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Originally published January 8, 2015 at 8:43 PM | Page modified January 9, 2015 at 9:42 PM

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Why is Russell Wilson a better quarterback than Cam Newton?

Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, who meet Saturday in the NFC Divisional playoffs, are easy to contrast. But some of the success Wilson has enjoyed comes from the playoff-ready Seahawks team he plays for.

Times staff columnist


RENTON — Russell Wilson delivered the perfect joke for his audience. When reporters asked him Wednesday to compare himself to Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, Wilson went to the obvious, but effective, quip about their difference in size.

“You know, he’s — I don’t know, what? — 7 inches taller than me,” Wilson said, laughing. “You know, he’s probably, I don’t know, 260 (pounds).”

The giant vs. the pocket quarterback. It’s the easy button. Newton — listed at 6 feet 5, 245 pounds but probably closer to 6-6, 260 — looks like a power forward. Wilson, at 5-11 and 215 pounds, was once considered too small to get on the NFL quarterback ride at the amusement park. That’s one of two popular ways to contrast them.

Here’s the other: Wilson is the mature, dependable and tireless worker who has had more success because he maximizes his talent. Newton is the crazy, erratic and spoiled one who will never live up to his potential.

The overachiever vs. the loafer. It’s the easy button, too.

Just as it’s unfair and now irrelevant to obsess over Wilson’s diminutive stature, you’re also being too rigid in evaluating quarterbacks and how they develop by concluding that Wilson is better than Newton merely because of their different attitudes.

There’s no question Wilson has the more ideal approach. And there’s no question Newton, who is a fine quarterback except for his bouts of immaturity, could benefit from being more like Wilson. But there’s far more to contrasting them. And there’s really no need to use Wilson’s extraordinary traits as a weapon against Newton or Colin Kaepernick or any other gifted, young NFL quarterback.

Wilson and Andrew Luck have distinguished themselves as the best of this crop of intriguing 27-and-under signal-callers. Luck has done it with his incredible production and ability to carry a team that’s still being built around him. Wilson has done it with off-the-charts efficiency, good production and the savvy to play within the system of a team that was ready-made and lacking only a quarterback when he arrived.

He’s a different animal than Luck and Newton, who were both No. 1 overall choices charged with being franchise saviors. Wilson was a third-round choice, No. 75 overall, in the 2012 draft. The Seahawks were poised to be a winning team upon his arrival. As a result, they had a different approach to his development.

It’s an approach that more teams should consider using. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has stated his quarterback philosophy often: He understands that quarterback is the most important position on his team, but because it’s also the most difficult position to play in sports, his goal is to lighten the QB’s load. He wants to have a great defense and run game, which gives a quarterback incredible support. And while Carroll wants a high-performing quarterback, he doesn’t tolerate a lot of turnovers to get that kind of production.

In short, he wants a star who’s willing to be a role player.

Even before Wilson was drafted, Carroll spelled out his vision.

“We’re always looking for a guy that can manage the offense, really,” Carroll said back then. “We’ve always said, even way back with Heisman Trophy winners (at USC), we were never structuring the offense to be carried by one guy. We always wanted to have a guy that would be very understanding of the system and of the people and the assets around him that could mix and move the football about.

“With that, we’ve always liked a quarterback that could move. We’ve always liked the ability to move because it fits with our running game and the style of complementary throwing game that we like to match up with it. ... We don’t need to have a guy that’s a pure runner. We’re not talking about that. But a guy that has the ability to move and get out of the pocket and give us the variety of sets where we want to get that quarterback to slow down the pass rush and stuff. That’s always been part of it. That hasn’t always been what we’ve had, but that’s always been something that we’ve looked for in the ideal.”

Wilson is the ideal Carroll quarterback.

He has become one of the NFL’s biggest stars mostly because he’s a fantastic talent. But he’s also had so much success early in his career because the Seahawks have streamlined his responsibilities. The franchise has never put all its fortunes on his right arm and swift legs.

Newton is more of the classic young franchise quarterback. The Panthers have asked too much of him at times, which has exposed his flaws. When they have simplified their approach — like they did late this season and all of 2013, when the team went 12-4 — Newton has played better, and the team has thrived.

In 2011, Newton began his NFL career with back-to-back 400-yard passing performances, and he became the first rookie to throw for more than 4,000 yards. His skills — the big arm and good touch on deep throws, the fast and powerful running style, the charisma, the confidence he inspires — are ridiculous.

But just because you’re capable of throwing for 4,000 yards as a rookie doesn’t mean you should be asked to do so.

For all his Superman gestures, Newton still is a 25-year-old with a lot to learn. He has had to do much of that learning under intense scrutiny and often without a balanced roster to mask his weaknesses.

Because of his size, Wilson had a more difficult path to the NFL, but since he proved himself, he has had an easier time developing. Part of that is because of his extraordinary intelligence and mindset. Part of that is because the Seahawks have a system that enables the quarterback to have a softer landing.

In the young quarterback derby, Wilson is ahead of Newton. But it’s not just because Wilson is a perfect study, and Newton is flawed and freewheeling.

Tale of the tape
How Russell Wilson and Cam Newton stack up heading into Saturday’s game:
20TD passes in 201418
7INTs in 201412

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or On Twitter @JerryBrewer

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About Jerry Brewer

Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. | 206-464-2277


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