In my weekly column, we will take a long look at two or three rookies. I will compare their performance to date against my original expectations of them. Let’s continue this series off by looking back at two rookie quarterbacks, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson, after their week four campaigns:
Brandon Weeden, QB CLE
Here were my original thoughts on Weeden in college: I re-watched his 2011 games against Stanford and Texas. Weeden has a strong enough NFL arm, but I don’t believe he has any elite physical skills. He tends to throw to a particular spot on the field which risks his receivers getting laid out by head hunting defenders. It’s almost as if Weeden has decided where the ball is going pre-snap, which may have worked in college, but this is the NFL. Also equally concerning, Weeden never gets his arm fully warmed up as he looks like he is throwing a shotput and not a football.
He doesn’t read coverages with any consistency and hurries his throws instead of taking a sack. The footwork is a concern as he has a very wooden/stoic stance and doesn’t use his feet to help drive the ball. Weeden’s eyes are almost always down the field, so he misses opportunities with underneath routes that develop. Justin Blackmon‘s huge catch radius helped out Weeden immensely as most of the passes he made to other Oklahoma State receivers appeared to be highly contested.
This past week against the Ravens, I saw a more confident quarterback: It seemed to be by design, but Weeden rolled out a few times with success against the Ravens. This bootleg action gave him more time to look down the field to find receivers. It is too bad his top target WR Greg Little, who had four receptions for 77 yards, let five balls slip right through his hands. One of those missed footballs was a touchdown. Yes, it was raining, but the Ravens receivers were making plays on the ball in these conditions.
For the most part, the Browns quarterback did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands as he was only sacked once. The Ravens applied good pocket pressure all night and forced an ill-advised sideline throw that became a 61 yard interception return for a touchdown. Weeden settled down for the most part, stood tall in the pocket, and took hits while placing the ball where the receiver could make a play. He still needs to get a better feel for pressure developing around him.
If you look strictly at the stats, he completed 48% of his passes for 320 yards and the before-mentioned interception. On the year, he found his receivers 90 times out of 167 attempts for 997 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. While the completions went down in this game, his decision-making improved remarkably. He kept on checking down to RB Trent Richardson and this allowed him to make plays in space when his other receivers were failing him.
There were times Weeden didn’t look his best. This was very clear when he fell on his face after a handoff demonstrating he isn’t the most graceful NFL athlete. Maybe the most ugly play was a pass that ricocheted off a Browns lineman and was still almost completed anyway. Hopefully Cleveland will continue to use him in the shotgun as he was most successful there.
It was encouraging to see him connect with reserve WR Jordan Norwood. This was the rookie’s first NFL game and he made the most of the opportunity. Like Little, the young receiver was targeted 10 times including two in the end zone. One was a disappointing drop by Norwood, but the other was a pass that was knocked away by S Ed Reed at the last second.
Weeden may never be a QB1 on your dynasty team. He is getting better with his ball placement and reacting to pressure. When his receivers learn to make more with the opportunities given, expect his fantasy numbers to increase. I would say his fantasy position should be QB2.5 as he isn’t quite a QB2 yet. So if you have him hold, but I wouldn’t try to acquire him at this time.
Russell Wilson, QB SEA
Here were my original thoughts on Wilson in college: If you are looking for warts there are a few; aka he is short for a quarterback and struggles with deeper throws over 40 yards. I re-watched his 2011 game against Ohio State and his recent preseason start against Kansas City. Wilson has to clean up his atrocious footwork as he doesn’t keep his feet planted which limits his arm power. The young quarterback makes an effort to pass the ball with a good arch which helps his throws get over the offensive line if he is not already bootlegging away from them. To those that think Wilson will struggle with a big offensive line, please keep in mind the Wisconsin offensive line that he played behind last year is just as big as Seattle’s, perhaps bigger.
Now for the good stuff, Wilson has already played in two different types of pro style offenses for two different college teams and was successful with both. Wilson is a great leader and a smart guy who learned the Wisconsin playbook in less than two months. He moves around well in the pocket, but doesn’t always feel backside pressure. The young quarterback has a nice touch pass, makes good quick decisions in the pocket, and puts the ball on the outside shoulder where only the receiver can get to the ball. When he decides to run, Wilson reminds me of a young David Garrard with his glide around defenders.
This past week against the Rams, I saw more of his quarterback warts: At the start of the game, I saw a confident quarterback that was rolling out to open passing lanes. He felt the pocket closing and decided to run when coverage took his options away. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate found openings in the soft zone early. That was the best of times as the first drive of the game concluded with Marshawn Lynch’s triumphant 18 yard touchdown run.
The Seahawks are a team built to run the ball and play defense. Once they fell behind in the second quarter, Wilson got caught trying to press the ball down the field and did not have time to plant his feet. He lost the sense of feeling pressure and waited too long for his receivers to get open. This is a recipe for disaster as he ended up throwing three picks on the day.
Wilson is not truly to blame for the three turnovers. Doug Baldwin popped the ball up as he was hit for his first turnover. On the second interception, the young quarterback was hit while throwing. Finally, reserve tight end Anthony McCoy fell down in the flat so it went to the open arms of an awaiting defender. However, he wasn’t without blame as Wilson missed an open Zach Miller for what might have been a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. The play calling, unfortunately, was extremely predictable as it did not allow the young signal caller the chance to get into the rhythm of the game.
The young Wilson is a mere cog in the offense at this point in his career and acts as a glorified intermediary between the center and Lynch. He is averaging a completion rate of 60% and a paltry 5.9 yards per completion. These are Tavaris Jackson-ish numbers. Unless he starts to give the defenses something to be concerned about with his rushing skills, the defenses will stack the line and wait him out for long yardage third downs. If you have him on your dynasty team, I would make sure you have Matt Flynn as Wilson is playing more like a QB2.5 than the promising rookie that we saw in the preseason. Much like Weeden, he is a dynasty hold for now. Hope for brighter days.
Andy Miley can be found @AndrewMiley on twitter and in the forums as dlf_andym.