Perhaps the player under the most pressure of anyone in 2023, Russell Wilson needs to re-establish himself as a franchise QB in the NFL. What does his ceiling look like? There is a genuine argument to suggest that Wilson is or already has declined as a QB. Many look to his 2021 season as the beginning of the decline. Even though he was efficient statistically, many point to the film as a reason to believe that Wilson was declining.
However, some also argue that the freak finger injury he suffered on his throwing hand in 2021 was an injury he returned way too soon from, but even with that, he still threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 14 games. He earned a passer rating of 103.1 during that season, which is above his career rating of 100.2
In 2022, he cratered and was arguably the worst starting QB in the NFL. He was tough to watch and had career-worst numbers in nearly every major statistical category. Now, in 2023, things appear to be changed for the better. The Denver Broncos boosted their offensive line in free agency, and now Wilson appears to have the strongest offensive line he's played with on paper.
He also gets to play for a Hall of Fame-level head coach and offensive mind. Objectively speaking, Sean Payton is one of the best in the history of the NFL at offense, plain and simple. He's got a long track record of success on offense and as a head coach. There really might not be a better coach for Russell Wilson than Sean Payton.
It's also worth noting that while Wilson was still with the Seattle Seahawks, it was reported that he would have accepted a trade to the New Orleans Saints, likely due to Sean Payton being the coach. It appears as if Wilson has been a huge fan of Payton for years, so the fact that he gets to play for him might bring an increased level of motivation for the veteran passer.
What does Wilson's ceiling look like in 2023? Well, that may be hard to say, but I think there is a benchmark for it. During the 2017-2020 seasons, there was a change in how Drew Brees played in New Orleans. This was during the final four years of his career during his age 38-41 seasons. He was an old man at this point and was surely declining physically.
What appears to have happened here is that during those four seasons, the Saints ran the ball much more than they did in the prior years with Drew Brees. Brees also attempted much fewer passes during these four seasons than he did in the previous ones. From 2001-2016, Drew Brees attempted an average of 639 passes per season in a 17-game split.
From 2017-2020, Brees attempted just 564 passes per 17-game season, which comes out to about 33 per game. During these same yearly splits, Drew Brees' passing yards per game decreased from 283.7 per game to 263.8 per game. His TD:INT ratio during these splits went from 34:16 to 33:7 as well. And, to no surprise, his completion percentage increased during these yearly splits as well.
So, if we put it all together, what we saw is that Payton took the ball out of Brees' hands more, ran the ball at a higher rate, and called more highly-efficient passing plays that limited the possibility of interceptions. Drew Brees became much more efficient but had a smaller sample size. He wasn't doing as much in the passing game as years prior, and that, in turn, helped him become more efficient.
This is a basic concept. Reducing workload usually equals becoming more efficient during that reduction, because you're using your energy more efficiently. This is what I think Sean Payton will do in 2023 with Russell Wilson. He'll reduce his responsibility in the passing game and call plays and install packages that limit his chances to play poorly and turn the ball over. I think, over time, if Wilson shows that he can be efficient, Payton may open up the offense more.
Essentially, I think we'll see Russell Wilson as a high-end game manager in 2023. If you're wanting a specific statistical prediction, I think Wilson hovers between 25-30 touchdowns and 5-10 interceptions. He won't be a hugely prolific passer, but he's also not going to turn the ball over a lot.