With Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos may have the best QB in AFC West now

Russell Wilson in October. Credit: Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports.
Russell Wilson in October. Credit: Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports.

In a quarterback-driven league, and a quarterback-dominated division, the Denver Broncos arguably have the best gun-slinger in the AFC West now.

That’s a far cry from earlier this afternoon, when the Broncos were clearly in the basement in terms of quarterback play, having only Drew Lock on the roster.

With the blockbuster trade of Russell Wilson from the Seahawks, the Broncos traded away a boat-load, but they got back one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. That gives the AFC West the best group of QBs in the NFL as a division.

There’s DangeRuss Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr. And some would rank the four in that order.

Others, though, would laugh if Mahomes wasn’t considered the best in the West. And even a smaller percentage of fans would possibly consider the young phenomenon Herbert to be the best.

So, it begs the question: Do the Broncos have the top quarterback in the division now?

Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs are still the kings of the division, so let’s start there. Mahomes is a phenomenal, incredible, insanely-good athlete, and he also plays quarterback. He’s so gifted with his legs, Mahomes could pick up a first down on nearly any play. But he’s simultaneously so disciplined, he won’t just take off at any time. Instead, he tries to make the called play work out. And when it doesn’t Mahomes is arguably the best improviser in the NFL, able to throw no-look passes and submarine-style sidearms for first downs.

He’s only started four years, which is incredible because he’s arguably the best QB in the game. In those years he’s averaged 4,748 yards and 38 touchdowns per year, with a mere 9 INTs per season. He was also named a first-team All-Pro and NFL MVP in 2018, has been part of a team with an 8-3 record in the playoffs and has gone 1-1 in Super Bowls.

With Mahomes as quarterback, the Chiefs are probably the scariest and most deadly offense in the league today. Over the last four seasons with him at QB, the Chiefs have been 1st, 5th, 6th and 4th respectively in scoring.

And one only has to remember the recent Divisional Round game against the Buffalo Bills when he and Kansas City went 44 yards in 13 seconds to kick the game-tying field goal and ultimately win.

With Mahomes under center, the Chiefs know they can win any game they play.

But, the same exact thing can be said of Russell Wilson.

OK, Wilson isn’t the same stature as Mahomes (6’3″-5’11”), nor is he quite as athletic. But he is pretty, dang close. And, he’s been a superstar quarterback in the NFL for longer than Mahomes, giving Wilson the mental advantage.

Wilson, a 10-year veteran, has averaged 3,706 yards and 29 touchdowns with 8.7 interceptions per year. Even in a down season last year, the only time he’s ever missed playing in NFL games, Wilson had 25 touchdowns compared to 6 INTs.

And what can’t be missed about Wilson is he was arguably playing the best football of his career in 2020, with career-highs in TDs (40) and completion percentage (68.8). He and the Seahawks went 9-7 in the playoffs during his career and he went to the postseason in 8-of-10 years in Seattle.

Wilson isn’t quite as athletic as Mahomes — no one ever has been at quarterback — but Wilson has been the better running quarterback, without a doubt. He has a higher YPC (5.5-5.0) and averages more yards per game (29.7-18.9).

And Broncos fans will remember his and the Seahawks dominant Super Bowl XLVIII victory, 43-8 over the Peyton Manning-led Broncos. That was nearly 10 years ago now. In fact, the trading for Wilson comes nearly 10 years to the day that Manning signed with Denver.

Even with subpar talent around him — including an awful offensive line and only so-so receivers — Wilson was spectacular in 2020 before being injured with a fractured finger in 2021. With Denver, he’ll be enjoying likely the most talented receiving corps he’s had as a professional, even counting the fact they traded away tight end Noah Fant as part of the deal. (Denver will sign a new TE, possibly former Packer Robert Tonyan).

Finally, there’s Justin Herbert of the Chargers.

At only two years into the NFL, he’s a young star blowing up in front of our eyes. However, he’s got a bit of a turnover problem, still. While he threw for an incredible 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns in only his second season, he also tossed a far too many 15 interceptions last year.

Outside of the turnovers, he’s on the track to being a top-5 quarterback in the game. It should be noted that while he’s solid on the ground, the other two are better rushing the ball than him. And, both Mahomes and Wilson get the advantage of being more veteran and experiencing a wider variety of difficult circumstances in the NFL, while still overcoming.

As for some advanced stats, here’s how they match up the last two seasons. We’re looking at the last two because Wilson was injured in 2021:

PFF grades

Mahomes: 91.4, 80.4

Herbert: 79.9, 90.1

Wilson: 90.3, 73.9

QBR

Mahomes: 78.1, 62.2

Herbert: 62.6, 65.6

Wilson: 67.1, 54.7

Passer rating

Wilson: 105.1, 103.1

Mahomes: 108.2, 98.5

Herbert: 98.3, 97.7

Advanced passing accuracy (Bad throw% / On-target %)

Herbert: 18/76.5, 14.6/80.2

Wilson: 15.8/79.5, 18.6/76.5

Mahomes: 17.6/76.9, 18.8/77.5

So, what do you think, Broncos Country? Is Wilson the best in the AFC West now, or is it still Mahomes? Or, could Herbert actually be better than both despite his youth?

It’s difficult to not pick Mahomes as the best of the group, let alone the entire NFL. But, considering experience, accuracy and ability on the ground, Wilson is the best in the West now.

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