Zach Wilson topped the NFL in the wrong kind of metric
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson finished his rookie season with lackluster numbers in the box score. He completed 213 of 383 passes (55.6%) for 2,334 yards, nine touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, earning a 69.7 passer rating that ranked last among qualifiers.
The lowliness of those numbers is not entirely his fault, though.
Wilson led all qualified NFL quarterbacks in a category that no team should want their young quarterback to lead the league in: drop rate.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson had 12.7% of his catchable passes dropped, which was the highest rate in the NFL among 35 qualified quarterbacks.
Not only did Wilson rank No. 1 in the category, but he was in his own stratosphere:
- Zach Wilson, 12.7%
- Jacoby Brissett, 9.6%
- Sam Darnold, 9.3%
- Trevor Lawrence, 9.3%
- Baker Mayfield, 9.0%
- Matthew Stafford, 8.0%
- Justin Herbert, 7.9%
- Ben Roethlisberger, 7.8%
- Justin Fields, 7.6%
- Daniel Jones, 7.6%
Now, as I have written about before, it’s important to note that a high drop rate can be an indicator of poor accuracy on the quarterback’s part. Many “drops” come on imperfect throws, so, naturally, inaccurate quarterbacks will create more opportunities for their receivers to drop passes.
This hypothesis is supported by the talent level of the quarterbacks at the top of the drop leaderboard. Look at Wilson’s company in the top five: Jacoby Brissett, Sam Darnold, Trevor Lawrence, and Baker Mayfield. All four quarterbacks were poor this year.
In 2020, the top five quarterbacks in drop rate were Carson Wentz, Daniel Jones, Drew Lock, Andy Dalton, and Tua Tagovailoa. All five had rough seasons.
Wilson can certainly own a piece of his drop rate. His accuracy was erratic at times, especially early in the year, and some of the “drops” his receivers got tagged with could have been thrown much better.
However, the fact that Wilson’s drop rate was that much higher than the rest of the NFL is a clear indictment of his pass-catchers’ enormous struggles.
Just look at the separation between Wilson’s drop rate and second-ranked Brissett’s drop rate. The 3.1% difference between Wilson (12.7%) and Brissett (9.6%) is equal to the difference between Brissett and 22nd-ranked Josh Allen (6.5%) out of 35 qualifiers.
That is completely absurd. While a quarterback has some control over his drop rate, an astronomically high number like Wilson’s can only occur as a result of terrible play from the pass-catchers.
There are some areas in which the Jets did a decent job of supporting Wilson. Their pass protection and run game became respectable later in the year when the offensive line was healthy, and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur did a nice job of manufacturing offense.
Securing easy catches was not one of those areas. New York’s pass-catchers botched way too many good throws from Wilson.
Not only did Wilson have to fight through a frequency of drops that no other quarterback came close to, but a lot of his drops came on fantastic throws that should have yielded big-time yardage and momentum.
Zach Wilson's rookie highlights: but only drops
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) January 15, 2022
Corey Davis had a rough season in this department, dropping six passes. His 15.0% drop rate ranked fourth-worst out of 117 qualified wide receivers. That is a major outlier for Davis. Over his four seasons, Davis never had a drop rate higher than 5.8% or a drop total higher than four. The Jets need him to get back to that level.
Top weapons Elijah Moore (2 drops, 4.4% rate) and Braxton Berrios (1 drop, 2.1% rate) secured the ball effectively, but the wideouts at the very bottom of New York’s depth chart struggled mightily. Denzel Mims (2 drops), Jeff Smith (2), and Tarik Black (1) combined for five drops against only 17 receptions (22.7% rate).
The Jets need their running backs to display much softer hands, too. Ty Johnson led all running backs with nine drops and a 20.9% drop rate. Michael Carter tied for sixth in drops with five while his 12.2% drop rate ranked seventh-worst out of 49 qualified running backs.
The same goes for the tight end position. Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin caught very few passes, yet Kroft tied for eighth among tight ends with four drops and Griffin tied for 16th with three. Kroft’s 20.0% drop rate was the worst among 52 qualified tight ends while Griffin’s 10.0% rate was seventh-worst.
All of this makes one thing clear: when evaluating potential additions to improve the offensive skill positions this offseason, Joe Douglas and the Jets need to have “strong hands” as the No. 1 must-have skill on their checklist.