Identifying the specific facets of the game where New York Jets QB Zach Wilson must take a leap
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson is aiming to take a second-year leap in 2022. As we’ve seen in recent history from guys like Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray among many others, it is clear that young quarterbacks often make enormous progress in their second season.
If Wilson is going to take a second-year jump akin to some of the players we just mentioned, he needs to improve greatly in these three specific areas.
Production on long-developing plays
When Wilson got the ball out quickly in 2021, he was respectable. Wilson got into the most trouble when he held the ball for a long time (whether by design or by his own doing).
Here are some of Wilson’s stats when he held the ball for 2.5 seconds or more (ranks among 33 qualified QBs):
- 51.7 passer rating (33rd)
- 6.2 yards per attempt (31st)
- 5.0% interception rate (30th)
- 49.4 Pro Football Focus grade (30th)
- 59.4% adjusted completion percentage* (33rd)
*- adjusted completion percentage accounts for drops, throwaways, batted passes, and more.
On these plays, Wilson completed 97 of 218 passes (44.5%) for 1,355 yards (6.2 per attempt), five touchdowns (2.3% of passes), and 11 interceptions (5.0% of passes). The only quarterbacks with a higher interception rate when waiting at least 2.5 seconds to throw the ball were Baker Mayfield (5.3%) and Tua Tagovailoa (5.3%).
If you’re someone who remembers Jets statistics better than what day of the week it is (I’m talking about myself here), the 11-interception total seen above might have sounded familiar. That’s because it’s identical to Wilson’s rookie-year interception total. He tossed 11 picks in 2021.
So, yes, Wilson threw every single one of his rookie-year picks on a dropback that lasted at least 2.5 seconds.
Wilson’s quick-passing numbers were much more competent. He can still get a lot better in this area, too, but he was closer to league-average than league-worst when it came to quick-passing, which is acceptable for a 22-year-old rookie.
Here are some of Wilson’s stats when he held the ball for less than 2.5 seconds (ranks among 33 qualified QBs):
- 94.0 passer rating (23rd)
- 6.0 yards per attempt (22nd)
- 0.0% interception rate (1st)
- 70.8 Pro Football Focus grade (22nd)
- 82.8% adjusted completion percentage (6th)
On “quick” passes, Wilson went 116-of-164 (70.7%) for 979 yards (6.0 per attempt), four touchdowns (2.4% of passes), and zero interceptions.
Aaron Rodgers, Teddy Bridgewater, and Russell Wilson were the only other qualified quarterbacks with zero interceptions on quick passes.
Over his improved stretch of play to close the season, Wilson showed better command of the offense, having success with on-schedule throws from the pocket that targeted the short and intermediate ranges. His accuracy and timing on quick throws looked great at times (specifically in his stellar performance against Tampa Bay).
This development helped raise Wilson’s long-term floor, but for him to hit his lofty ceiling, he’s got to be better on the long-developing plays. That includes both the on-schedule deep passing concepts that are called for him and the off-schedule improvised moments that he’s known for.
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Accuracy on gimme throws
Under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, the Jets’ offense showed an affinity for running screens and other types of manufactured plays. New York also threw a lot of checkdowns to running back Michael Carter, who has the potential to be one of the league’s best safety-blanket receivers at the position.
With those things in mind, it’s clear that behind-the-line-of-scrimmage throws will likely be a fixture of the Jets’ offense going forward. So, it’s imperative that Wilson becomes uber-consistent at flawlessly executing these relatively easy throws.
Wilson was unable to do that in his rookie year. He missed far more layups than an NFL quarterback should, and these easy misses disrupted the rhythm of the Jets’ offense.
The BYU product completed only 45 of his 57 pass attempts that were aimed behind the line of scrimmage (this does not include throwaways, spikes, batted passes, et cetera).
Wilson’s total of 12 incompletions on these throws tied for the third-most in the league behind only Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Tannehill, who each attempted significantly more of these passes than Wilson (102 for Roethlisberger, 84 for Tannehill). His raw completion percentage of 78.9% of behind-LOS passes was the worst out of 33 qualified quarterbacks.
While Wilson suffered from four drops on these throws, he was still the least accurate passer in this range even when you account for the drops. His adjusted completion percentage of 86.0% on behind-LOS passes was also the worst.
NFL quarterbacks are expected to be nearly perfect on these throws. The 2021 league average for raw completion percentage on behind-LOS attempts was 90.0%, and the league average for adjusted completion percentage on behind-LOS attempts was 93.8%.
The standard is even higher for superstar quarterbacks. The following eight quarterbacks – Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Kyler Murray – combined for an average adjusted completion percentage of 95.5% on behind-LOS passes in 2021.
While great quarterbacks are best known for their ability to launch special throws that make you say “Wow!”, their astounding consistency on routine throws is just as instrumental in helping them achieve stardom.
Zach Wilson will always have a highlight reel that can go head-to-head with most quarterbacks in the NFL. But he’s got to slice the length of his lowlight reel.
Wilson took 44 sacks in 2021, ranking as the third-most of any quarterback despite the fact that he missed four games and only ranked 28th in pass attempts (383).
As a result, Wilson’s sack rate of 10.3% ranked second-highest among qualified quarterbacks, trailing only fellow rookie Justin Fields (11.8%).
The Jets’ offensive line had its issues at certain points of the year, but on the whole, it did not pass-block at a bottom-two level like Wilson’s sack rate suggests. I found that New York’s offensive line ranked 21st in the league when it came to pass-blocking.
When you have such a large disparity between the offensive line’s performance and the quarterback’s sack rate, it means a lot of those sacks were the quarterback’s fault.
Pro Football Focus tagged Wilson as primarily responsible for 17 of his sacks, the most of any quarterback in the NFL, and three more than second-ranked Kyler Murray.
Good quarterbacks like Murray, Russell Wilson (13), Dak Prescott (13), Patrick Mahomes (10), and Lamar Jackson (9) all ranked in the top 10 of this statistic, so it’s a weakness that can be worked around.
Regardless, it’s still something that Wilson must attempt to improve. While he’ll always take some extra sacks due to the nature of his playstyle (and thus should not be expected to become elite in this category), it will be tough for him to succeed if he continues to lead the league by a wide margin in self-created sacks.