It’s the NFL’s belief that the 2020 season will kick off as normal in September. While the details are fuzzy at best on how that is supposed to happen, it shouldn’t stop us as a fanbase from continuing to prepare for the season like we normally would.
Nothing accomplishes this more so than speculative team previews. And speculate we shall for the 2020 Seattle Seahawks. I will go through the entire roster position by position and discuss the new additions, as well as project the starters.
For this article, we will be looking at the most important position on the field, the quarterback. Junky offseason rumors aside, there will (hopefully) be no speculation on who the starter for this team will be. But that does not mean that this position group is set. Seattle does have a position battle for the backup spot that projects to unfold over the course of this upcoming preseason. We will be using some advanced analytics from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and Football Outsiders to aid us in breaking down who will be competing to win the coveted role of holding the clipboard for Russell Wilson on the sideline.
Quarterbacks on roster:
As one of the premier quarterbacks in the National Football League, Russell Wilson’s place atop the depth chart is undeniable. But, for the heck of it, let us go through some of Wilson’s stats from last season just in case you need proof of why this is the case.
Pro Football Focus has him as their top ranked quarterback in the NFL, ranking him in the top percentile of big-time throws (20+ yards) vs. negative plays (sacks, interceptions, etc.).
NFL.com ranked him as the 2nd-best deep passer in the NFL, marking him as completing 42.7% of his passes that have traveled 20 or more yards through the air. That mark is a nifty +12.8% above the expected completion percentage on those throws. Also noted by NFL.com is that Wilson’s receivers targeted on deep throws only averaged 1.5 yards of separation from coverage, which was the lowest mark in the entire league. Despite this, he still completed a league-high 32 deep balls. This really emphasizes Wilson’s unique ability to thread the needle.
Long story short, Russell is an amazingly accurate deep passer who doesn’t turn the ball over much.
For the battle behind Russell Wilson, Seattle has brought back veteran Geno Smith with rookie free agent Anthony Gordon serving as the primary competition for the job.
Let’s go with seniority and see what Geno Smith’s resume for the role looks like. A former second-round pick by the New York Jets in 2013, Smith spent an anonymous couple of years as their starter. He landed the backup role with the Giants in 2017, Chargers in 2018 and Seahawks in 2019. While one could argue that such a path breeds experience, his career stats certainly don’t indicate that he has the capability of being a productive player: 29 touchdowns, 36 interceptions, 11 lost fumbles.
The former West Virginia Mountaineer never had the ideal situation to display what talent he may have possessed. The 2013 and 2014 Jets could go down as one of the worst collections of skill players ever assembled. But at the same time, he also has never shown the ability to elevate the players around him either. The eye test certainly confirms this. He’s slow to read the field and slow to get the ball out of his hands, which was a contributing factor to his high turnover numbers. In his years as a starter, Pro Football focus rated him as the 34th-ranked QB in 2013 and the 32nd in 2014. Football Outsiders ranked him as the third-worst quarterback to take more than 200 snaps in 2013 and the 7th-worst in 2014.
Smith is an older journeyman without much room to grow, who both fails the eye test and was rated as one of the worst quarterbacks by advanced metrics in his years as a starter. Outside of on-the-field experience, Geno Smith hasn’t shown the ability bring more to the table than sub-standard play.
Let’s move on to the next option and take a look at the rookie, Anthony Gordon.
“Prolific” would be the first word that comes to mind when you look at the former Washington State Cougar’s 2019 season. He led the nation with an eye-popping 5,579 yards in the air to go along with a robust 48 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. But, as with all WSU quarterbacks, those totals always come with a grain of salt. The Air Raid system that the school runs relies on a disproportionate amount of throwing, as noted by Gordon’s 687 total attempts in 2019. That’s an average of 52.85 throws-per-game and 8.12 yards-per-attempt. While this stuck out as an issue for evaluators, many still had Gordon getting drafted. Some believed he could even go as high as the third round.
But that didn’t end up happening. Teams were still wary of spending a draft pick on him for reasons that have since become apparent. Lack of experience was one. As a single-year starter, Gordon only played in 14 total college games. While he made the most of that limited time frame, NFL teams prefer more game action when projecting future starters at the position.
The other issue brought to light by analytics was turnovers. Pro Football Focus pegged Gordon as having the second most turnover plays of anyone draft eligible with 28. Part of that could be explained away purely by the volume of passes thrown, but his predecessor at WSU, Gardner Minshew, only threw nine interceptions on a similar number of attempts. Also concerning for Gordon was that Pro Football Focus found that nearly a quarter of his attempts past 10 yards downfield were incomplete due to faults in his accuracy (i.e. an overthrow, underthrow, bad ball placement, etc.). To put it all together, Gordon fell down draft boards because he was turnover prone and struggled with accuracy downfield. Those are not strong signs when projecting his probability of becoming a successful NFL quarterback.
So, taking into account everything that has just been laid out, who seems more likely for the job? When considering this, we should think about who fits best in the Seahawks system, who better mirrors Russell Wilson’s skillset and also what the coaching staff wants out of the position in general.
General manager Jon Schneider believes both Geno Smith and Anthony Gordon could theoretically be fits. The Seahawks ran the ball 44% of the time during the 2019 season, a number that could rise given Pete Carroll’s affinity for running the ball if Russell Wilson misses any time. The trouble is what would happen if either got into a situation where they needed to pass the ball. As we detailed earlier about Russell Wilson, he is tops in the league at two things: deep passing and not turning the ball over. Not so coincidentally, those are the two things Pete Carroll values most on offense. Also noted was that those are the exact skills neither Smith nor Gordon seem to possess.
Neither Smith nor Gordon seem very suited for taking over for an injured Wilson. The Seahawks would be in immense trouble if either has to take a meaningful snap in 2020.
In projecting who will be on the roster come the season opener, I’ll favor the more experienced guy. But if there was any type of significant injury to Wilson, don’t be surprised if the Seahawks make a call to Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick.
Starter: Russell Wilson
2nd String: Geno Smith
Practice Squad: Anthony Gordon