By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Hype Control Officer
To paraphrase the famous old Wendy's commercial of the 1980s: "Where's the hype?!"
Inquiring football minds want to know the answer in the wake of two clearly distinct Week 10 performances by rookie NFL quarterbacks, one by No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, another by largely unheralded Russell Wilson.
Luck led the Indianapolis Colts to a 27-10 win over the terrible (1-8) Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night.
Wilson and the Seahawks easily dispatched of overhyped Rex Ryan and his N.Y. Jets, 28-7, Sunday afternoon. Yes, the same Jets team that embarrassed Luck and the Colts, 35-9, four weeks ago.
Indianapolis is certainly the great feel-good story of 2012, especially with coach Chuck Pagano battling leukemia. The Colts are 6-3 and in the playoff hunt after the dreadful 2-14 season of 2011.
But you might have thought Luck had cured Pagano, solved the debt crisis and saved a litter of cute little homeless puppies on the way to Canton to have his formerly hirsute bust carved in bronze.
Luck “showed his star potential in a dominant win over the Jaguars,” screamed the NFL.com homepage Friday morning.
He “showed a national TV audience the poise, command, pocket presence, ability to handle pressure, arm and running ability Colts fans have been seeing all season,” proclaimed Paul Kuharsky on ESPN.com.
You know observers are desperate to crank up the hype when they talk about poise after a mediocre performance over one of the worst teams in football.
Luck ran for two touchdowns in the Indy win Thursday night. But he was merely mediocre, again, passing the football – the skill by which quarterbacks are ultimately judged:
Luck completed 18 of 26 passes, 69.2%, for 227 yards, 8.7 YPA, with 0 TD, 1 INT and an 80.1 passer rating.
We don't do feel-good stories here at the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
We serve hard facts to men who want to get drunk on the truth.
And the reality is that the biggest individual story in football is going largely unheralded, at least relative to the hype that surrounds Luck and that overwhelmed Robert Griffin III early in the season.
The biggest story in football is that a charismatic but under-sized 5-foot, 11-inch, 205-pound, third-round draft pick who makes chump change by NFL standards (about $750,000 this year) is in the midst of perhaps the greatest streak of rookie performances in NFL history.
That player is Russell Wilson, and he’s the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks.
If you watch ESPN, you may not be familiar with Wilson and the Seahawks.
But he was deadly efficient (again) in Sunday's win over the Jets. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 188 yards, 9.9YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT and a 131.0 passer rating.
That's a winning performance in any era. And since 2010 players with a passer rating of 130.0 or better are 78-2.
Wilson now owns three of the four highest-rated performances by a rookie QB this season and four of the top six – and he did it Sunday against one of the best pass defenses in football.
The Jets headed to Seattle No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating (76.5).
But Wilson’s effort – superior to Luck’s performance Thursday and against a better defense – was greeted largely by a national chorus of crickets Monday morning.
Most fans and pigskin “pundits” in this era of fantasy-style instant gratification look at Wilson’s 19 attempts and 188 yards and say, “ho-hum.”
The Cold, Hard Football Facts look at those deadly efficient numbers and see a star in the making. No rookie quarterback has been more consistently deadly and efficient than Wilson.
In fact, he is on a tear right now, producing the most efficient performances in football of any rookie quarterback week after week.
Here are the top 10 rookie performances of 2012:
1. Griffin III (at NO): 19 of 26, 320 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 139.9 rating
2. Wilson (vs. NE): 16 of 27, 293 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 133.7 rating
3. Wilson (vs. NYJ): 12 of 19, 188 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 131.0 rating
4. Wilson (vs. MIN): 16 of 24, 173 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 127.3 rating
5. Weeden (at CIN): 26 of 37, 322 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 114.9 rating
6. Wilson (vs. DAL): 15 of 20, 151 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 112.7 rating
7. Tannehill (vs. STL): 21 of 29, 185 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 112.0 rating
8. Griffin III (at NYG): 20 of 28, 258 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 108.9 rating
9. Luck (vs. MIN): 20 of 31, 224 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 107.5 rating
10. Luck (vs. MIA): 30 of 48, 433 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 105.6 rating
That's a whole lot of Wilson, for those of you keeping score at home. He clearly dominates the list. Luck, meanwhile, has posted the “worst best game” of any rookie QB – his 107.5 rating against the Vikings lower than that of the best single performances by Griffin, Wilson, Weeden and Tannehill.
You might say Luck has given us a big bun of intangible "poise" that seems to be his calling card so far in lieu of beefy statisitcal performances.
Here's the beef over here: Wilson has posted a passer rating of 99+ in five games this year: all of them victories, including a league-high three Quality Wins (tied with Houston) over the Vikings and powerhouse Packers and Patriots.
The Seahawks win, in other words, when Wilson plays well. So far, they're in the midst of the NFC playoff hunt because of his performances and because he outdueled the likes of the great Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the space of four games.
The national media's investment in hype
We’ve seen this all before, in the Old Yeller Fever that surrounded Brett Favre’s seven-year farewell tour and in the Spinal Manningitis that inflicted so many “pundits” and Peyton Manning fans for years.
Fans and so many analysts are committed to a storyline first and the reality second. When a player comes in as the No. 1 overall pick with a $14.5 million signing bonus while making about $5 million per year, the expectation is that he will be a great player.
He need only show the tiniest hints of living up to the hype for the pigskin “pundits” to start feeding the fire with hyperbole – and certainly that’s what we’ve seen around Luck in recent weeks, and especially around his largely statistically non-descript effort against the terrible Jaguars.
An after-thought guy like Wilson has to prove himself over and again before folks finally take notice. Hell, Tom Brady had to win three Super Bowls and then throw a record 50 TD passes in a single season before most fans and observers finally admitted he’s probably as good as Peyton Manning.
Pedigree matters in the NFL. Those without it have to work extra hard to earn the same level of respect. Luck has the pedigree as the No. 1 overall pick. Wilson does not have that pedigree – yet.
Listen, the reality is this: Andrew Luck is good. He may go on to be very good. He may in fact live up to the hype of a No. 1 overall pick, win Super Bowls, and reach the Hall of Fame.
We hope he does. We wish the best for him. He seems like a fine, upstanding young man. We think he’ll do.
But right now, here today, Luck is only the third best rookie quarterback in football, probably behind Robert Griffin III still and certainly 100 percent behind Russell Wilson.
Here’s a look at how each rookie QB stacks up in key measures of efficiency.
The numbers for Wilson are pretty damn impressive, especially considering he’s the lowest-paid player on the list:
- No. 3 in INT percentage, behind Griffin and Luck
- No. 3 in Yards Per Attempt, a shade behind Luck
- No. 2 in TD-INT ratio (1.9 to 1), behind only Griffin
- No. 2 in completion percentage, behind Griffin
- No. 2 in passer rating, behind Griffin
- No. 1 (with a bullet) in TD percentage, nearly double the No. 2 player on the list
- No. 1 (with a bullet) in TD passes, far ahead of Luck or Griffin
Wilson has been especially deadly in recent weeks, clearly the most effective rookie quarterback in football at least since the start of October.
In Luck’s last five games, the period during which the hype has begun to ratchet up, he’s thrown just 3 TD passes with 4 INTs. Wilson over the last five games: 10 TD, 2 INT.
On what planet is Luck the better quarterback, given those numbers over the past few weeks.
Luck certainly has the potential and the pedigree to be a Hall of Famer. Griffin III is the most talented athlete in the group and gave the hottest start to his career.
But through Week 10, Wilson has been the deadliest, certainly most consistent, definitely the hottest right now and, yes, even the best rookie quarterback in football.