The Cardinals take on the Seahawks this weekend, which means the inevitable Kyler Murray/Russell Wilson comparisons are coming… again.
We heard them all throughout the draft process and the offseason, then again in Week 4 when these teams squared off for the first time. The comparisons are certainly warranted—they’re both diminutive, African-American quarterbacks who can scramble. They even put up similar numbers in that Week 4 matchup: 22/32 for 241 yards with 1 (rushing) TD and 1 INT for Kyler, 22/28 for 240 yards and 1 TD for Russ. They both also took four sacks apiece for good measure. Of course, it was Russ who got the win, not Kyler—arguably the only stat that matters.
So with those comparisons gaining steam this week, I thought I’d take some time to compare their two rookie seasons. How do Kyler’s rookie numbers stack up against Russ’s? We’ll take a look at both counting stats and efficiency stats to see how the two really compare.
Russell Wilson vs. Kyler Murray Rookie Comparison (Passing)
Russell Wilson vs. Kyler Murray Rookie Comparison (Rushing)
The rushing stats are eerily similar, but the first thing that’s apparent from these tables is that Kyler is being asked to do a lot more as a passer during his rookie year than Russ was in 2012. That Seahawks offense was a run-first operation with Marshawn Lynch at the peak of his Beast Mode powers—he had 315 carries that year, for 1,590 yards and 11 TDs. Russ didn’t even need to throw it 25 times a game.
On the other hand, despite the Redbirds’ success rushing the ball this season (still the #2 DVOA rushing offense), this is still a pass-first offense with Kyler averaging nearly 35 attempts a game. That’s top-10 in the league and 10 more per game than Russ attempted his rookie year. Still, he hasn’t done as much as Russ with those attempts—fewer touchdowns, more sacks. That’s obviously a function of the respective teams around them—the Seahawks made the playoffs with a top-10 rushing offense and overall defense, while the Cardinals are mired in a rebuild with one of the worst defenses in the league.
Russell Wilson vs. Kyler Murray Rookie Comparison (Passing Efficiency)
There are some statistical similarities here as well—they’re quite close in completion % and INT%, with Kyler actually slightly better in both. But Russ’s rookie numbers have a sizable advantage in the other stats—nearly double Kyler’s TD%, a full percentage point better sack rate, almost a yard better YPA, and about 13 points better in both standard passer rating and QBR. Kyler’s numbers in those metrics aren’t bad—in fact, they’re mostly great for a rookie—but Russ’s were just that much better.
These areas represent where Kyler needs to improve most—more success downfield, better playmaking in the red zone, and avoiding sacks. The talent around him—especially at WR and on the O-line—and improved playcalling from Kliff Kingsbury will be key, but a lot of this falls on Kyler as well. He’s got to hit the big plays downfield when they present themselves, avoid mistakes in the red zone, and learn to get rid of the ball quicker and avoid those drive-killing 15-yard sacks. Do those things and his numbers will be closer to Russ’s in Year 2.
Of course, Russ put up those numbers in Year 1. But he was also two years older than Kyler is now—he was a 4-year starter in college—and, as mentioned above, he also had a much stronger team around him than Kyler does now. Knowing that context, Kyler’s numbers compare quite favorably to Russ’s.
Will they be enough to get Kyler into the Pro Bowl like Russ did as a rookie? It’s possible—Kyler was named as a Pro Bowl alternate just like Russ was. If one of the three NFC Pro Bowl QBs (Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Russ himself) makes the Super Bowl and/or enough names withdraw due to injury, Kyler could match Russ in that regard.
One thing Kyler can do that Russ didn’t? Win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Oakland RB Josh Jacobs is the current favorite, but he’s out this week and maybe next week as well. What if—and it’s a big what if—the Redbirds upset the Seahawks in their home stadium behind a huge game from Kyler? Stranger things have happened in Seattle in December.