Russell Wilson's list of accomplishments five years into his career is as impressive as anything you'll ever find on a young NFL quarterback's résumé.
He's already a four-time Pro Bowl selection who has set numerous franchise records, including this year's 4,219 passing yards and last season's 34 touchdown passes. He also led the NFL in passer rating last season with a franchise-best 110.1 mark. His career passer rating of 99.6 is the second best in league history for players with at least 1,500 pass attempts, and his 127 touchdowns through five seasons trail only Dan Marino (168), Peyton Manning (138) and Andrew Luck (132).
More importantly, Wilson has been a big part of the most successful run in team history, helping the Seahawks to two Super Bowl appearances and one title, three NFC West championships and five straight playoff berths dating back to 2012. Wilson's 64 wins, postseason included, are the most by a quarterback through five seasons, and his eight postseason victories are second most behind Tom Brady and Joe Flacco, who each won nine.
Yet in a way all of that success can mask what might be the most encouraging aspect about Wilson when it comes to the Seahawks' future—the best is almost certainly still to come. Because he accomplished so much in his career in so little time, it's sometimes hard to remember that Wilson, by NFL quarterback standards, is still relatively young, which means he's still learning the finer points of playing one of the most mentally demanding positions in sports.
"It will be just continued comfort with what's going on," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said when asked what he's expecting from Wilson heading into his sixth season. "His sense for anticipation of stuff, all of those things, just the feel. I think he'll feel the pocket better, I think he'll feel his receivers better, I think he'll feel the urgency more clearly. You just get better. Remember that we're comparing him to guys that have played for 11 and 12 and 13 years. We compare him to the best in the world, because he's worthy of that, but look at them when they were 6-years-old (in their careers). What were they doing, how many of those guys won so many games, how many of those guys were in the playoffs five times? I don't know how many games he has won but he has won probably as many as anyone who's ever started playing the game. He has been in position to do a lot of stuff and he has had a good team around him to do that, of course, but he has still got tons of growth."
As Carroll notes, Wilson gets compared to far more experienced quarterbacks, and for good reason—he has played at that level early in his career. But Wilson also has a lot to learn compared to someone like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees or Tom Brady. Rodgers didn't even start until his fourth season, while Brees and Brady weren't putting up the crazy numbers that now seem commonplace for them until they were years into their careers. Even Matt Ryan, who like Wilson won 56 games in his first five seasons, didn't eclipse 4,200 yards or 30 touchdowns until his sixth season.
"Look how remarkable of a player he is," Carroll said of Rodgers. "And Tom's the same way. Look at the playoffs right now, look at these quarterbacks that are playing. They're freaking off the charts. That's all out there for (Wilson). He's going to get better. He's going to get a lot better and it's just going to come naturally and there's no way to get there, but just he needs experiences and keep doing it."
Wilson, who in part due to multiple injuries had one of his worst statistical seasons this year—and it was still a very productive season—agrees with his coach that better play is ahead of him. That's why after Seattle's playoff loss in Atlanta he said, "I'm looking forward to what's ahead. I think the best is ahead." And it's why, a day after that loss, his focus wasn't on getting some deserved rest, but rather on what he could do to get better.
"Just continuing to get faster, stronger, just continuing to learn as much as I can, like always," Wilson said of his focus this offseason. "Just the same stuff, continuing to build. I love this game, I'm passionate about this game, I'm passionate about trying to be the best in the world—I have no fear in saying that—so I just take every day one step at a time and just try to grow and learn as much as I can and continue to strive to be the best… I'm excited about this offseason of training my butt off to be the best."
There are elements of high-level quarterback play that are evident from Day 1, whether that comes in the form of arm strength or accuracy or playmaking ability, but other more subtle points of quarterback play take time to develop, which is why Carroll gets so excited talking about what is still to come for Wilson. Whether it is anticipation in the passing game or the pocket awareness and movement that veterans like Rodgers, Brady, Carson Palmer and others use to avoid a pass rush without needing Wilson's level of athletic ability.
"It's going to be thrilling to watch what happens in the next three or four years," Carroll said. "Get him to year eight or nine and see where he's going to be, you know?"
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive behind-the-scenes images from the Seattle Seahawks' trip to Atlanta for the Divisional Round of the playoffs against the Falcons.