Biomechanical Review: Russell Wilson

Note: this is the first biomechanical review of the 2022 offseason. As such, there have been seven months since the previous biomechanical review, and in those seven months there have been significant improvements made to analytical methods, particularly relating to the medial posterior and lateral anterior areas. So if there are discrepancies between findings posted below and previous analytical findings (such as Wilson’s currently stated 3 vs previously stated 4 areas of full thoracic efficiency), this is likely due to updated methods resulting in new data.

Russell Wilson (lateral oriented posterior dominant) is, when viewed through measures of biomechanical efficiency, a generational talent at QB. His three areas of full thoracic efficiency (all but medial posterior) put him in elite company– only Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Tom Brady showed similar thoracic efficiency during the 2021 season (Aaron Rodgers showed declining posterior efficiency, likely due to age). In addition, Wilson’s lumbar areas (particularly lateral posterior) still show very high levels of efficiency and independence, even as he enters his mid-30s. His burst has diminished with age (as with any athlete in their 30s) but Wilson shows excellent mobility, both in evading pass-rushers and in picking up positive yardage on quarterback keepers.

Wilson similarly shows excellent posterior cervical efficiency and independence. This type of efficiency is strongly correlated with depth-sensing vision/ throwing accuracy, and Wilson does indeed show excellent accuracy when throwing deep (arguably best in the NFL). In general, Wilson’s only obvious area of inefficiency is in his anterior cervical areas. These cervical areas are generally correlated with width of viewing focus, meaning that higher levels of efficiency (and therefore bloodflow) generally equate to higher levels of horizontal field awareness/ vision. As such, it is likely that Wilson’s one notable area of quarterbacking weakness is in his ability to quickly scan the entire horizontal field of targets.

Wilson’s very high overall levels of efficiency (and mature development) predict continued strong durability and career longevity. Wilson has only suffered two notable injuries during his career– an ankle injury in 2016 which strongly affected his performance that season (but did not force him to miss any games), and then a contact injury he suffered to his throwing hand (fracturing/ dislocating a finger and tearing a tendon) during the 2021 season. Although Wilson returned to play after missing only 3 games in 2021, his throwing mechanic/ efficiency was noticeably influenced/ made less efficient for the remainder of the season. Even in his final few starts, where his production appeared to rebound to pre-injury levels, Wilson’s throwing mechanic was still clearly affected by the injury. While it is very likely that Wilson’s hand will make a full recovery by the start of the 2022 season, the fact that he was able to still play very effectively even with a far less efficient throwing mechanic shows just how much room he has to lose efficiency and still play at a high level. In other words, his play at the end of the season– with clearly diminished throwing efficiency– predicts strong play late in his career, when his efficiency will be naturally diminishing due to age.

Although this will be discussed in more detail in the next post, Wilson profiles more like John Elway than does any other recently-studied quarterback. Both are lateral oriented posterior dominant former baseball players, who throw extremely accurate deep balls, show excellent mobility/ toughness, and are known more for scrambling/ extending plays than for throwing quickly in rhythm to a wide field of targets. Which means that the offense originally built around John Elway’s talents (Mike Shanahan’s wide zone scheme, inherited via GB’s Nathaniel Hackett) will likely fit Russell Wilson perfectly– and better than any other current quarterback (at least in its original incarnation). In fact, during Wilson’s superlative early career (including both his Super Bowl seasons), Seattle ran a close cousin of Shanahan’s scheme, coordinated by Darrell Bevell as OC/ passing game coordinator and (much more crucially) by former Alex Gibbs protege Tom Cable as assistant head coach/ run game coordinator. Alex Gibbs famously co-created the Shanahan wide zone scheme in Denver, and then as coach in Atlanta from 2003-2006 (where he helped the Falcons lead the NFL in rushing yards) taught this blocking scheme to then-assistant Tom Cable (who then implemented it in subsequent stops in Oakland and Seattle). As such, during Seattle’s Super Bowl seasons, Wilson ran many of the same wide zone/ bootleg concepts that will likely be re-instituted in Denver in 2022. So if history is any guide, Wilson may well be on his way to a career renaissance in Denver under coach Hackett, perhaps reminiscent of John Elway’s late stage resurgence under Mike Shanahan.