Is Nick Foles Better Than Russell Wilson?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

AP Images

The 2012 quarterback draft class is extremely good.

How good? Well, it's too early to start comparing them to a 1983 group that contained John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Ken O'Brien, but let's put it this way: Russell Wilson has posted back-to-back 100-plus passer ratings and led the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory as a sophomore, and yet it's not unreasonable to believe that he might only become the fifth-best quarterback to stem from the 2012 draft. 

Wilson might always have to fight with that draft's top two selections, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, especially if RGIII is able to regain what he lacked while recovering from a major knee injury last year. And another top-10 pick, Ryan Tannehill, is still a factor. 

But it's a fellow third-round selection who is giving Wilson the strongest run for his money right now, because Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles is coming off one of the most impressive statistical seasons in NFL history. Out of nowhere, the former No. 88 overall pick out of Arizona led the league in 2013 with a 119.2 passer rating while posting the most lopsided touchdown-to-interception ratio in league history (27-to-2). 

In this fantasy football-oriented era, those individual stats are quite valuable. But Foles has yet to win a playoff game, let alone a Super Bowl, and this will mark the first season in which he's been a starter from Week 1. 

Wilson, on the other hand, just became the third-youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback in history. The man already has four playoff victories and a 102.0 passer rating in postseason games. It's a team sport, but quarterback is the most important position on the field, and the 25-year-old has simply gotten it done. 

Nick Foles vs. Russell Wilson, career rate-based stats
Pro Football Reference

Which leads to the question: Who would you rather have? Foles has accomplished more individually, but within a smaller sample size and with one hell of a supporting cast (Chip Kelly, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Riley Cooper and one of the game's best offensive lines). But Wilson has led his team to much higher plains while still putting up superb personal numbers over a longer period of time. 

Foles vs. Wilson: Quantifying their support, 2013
Yards/rushing attempt5.14.3
Pro Bowlers on offense42
Points allowed on defense23.914.4
Pro Football Reference

On a recent appearance on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philly, current ESPN analyst and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski made it clear that, in his opinion, Foles is the significantly better pivot. 

"I'm taking Foles," Jaworski said when asked to pick between the two 2012 third-round picks (h/t Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio). "Not even close. Russell Wilson is just...because of that system he is in. Russell Wilson plays with that defense, the best in football. He just managed the game very well. I think Russell Wilson has played terrific, a great maturity, but I’m going to take Nick Foles."

There is evidence in support of the idea that Foles has taken charge a little bit more than Wilson. Seattle's defense has indeed been better than Philadelphia's, and although Wilson doesn't have the same receiving corps or offensive line, that Marshawn Lynch-led running game is still probably the centerpiece of the Seattle offense. 

As a result, while Foles averaged a league-high 9.1 yards per pass attempt last season, Wilson ranked fifth in the league at 8.2. Both numbers are strong, but again, it's the type of gap that supports Jaworski's claim. 

On the other hand, Wilson was actually the league's most accurate passer last season on throws that traveled 20 yards or more, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Most accurate passers on deep throws, 2013
1. Russell Wilson48.3
2. Peyton Manning48.2
3. Mike Glennon (seriously)46.7
Pro Football Focus

Foles, however, also fared well on those passes, what with his 14-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and all.

Best TD-to-INT ratios on deep throws, 2013
QuarterbackTD-to-INT ratio
1. Nick Foles14-1
2. Drew Brees15-2
3. Tony Romo8-1
Pro Football Focus

It's funny, too, because the two 25-year-olds share a lot of traits. I watched every snap Foles took last season (more than once) and can tell you that he needs to become more aware in the pocket while making better decisions under pressure. But that's Wilson's biggest problem as well. They both finished in the bottom 12 in the NFL in terms of sack percentage, and neither made the top eight in terms of completion percentage while under pressure. 

In fact, according to PFF, no two qualifying quarterbacks spent more time lingering in the pocket last season than Foles and Wilson. So we'll call that a wash. 

Longest time to throw, 2013
QuarterbackAvg. time to attempt
Nick Foles2.88
Russell Wilson2.82
Mike Glennon2.81
Pro Football Focus

Further, if we want to look at what each quarterback brought to the table in big moments, it wouldn't be fair to hold Wilson's so-so stats in the fourth quarter of one-score games against him simply because Foles' sample size is too small. The Eagles just weren't involved in very many close games last season.

Fourth quarter, one-score games, 2013
Pass attemptsComp.%TD-INTYPARating
Pro Football Reference

That sample size is a major factor. As Florio points out, Foles had a chance to creep up on the league in 2013. He's never been a starter entering a season, which might have given him a chance to surprise defenses last year. 

Wrote Florio:

Wilson also has shown that he can continue to perform at a high level even after opposing defenses have had seven months to break down everything he did in his first season of action. Foles will have to do the same thing in 2014 before there’s even a fair debate as to whether he’s in the same conversation as Russell Wilson.

And Kelly's high-powered, uptempo system certainly helped when that entire unit shocked the league last season (Jackson, Cooper, McCoy and Jason Kelce also had career years, which can't merely be coincidence). 

That—and that thing about never having done it for a full season—is what another former Eagles quarterback, Donovan McNabb, had in mind when he shared his doubts about Foles' chances of putting together an out-of-this-world third season. 

McNabb said earlier this week on Fox Sports 1, per's Andy Jasner

I’m just a little worried if he can do it for a full season. I’m just worried about that aspect, not so much of his health, but can you be consistent like what we saw last year? We’ve seen so many quarterbacks give us one year of greatness and then all of a sudden they can’t live up to the expectations. I’m not saying he can’t do that in that offense, but I think expectations are a little bit too high for Nick Foles.

So before concluding that Foles is better than Wilson, who is much more than just a game manager, we'll have to see his attempt at an encore performance in 2014.

No, he doesn't have to break records again while posting one of the three highest passer ratings in NFL history. Even Foles himself has admitted—via this story from Zach Berman of The Philadelphia Inquirer—that those 2013 numbers might not be sustainable. But if he can't help get the Eagles closer to the Super Bowl than they've been since they last won a playoff game in 2008, comparisons like these will continue to be tough for him to win. 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.


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