Fantasy Reaction: Russell Wilson Traded to the Broncos

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Time flies in the NFL. Russell Wilson has been a Seattle Seahawk for a decade after the team drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Now after multiple division titles and a Lombardi trophy, the Seahawks have made a franchise-altering move, sending their former Super Bowl-winning QB to the Denver Broncos for a package of players and picks including Drew Lock and Noah Fant.

There’s plenty to digest with this deal, especially when it comes to fantasy football. In the simplest terms, the Broncos got¬†a lot better by upgrading from Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater to the 9x Pro Bowler while the Seahawks…well, they got worse. Let’s break this thing down in detail from a fantasy football lens and see what’s in store for all players involved for 2022 and beyond.

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Unliiiiimited

You don’t need me to tell you Russell Wilson has been one of the NFL’s best QBs over the last decade. 2021 was obviously a down season thanks to a mid-season finger injury that required surgery, but take a look at Russ’s numbers from 2012 to 2020.

Year PFF Grade (Rank) Team Record Passing Yards Yards Per Attempt Passer Rating TD Rate Fantasy Finish (QB)
2012 90.6 (2nd) 11-5 3118 7.9 100 6.60% 11
2013 83.8 (6th) 13-3 3357 8.2 101.2 6.40% 8
2014 74.5 (14th) 12-4 3475 7.7 95 4.40% 3
2015 82.1 (6th) 10-6 4024 8.3 110.1 7% 3
2016 83.8 (6th) 10-5-1 4219 7.7 92.6 3.80% 9
2017 78.8 (11th) 9-7 3983 7.2 95.4 6.10% 1
2018 88.9 (6th) 10-6 3448 8.1 110.9 8.20% 9
2019 91.9 (1st) 11-5 4110 8.0 106.3 6% 4
2020 90.5 (6th) 12-4 4212 7.5 105.1 7.20% 6

Obviously, Russell Wilson has been a fixture of fantasy football leagues for the last decade, finishing as a top-12 QB every season of his pro career except last season, the first year Russ didn’t play a full 16 (or now 17) games. At times, this production even came in shall we say less than ideal scenarios, throwing to at times, to subpar NFL talent while also being held back by the offensive philosophy in Seattle. Pete Carroll has prioritized a balanced approach with a focus on the run game, which has led to volume concerns in the Seattle passing offense over the last several years.

Wilson has been able to overcome this conservative game plan at times, making up for a lack of volume with efficiency. In his 10-year NFL career, he’s ranked inside the top 10 in passing attempts just twice while finishing inside the top-12 in passing yards in five of six seasons from 2015 to 2020.¬†Clearly, if we think the offensive philosophy in the new-look Broncos offense is more aggressive with a priority on the passing game, there’s reason to be optimistic about the Russ Wilson-led Broncos in 2022 – more on that soon.

2022 Outlook – Broncos

Goodbye Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater. Hello, Russell Wilson. Obviously, the Broncos are getting a massive upgrade at QB, and from a fantasy perspective, there’s a very good chance the team the Broncos put on the field in 2022 doesn’t even remotely resemble the offense we saw in 2021. Let’s first start with the offensive philosophy with new head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who was most recently the offensive coordinator for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.

Out with the old, in with the new…literally. Denver brought defensive mind, Vic Fangio, back in 2019. In his three seasons as the Broncos head coach, the team ranked 19th, 26th, and tied for 20th in neutral situation pass rate, and in 2021, Denver ranked 30th in neutral situation pace of play. Not surprisingly, the team moved on from the 63-year-old after the team finished with a 19-30 overall record in three seasons while ranking bottom 10 in scoring every year.

Enter Nathaniel Hackett, who is 42 years old. Hackett helped Matt LeFleur orchestrate an offense that ranked top-10 in neutral situation pace in each of the last two seasons. Assuming Hackett brings over this philosophy, the Broncos’ offense could get a complete facelift, which would obviously benefit Russell Wilson and his pass-catchers.

Before the trade, there was obvious concern with Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy given the lack of high upside (Teddy Bridgewater) or competent (Drew Lock) QB play. Those concerns are now put to bed with Wilson under center, and we should obviously view both of these pass catchers as bounce-back candidates for fantasy football in 2022. Over the last two seasons in Seattle, Wilson has supported multiple elite WR options in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett with both WRs finishing inside the top-13 at the position in half PPR formats each of the last two years.

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Another not-so-obvious winner in this trade scenario is 3rd year TE, Albert Okwuegbunam, who now has a chance to fill in as the team’s full-time TE with Noah Fant headed to Seattle as part of this trade. The 2020 4th round pick is oozing with athleticism, positing a 99th percentile speed score at his 6’5″ 258 lb. frame. In general, we know TEs tend to break out in year three, and we know athleticism has a direct correlation to fantasy production at the TE position. The stars could be aligning for Albert O to be this year’s “Late Round TE” but obviously, he’ll be third in line for targets (at best) behind Sutton and Jeudy. Tim Patrick, who just signed a 3-year, $34M deal with the team this past year will also mix be in the mix.

And finally, we can’t conclude this conversation without talking about Javonte Williams who looks set to explode into fantasy stardom if Melvin Gordon leaves via free agency. With Wilson now under center, the offensive environment as a whole gets a boost, making it easier to project high-value touches around the goal line for the 2nd year back out of North Carolina. Last season, Williams ranked 5th in elusive rating, 8th in yards after contact, and 2nd in missed tackles forced despite carrying the ball just 203 times last year.

2022 Outlook – Seahawks

Well…Not Great, Bob! This Wilson trade likely signals a rebuild in Seattle after the team went 7-10 a year ago and finished 4th in the NFC West. We always knew the Seahawks offense had volume concerns, but one thing we could hang our hats on in this offense is the efficient QB play from Russ and the chemistry he’s shown year after year with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

There’s no doubt the loss of Wilson is a major blow to both the floor and ceiling of both WRs from a fantasy football perspective. We don’t have a big sample size of Drew Lock as a starter in the NFL, as he lost his starting job to Teddy Bridgewater a year ago. However, in 2020, Lock finished with less than stellar numbers across the board:

In that season, Courtland Sutton finished as the WR25 in fantasy points per game, Noah Fant finished as the TE25 in points per game and no other Broncos pass-catcher was fantasy viable on a weekly basis. Of course, there’s a possibility that Seahawks add to their QB room via free agency and/or the NFL Draft, but either way you slice it, this is a huge blow to the short-term fantasy value of Lockett and Metcalf. In dynasty formats, this likely offers a nice “buy low” window on Metcalf, who still has the high upside we’re chasing in fantasy football.

It’s also tough to see the path for Noah Fant to get any upgrade in this position. Sure, he gets to keep playing with a QB he’s familiar with, but he goes from competing with Sutton and Jeudy for targets to competing with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf for targets. In three years in Denver, Fant finished as the TE16, TE12, and TE12 while failing to catch more than four TDs in any season. Now, Fant finds himself on an offense with serious question marks.

Dynasty Outlook

Russell Wilson turns 34 in November, but as we’re seeing across the NFL with elite QBs who can operate as a pocket passer, the longevity of the career of these guys is increasing. Wilson likely has another couple of years left as an elite option with the ability to post top-12 numbers for multiple seasons. However, we know that the true difference makers in fantasy at the QB position can run the football, and each season that goes by makes that less and less likely for Wilson, which likely caps his ceiling in the QB6-8ish range over the next couple of seasons. That said, this Broncos offense has all the pieces in place for this to be an offense to target in 2022 and beyond, assuming Wilson can continue his top-tier QB play that we’ve seen for the last 10 years.

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