we can choose the one that suites the Hawks the best and have the other as a great back up and eventual trade bait. Not hope one sucks so that we can try the other out.

    • Hawksince77

      Correction: three QBs with a lot of potential (Flynn/Wilson/Portis). And a known sub-mediocre NFL QB at or near his peak.

  13. hawkfan

    It sucks how Portis has been short changed in all of this, because I see him as having the most potential of all those qbs and he’s most likely never going to get a shot here. Hopefully, he doesn’t blow up somewhere else, because that would suck, if our guys don’t pan out. I loved watching him play last preseason and it was obvious that he wasn’t some normal udfa, with no talent. This was a guy that had talent coming out of high school and competed with Newton and Tebow for the job at Florida and some felt he was ahead of Newton, so this guy has a lot of natural qb talent. He made incredibly fast reads last year and he has all the physical tools you want, unlike some of our other qbs. HIs only problem was accuracy and I’ve always wondered if that was all nerves, because he always looked rattled and when he settled down he made a lot of good throws. People say that when he got a chance he was also very good in practice as well, so we’ll see.

    Pete and John know a lot more than me, so if they get rid of him I’ll wish him luck and support whoever plays. I really like the guy as a player, though, and he is unlike any other udfa I have ever seen on the seahawks. He has true 1st round talent and hopefully he realizes it. It’ll be fun to watch him this year in preseason, if he gets an opportunity, to see if he has progressed enough to keep him over Jackson. Personally, I would keep him over Jackson either way, but I doubt Pete will unless Portis shows amazing and significant improvement and he shows he can compete for the starting job, which he has the natural ability to do. I love all the competition throughout the roster, though, and it is great for the team.

    • Doug

      I think he sticks too. I just hope TJack gets his release early enough to get picked up by the tards befor the season starts…

  14. Turp

    Don’t worry Hawkfan, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tjack got cut, and Portis retains the 3rd QB job.

  15. Zog

    To all the people who say the starting day QB roster will be Flynn/Portis/Wilson….I say you are wrong. That would leave the entire QB pool with *2* NFL starts. Portis is gone. TJack is too valuable due to his experience.

    TJack’s play will improve this year due to better health; and improved pass protection (God forbid we should suffer through another season with a beat-up O-line).

    I want Wilson as a starter, but understand that playing behind Flynn for a year will make him a better starter.

  16. Attyla the Hawk

    Portis still has practice squad eligibility. He will get cut and they will resign him there.

    He probably ends up being on the squad to final cutdown day though. Reduce other teams’ ability to fit him on a roster.

    Only way he’s on the active, is if he shows significant improvement enough to warrant him elevating to the primary backup.

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