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PFF Explains Russell Wilson’s Biggest Weakness Heading Into 2024

What is Russell Wilson’s biggest weakness heading into the 2024 season with the Steelers? Pro Football Focus explains that very question.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agent Target Denver Broncos QB Russell Wilson
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson leaves the field after a loss to the Houston Texans in an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Russell Wilson for the veteran minimum this offseason. As part of overhauling the quarterback position, Wilson was the first step in a process that the team hoped would turn around that room. The Kenny Pickett trade was not planned, but obviously, that sidewinded into getting Justin Fields. But why was Wilson even on the market just a few years after being one of the best quarterbacks on the planet?

Pro Football Focus explained how Wilson struggled in 2022 and 2023 with the Broncos and why his game has continued devolving since his days in Seattle. One reason is his alarming check-down rate, which Wilson has easily led the NFL in throughout the last two seasons. In 1099 dropbacks, Wilson checked the ball down 112 times, a whopping 10.19% of all dropbacks, by far the most in the entire NFL in volume and percentage.

Russell Wilson Steelers Quarterback

Russell Wilson speaks at a press conference about his contract signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Friday, March 15, 2024 in Pittsburgh, PA. (Abigail Dean / Pittsburgh Steelers)

“A fresh start with a new franchise can net a wide array of results, but the outcome of Russell Wilson’s move to Denver was shocking, to say the least. Wilson is the only quarterback in the league who exceeded a 10%-plus checkdown rate from 2022 to 2023. It was a far cry from his aggressive approach in Seattle, where he generated just a 5.8% checkdown rate through the 2020 and 2021 seasons,” they wrote. 

This raises the question of ‘why Wilson had his check-down rate soar. For one, he lost athleticism as he got older. Wilson is still top of the league in terms of time to throw, and that is because he tries to create with his legs out of structure. It worked in Seattle because Wilson’s athleticism allowed him to move outside of the pocket and create that magic. But Sean Payton came into Denver hoping to rein in Wilson’s over-aggressiveness and get him to play in structure more, which led to an efficient, though still questionable, season for Wilson.

It would be easier for him to overcome if not for his size. The question about Wilson’s size often comes up, but there are legitimate times when he misses reads, and the only explanation is that Wilson can not see over this offensive line. So, that lead to him relying on his out-of-structure ability. But at 35, some of that magic has fizzled out of Wilson’s game. Now, it is about winning in-structure and either taking what the defense gives you, the check down, or uncorking those deep balls that are still special in Wilson’s game.