Among the Denver Broncos biggest question marks and concerns going into the 2023 season, none have been more discussed than the playing level of Russell Wilson. Wilson is coming off the worst statistical season of his career in 2022, throwing a career low 16 touchdowns to go along with another career low 84.4 QBR.
Despite Wilson not looking like his usual nine-time pro bowl self in 2022, his performance is something that should not be as concerning as fans and media have made it out to be. The Broncos roster was constantly filling in holes caused by injury and the offense as a whole struggled to function due to incompetent play calling from Nathaniel Hackett. Even the most pristine chefs will struggle to cook when their recipes are scribbled in crayon.
However, Wilson’s teammates were not the only Broncos to struggle with injury last season, as the 34 year old quarterback found himself missing time due to surgeries and other injuries throughout the year. As the Super Bowl 48 champion prepares for a bounce-back season, the biggest concern is not his talent, but his health.
Wilson has begun to compile an extensive list of injuries over the past two seasons. In 2021, Wilson suffered mallet finger, as well as two finger fractures, in his middle finger during a week 5 game against the Los Angeles Rams that forced him to miss five weeks. In 2022, Wilson sustained a shoulder injury and lat tear that required a plasma transfusion, as well as a hamstring tear, a concussion and a knee issue that needed arthroscopic surgery after the season.
This is the first time in his career that injuries have become a concern for the former Seattle Seahawk. Wilson has always been known as an ironman competitor, even returning earlier than expected from the finger injury he sustained in 2021. Wilson’s body will only become more liable to injury as well, as he is set to turn 35 years old this coming November.
The good news for Wilson is that his new head coach and play caller, Sean Payton, has been through a similar situation with a different prolific passer. In 2019, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees suffered ligament damage in his thumb in a game against the Rams that forced him to miss five games. Payton is not just getting deja vu with Wilson, he is getting a full on rerun.
As Payton has built up the roster to his image, it is easy to see that he’s constructed it with the idea of keeping Wilson protected from injury. The Broncos picked up guard Ben Powers and tackle Mike McGlinchey in free agency. These acquisitions not only help to keep Wilson upright in the passing game, but help to establish a more dominant ground game presence.
Payton helped protect Brees during his waning years by relying more and more on the run game and using diverse backfields, which is what Payton has built in Denver with the addition of Samaje Perine to pair along with Javonte Williams. With this scheme, Brees was able to play at a high level up until he retired at the age of 42 and preserve his health, which is likely the same goal Payton has for Wilson.
Another positive note for Wilson is that other hall of fame quarterbacks have shown improvement in their later years when paired up with a new coach. In 2019 Tom Brady had one of the worst seasons of his career and many felt he was washed up before linking up with Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay and exploding for back to back 40 touchdown seasons, and Aaron Rodgers was seen as beginning to reach a decline in 2018 before getting matched up with Matt LaFleur and winning consecutive MVPs.
As the 2023 season looms overhead, the biggest fight for Wilson, and the Broncos as a whole, will be preserving the health of the future hall of famer.