Well, the final week of the 2022 season is here. 

Nobody projected how poorly things would go for the Denver Broncos after they traded for quarterback Russell Wilson. The endless debate of what went wrong will remain the topic through the upcoming offseason. 

With a massive contract standing in the way of potential overhaul, Wilson will return as Denver’s starter in 2023. There will be a new head coach, and the ownership team has stated that they will make “whatever changes are necessary.”

Only time will tell if the Super Bowl winner, who threw for 40 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions in 2020, can return to winning form. 

But first, let’s go back to his beginnings.

Growing up in Richmond

Wilson was born in Cincinnati, OH, but grew up in Richmond, VA. 

While at Collegiate School, he played on the baseball, basketball, and football teams. 

One summer, Wilson attended the Manning Passing Academy, a summer football clinic run by former Denver Broncos and Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. 

In his senior year, he threw for 3,009 passing yards, 34 passing touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 1,132 yards and 18 touchdowns. Wilson was named an all-conference, all-state, and conference player of the year for his performance. He was twice named Player of the Year by the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

After high school graduation, the Baltimore Orioles selected him in the 41st round (1,222nd overall) of the 2007 MLB Draft. In a 2008 interview, Wilson said, “I was leaning towards [entering the draft], but a college education is something you’ll always have.” 

He was presented with many scholarship opportunities but ultimately committed to North Carolina State as a dual-athlete.

Finding Success as a Dual-Athlete

After redshirting his first year, Wilson saw the field the following season. He initially split time with two other quarterbacks but took over permanently, starting in Week 6. 

The Atlantic Coast Conference named him the first-team All-ACC quarterback, the first time in conference history that a freshman quarterback had been named to the first team.

In his three seasons at NC State, Wilson played in 36 games. He completed 682-of-1,180 passes for 8,545 yards with 76 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. He also had 362 rushing attempts for 1,083 yards and 17 touchdowns. 

In January 2011, Wilson announced that he would report to spring training for the Colorado Rockies after being drafted by them, though NC State head coach Tom O’Brien vocalized his hesitations about the decision. 

After not being invited to the 2011 NFL Combine, O’Brien announced in April 2011 that Wilson had been granted a release from his football school scholarship despite one year of eligibility left. 

O’Brien said, “While I am certainly respectful of Russell’s dedication to baseball these last several years, within those discussions, I also communicated to him the importance of his time commitment to NC State football.”

As a guest speaker at Wisconsin’s 2016 graduation ceremony, he recalled being told by O’Brien, “Listen, son, you’re never going to play in the National Football League. You’re too small. There’s no chance. You got no shot. Give it up.”

In June 2011, Wilson committed to the University of Wisconsin. In his single season there, he completed 225-of-309 passes for 3,175 yards with 33 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He added 79 rushing attempts for 338 yards and scored six times. 

The Badgers won the Big-Ten Championship game in which Wilson was named MVP. 

Committing to the NFL

Unlike in 2011, Wilson was invited to attend the 2012 NFL Combine. Because of his 5’11” height, scouts and analysts projected him to be a middle-round pick.

The Seattle Seahawks drafted Wilson in the third round (75th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft. He was the sixth quarterback chosen. The pick was heavily criticized as Seattle had just signed Matt Flynn to a three-year, $20.5 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.

At the end of preseason, Wilson was named Seattle’s starting quarterback, beating out Flynn for the job. 

Wilson started in all 16 games, and Seattle went 11-5 that season with one playoff victory. In his rookie season, he completed 252-of-393 passes for 3,118 yards with 26 touchdowns and ten interceptions. Adding to his stats, he rushed 94 times for 489 yards with four touchdowns. 

He tied Manning’s 1998 record for most touchdown passes by a rookie (26) and became the first rookie in NFL history to lead his team to an undefeated home record.

In his sophomore season, the Seahawks went all the way to the Super Bowl XLVIII. Their 43-9 victory over the Broncos made Wilson the third-youngest quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. 

The Seahawks made back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, as they returned the following year. Down by 4, Wilson led Seattle to the Patriots’ one-yard line with 25 seconds remaining but was intercepted, sealing a 24-28 loss.

Wilson stayed with the Seahawks for another seven seasons. Across his 11 seasons in Seattle, Wilson was elected to nine Pro Bowls, led the league in passer rating and touchdowns in two separate seasons, hit career bests of 40 touchdowns, 4,219 passing yards, and 849 rushing yards, missed just three games to injury, and only missed the playoffs once.

Welcome to Denver

In March 2022, Wilson was sent to the Denver Broncos in a blockbuster trade. Seattle sent a fourth-round pick in exchange for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and a fifth-round pick, as well as Drew Lock, Shelby Harris, and Noah Fant. Wilson signed a five-year, $245 million contract extension, including $165 million guaranteed, in September with the Broncos.

The expectation for Denver was that they’d finally end their six-season playoff drought. Some even believed there were possibilities of a Super Bowl berth.

Unfortunately, 2022 turned out to be a career-low year for Wilson. In 14 game appearances, he has only thrown 13 touchdowns, with a previous career low of 20 back in 2014. 

After falling to 3-10, the Broncos were officially eliminated from the playoffs. First-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett was fired the day after the team lost 51-14 to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16.

His contract’s structure practically guarantees he’ll be the starter again, leaving little room for maneuvering. The Broncos are currently conducting a head coaching search, which will hugely impact Wilson’s future.

Was Wilson’s 2022 performance just a dip, or was it a sign of decline? How much blame should be placed on the offensive line? Will a new coach be able to return him to form?

While Sunday’s result won’t directly impact the Broncos’ future, it is one last opportunity this season for Wilson to show Broncos Country there’s reason to be hopeful about the team’s future.

The Broncos (4-12) close out the 2022 season at home against the Los Angeles Chargers (10-6) on Sunday at 2:25 p.m. MST.