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Russell Wilson Is the NFL’s Way-Too-Early MVP

The Seahawks quarterback turned in an immaculate performance in a 35-30 win over the Patriots. Through two games, he’s been nearly perfect. Is this finally his year?

AP Images/Ringer illustration

It’s not accurate to call Russell Wilson underrated anymore. Since the 2012 third-round draft pick won the starting job in training camp as a rookie, he’s frequently been under-credited as the Seahawks’ starter. When Seattle was in its Super Bowl heyday, he took a back seat to the Legion of Boom and Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Mode. Even as that team evolved and Wilson grew as a player, the quarterback was still stuck in a low-volume offense that valued the run above all else, putting a damper on his overall stats and spotlight. Despite his obvious playmaking talent and incredible efficiency numbers, Wilson was often left just out of the NFL’s elite players. Hell, as late as December 2017 there were premier NFL analysts saying they’d take Matthew Stafford over Wilson.

The days of Wilson being underrated have been fading for quite some time, and now they’re definitely over. On Sunday night, even the #LetRussCook hashtag left Seahawks Twitter and went mainstream, with NBC broadcaster Cris Collinsworth opening Sunday Night Football with a discussion about how Seattle should unleash Wilson. Later in the broadcast, Collinsworth said that he would have voted for Wilson over Lamar Jackson for MVP last season if he had a vote. That might have been a bit of a hot take, but this season it’s shaping up to be reality: Through two weeks, Wilson is the NFL’s MVP.

It’s still extremely early in the season—and we at The Ringer have been in exactly this spot multiple times before—but Wilson’s play in the first two weeks has been impeccable, even by his standards. In Sunday’s 35-30 win over the Patriots, Wilson was once again incredible, tossing five touchdowns and accounting for over 300 yards of offense. Add that to a sterling Week 1 performance in a win over the Falcons, and Wilson’s two-game stat line speaks for itself: 52-for-63 for 610 yards, nine touchdowns, and one interception. Wilson has also added 68 yards with his legs. Oh, and the interception wasn’t even his fault—tight end Greg Olsen bounced a perfectly placed pass off his hands, and the ball fell into the chest of Devin McCourty.

NFL Next Gen Stats has expected Wilson to complete 68.6 percent of his passes, but he’s actually completed 82.5 percent of them. That difference of 13.9 percentage points is by far the highest mark in the league, indicating how preternaturally accurate Wilson has been this season. It’s not entirely unexpected, though. Last season Wilson ranked fourth in that stat (plus-4.8), and two of the players above him (Drew Brees and Ryan Tannehill) missed large chunks of the season. Wilson is currently second in QBR to only Aaron Rodgers after ranking fifth last season. He ranks fifth in pass yards, second in yards per attempt, first in touchdowns, and first in passer rating. He’s essentially been perfect through two games.

Every Wilson deep pass in this game looked like y=-x². The ball jumps out of his hands, zips up until it’s about level with the Space Needle, then drops perfectly into his receiver’s waiting arms. It’s art. He had three such touchdown throws in this game, starting with an effortless downfield toss to DK Metcalf in the second quarter:

That player who is draped all over Metcalf is none other than Stephon Gilmore, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Metcalf, the Seahawks’ 2019 second-round pick, came into the league with no questions about his athleticism but some skepticism surrounding his short-area quickness and ability to change direction. But his straight-line speed, size, and soft hands have made him a perfect partner for Wilson; a complement to the smaller, shiftier Tyler Lockett; and a schematic match made in heaven for Seattle’s downfield offense. This was the ninth touchdown of Metcalf’s young career, and he’s up to 187 yards on the season—seventh most in the league—after clocking 92 on Sunday and 95 last week.

The third quarter brought the most impressive play of the night, with Wilson lofting a rainbow to David Moore, who somehow found a way to keep both feet inbound as he backpedaled into the end zone.

And Wilson had one more beautiful deep-ball touchdown, too. In the fourth quarter, with a defender in his face, Wilson hit running back Chris Carson for his fifth score of the night:

You could make a trip to the DMV in the time the ball is out of frame on some of these throws. Wilson’s deep ball has all the arc and loft as a vintage Dirk Nowitzki jumper. Nowitzki won his only MVP trophy in his ninth season in the NBA, and this is Wilson’s ninth season in the NFL. Maybe it’s Wilson’s time to get some hardware.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a Wilson game without the Seattle QB showing his ability to extend plays in the pocket. On his first touchdown of the game he evaded pressure before flicking a pass to Lockett in the end zone:

This passing chart looks like a laser light show:

NFL Next Gen Stats

This game was a good test for the Seahawks. Cam Newton’s Patriots—who also needed a test after feasting on the hapless Dolphins last week—gave Seattle as much trouble as Tom Brady’s Patriots teams did. Despite Wilson’s immaculate performance, Newton and the Patriots were knocking on the door of the end zone with just seconds left on the clock and a five-point deficit. Newton had nearly 400 yards passing (one of his best aerial performances ever) and three total touchdowns (one through the air, two on the ground) as the Patriots continued to unleash their dual-threat QB. The Seahawks defense stuffed Newton at the goal line, though, clinching Seattle a 2-0 start to the season.

Plenty of things could derail Wilson’s early MVP campaign but one obstacle stands above the rest—the strength of the NFC West. Its four teams are a collective 7-1, with the only loss coming from a divisional game between the 49ers and Cardinals. While the litany of injuries suffered by San Francisco hurts the chances of a repeat for the reigning NFC champions, the Cardinals look every bit as dangerous as advertised with DeAndre Hopkins, and Sean McVay is once again scheming up an incredibly effective offense in Los Angeles. But the Seahawks have the best quarterback of all of their divisional rivals, and arguably the best one in the entire NFL. Russ is cooking—and everyone is paying attention.