Since blowing the roof off Baylor last season and winning the Heisman Trophy, fans of quarterback Robert Griffin III have been powering the hype train all the way to his landing spot in Washington, D.C. Firmly at the helm of Mike Shanahan’s offense, the now-Redskin saw his stock tick higher and higher with impressive preseason showings and mouth-watering Subway commercials.
As a result, though, fantasy drafters hoping for the second coming of Cam Newton began to snatch Griffin higher than others were willing to risk. What looked like a safe eighth or ninth round pick quickly morphed into a sixth and, in some leagues, fifth round reach for the rookie signal caller, leaving owners who waited for him to fall (including Mrs. Naptime Quarterback, under my advice) scratching their collective Flaccos and Romos.
The frustration that can accompany this kind of draft mishap can take your entire team off track. If you were banking on a quarterback with high upside, like RG3, but were left with a known commodity like Ben Roethlisberger or Phillip Rivers – still solid starters, but with none of the sexy mystery that comes with a touted rookie – it can take the shine off an otherwise successful roster.
But instead of dwelling on what could have been in capital city this year, allow me to steer the hype train across the country to the land of fog, flannel, and Starbucks.
Welcome to Seattle, home of Russell Wilson.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll certainly turned some heads when they drafted Wilson in the third round of this year’s draft, especially considering they had signed free agent quarterback Matt Flynn roughly five weeks prior. Even when camp opened and Carroll gave everyone the old “open competition” diatribe, Wilson was flying way under the radar as an NFL starter.
But after an impressive camp and even more impressive preseason stats, Wilson was anointed the starter on August 26.
I first took a chance on drafting him on August 25, before he had even been named the number one, due to his performance in week three of the preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was, in a word, electrifying.
In seven possessions that Wilson led for the Seahawks that night, the team scored in six – three touchdowns and three field goals. The former Wisconsin Badger ended up going 13 of 19 for 185 yards and two touchdowns while chipping in 58 yards on the ground. He looked poised and threw with velocity and touch.
Having seen Wilson play but a handful of times throughout his college career, I was enrapt while watching his dismantling of the Chiefs. It turns out, though, that if I would have been following him for a few years, this would have been no surprise at all.
Wilson began his college football career at North Carolina State, where he became the first freshman quarterback in Atlantic Coast Conference history to earn first-team All-ACC accolades. As a junior in 2010, he led the conference in passing yards per game, as well as total offensive yards per game. His star was ascending as he entered his senior season in 2011, but Wilson was no one-trick pony.
Indeed, the kid was also an accomplished baseball player and, after being invited to Spring Training with the Colorado Rockies as a second baseman, he left NC State with one year of NCAA eligibility intact. (Apparently, coach Tom O’Brien did not enjoy sharing Wilson with others, hence the split.) Enter Wisconsin, who snatched Wilson up after he didn’t make it with the Rockies.
Now sporting a shiny W on his helmet to match his last name, Wilson went on to decimate Big 10 opponents last season with 3,175 passing yards and a ridiculous 72.8 completion percentage. Sure, the Badgers lost the Rose Bowl, but by that time Wilson was being highly regarded as a mid-round draft pick for the coming NFL season.
Wait, a mid-round pick?
Yes, mid-round. As it turns out, Wilson is afflicted with short, a debilitating condition that affects much of the population but results in perfectly accurate, athletic quarterbacks being banished to late rounds of NFL drafts due to not being the “prototypical” size for their position. Measuring in at 5’11”, Wilson’s height was viewed by many NFL scouts as a liability.
Even today, as a starter for an NFL team, Wilson’s short stature comes up when the pundit machine rears its ugly head: “He won’t be able to see receivers downfield,” or “Too many passes will be batted down at the line of scrimmage” are the convenient arguments tossed around in this debate. But better than these clichés are statistics, like the one that shows Wilson only had two passes batted down in 2011, as opposed to 6’4″ behemoth Ryan Tannehill’s 19.
This has all led to Wilson, in my opinion, being vastly underrated in fantasy circles.
Working behind a fierce offensive line that has gelled in its second season of Tom Cable’s zone blocking scheme, passing lanes will be no issue for Wilson. Also, a bruising running game helmed by Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin will make for plenty of play-action opportunities for him to take shots down the field. Even his receiving corps, while boasting no superstars, is full of solid possession guys who can move the chains.
And don’t forget about the mobility. While we aren’t talking about a Tebow-esque propensity to tuck the ball and run, Wilson – or Mini3, as I like to call him – can burn teams with his ability to scramble, giving defenses yet another dimension to worry about.
So, despite his physical shortcomings, Wilson has the system and skills necessary for a breakout season. Currently being owned in only 38% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues, he is a poor man’s RG3 at waiver wire value. If your bench currently boasts snooze-tier quarterbacks like Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Carson Palmer, there is no reason you should be letting Wilson sit out there in the wind. His price will only go up as the season progresses, and his upside is too good to pass up. Twenty-five passing touchdowns, as well as six or seven on the ground, is realistic, with at least 3,600 yards passing in the weak NFC West.
Take a chance on Russellmania. On a team that is ready to challenge for the division title and with the 12th Man behind him, it will be a fun ride.