ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 09: (L-R) Zach Wilson #2 of the New York Jets and Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills talks during pregame warm ups at Highmark Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Zach Wilson can try to take a page out of the book of the Bills cannon-armed passer

Hot take: Zach Wilson had a terrible rookie season for the New York Jets.

Wow, that was real news. Tell us something we didn’t know.

“But… but… look at the second half! He played well!”

C’mon, he barely threw the ball five yards past the line of scrimmage.

We all know the score on Zach Wilson’s rookie season. It was one of the poorest in NFL history from a statistical angle. Wilson showed improvement following his return from injury, which stands out far more on film than in the box score or analytics.

The gold standard for a highly drafted quarterback who destroyed the early narrative and became a star is Josh Allen.

Allen completed less than 53% of his passes in his rookie season. He remained under 60% in his second year but turned it around in Year 3 to finish second in the MVP voting.

Unfortunately, Allen is an outlier in the history of first-round QB picks. For every Josh Allen, you get 10 Sam Darnolds.

What did Allen do differently to buck the trend?

More importantly, is there anything Zach Wilson can learn as he tries to follow in Allen’s footsteps?

Minimize turnovers when kept clean

A quarterback’s play when they are kept clean is one of the most transferable stats from year to year.

Play under pressure is considered highly volatile, but how a QB plays when he has time to survey the field gives a strong indication of his vision, decision-making, and understanding of defenses.

As a rookie, Allen’s turnover-worthy play (TWP) rate at Pro Football Focus was an exorbitant 4.1%, the fourth-worst mark among 33 QBs with at least 100 dropbacks. He threw seven interceptions when kept clean.

In Allen’s second season, he cut that number by more than half. His TWP rate went down to 1.7%, the seventh-best mark among starting quarterbacks. Allen maintained that improvement in his third season, with the same TWP mark. (Interestingly, that number rose to 2.6% in 2021, evidencing the problems Allen had in some of his surprisingly poor starts last season.)

Wilson’s rookie season was not nearly as poor as Allen’s in this category, but he still struggled. He had a 2.8% TWP rate when under pressure, tied for the 8th-worst mark among starting quarterbacks.

However, if you compare that to some of Wilson’s other numbers, tying for 24th in the NFL in a statistical category is not so bad and is something to build on.

Can Wilson improve his decision-making when he can see the whole field, as Allen did from Year 1 to Year 2?

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Improve on intermediate passes

Passes from 10-19 yards are an NFL quarterback’s bread and butter in today’s NFL.

As a rookie, Allen put up a 58.7 PFF grade and a 63.9 QB rating on mid-range throws. He generated a 5.6% TWP rate, 1 TD to 4 INTs, and a 48.8% completion percentage.

In Year 2, intermediate throws were one of Allen’s biggest improvement areas. His PFF grade soared to 86.4 after he improved his completion percentage to 61.7%. His NFL passer rating in these situations was 110.9, his best number of any passing range. Although Allen put up 5 big-time throws and 6 TWPs, he generated 10.2 yards per attempt in this range and put up 8 TDs to 3 INTs.

In 2020, Allen’s breakout year, he put up a 90.5 PFF rating on intermediate throws with 11 touchdowns, 4 picks, and a 9.0% big-time throw rate, which was good for 7th-best in the NFL. His 115.3 passer rating on intermediate passes further demonstrates his success.

For all the ballyhoo about Wilson’s struggles in throws within 0-9 yards of the line of scrimmage, he actually did not struggle with that nearly as much as with mid-range throws.

Wilson performed poorly on intermediate throws last season. Although his PFF grade was actually slightly better than Allen’s 2018 performance in that category (61.6), his passer rating was 44.4, which means he was barely better than spiking the ball into the ground on every play.

Wilson put up a 10.7% TWP rate in the 10-19 yard range, nearly double Allen’s from his rookie season, and threw 2 TDs to 8 interceptions in those situations.

However, Wilson did suffer from an 18.8% drop rate on intermediate passes, which may mitigate some of the numbers (and perhaps explain why his PFF grade is not quite as bad as his passer rating).

Can Wilson, like Allen, vastly improve his numbers on intermediate throws in Year 2? That may be one of the biggest signs foretelling a Year 3 breakout.

Maintain yards after contact when rushing the ball

Allen showed an ability to run the ball from Day 1 in the NFL. At 6’5″, 238 pounds with 4.75 speed, he’s the size of a linebacker and runs like a tight end. Good luck trying to tackle him.

Allen has consistently rushed with the best of them in the NFL. He put up 631 rushing yards in his rookie season at 7.1 yards per attempt (YPA). He also sported an impressive 4.17 yards after contact and 0.31 missed tackles forced per rush while scoring 8 TDs.

Wilson, although a lot smaller (6’3″, currently 221 pounds), showed that he can run the ball with elusiveness rather than power. He can make himself small and evade tacklers when rushing.

In 2021, Wilson put up 3.96 yards after contact and 0.50 missed tackles forced per attempt, albeit on only 12 rushes. He also scored 4 TDs on the ground. Although most of that mileage came on one superb TD run against the Jaguars, he flashed the potential of his legs.

Wilson will most likely never be a Josh Allen while toting the rock, but the Jets don’t really expect or want him to be. Keeping the threat of the run in opponents’ minds, taking advantage of opportunities that arise, and maintaining that elusiveness will make Wilson a well-rounded threat.

Find the top target

It has been well-documented that Josh Allen’s Year 3 breakout perfectly coincided with Stefon Diggs’s arrival in Buffalo.

Indeed, having an All-Pro target who caught 127 balls for 1,535 yards and 8 TDs with a 76.5% catch rate will do that for a quarterback.

Still, Allen had to find Diggs for that to happen. Although Diggs had been a good receiver prior to coming to Buffalo, his best production has come in Buffalo.

Still, Allen had made things work in Year 2 with John Brown, who put up 72 catches, 1,060 yards, and 6 TDs in 2019.

Wilson played without many of his top targets for chunks of Year 1. Still, especially earlier in the season, he failed to target Elijah Moore, who was open all over the field as both film and analytics show.

Just when Wilson was starting to get into a groove with Moore, the latter was lost for the season.

The Jets QB needs to improve in finding his top targets in Year 2. Moore is ready to be the Jets’ WR1. He does not need to be Stefon Diggs to make a big difference in Wilson’s development. Can No. 2 find No. 8?

Overall, Zach Wilson does not need to be Josh Allen, nor is he expected to. But if Allen is considered the prototype for quarterbacks whose success came after a poor rookie season, then Wilson can take some of these lessons in the hopes of becoming a top-tier NFL quarterback.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.

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Richard Hausig
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Richard Hausig

Numbers aside Allen has always made plays because he’s been well coached. He used his legs while learning to be a passer and that compensated for his inexperience and allowed him to be competitive as he got better. But Allen is a competitor, a true competitor and, I’m sorry but you can’t say that about Wilson. He lacks the desire and focus Allen has IMO and the off field clowning around at events and now with Mrs Robinson is all you need to see to know how this ends. It’s already over for Wilson, he just doesn’t know it yet,… Read more »

John Spuhler
Member
John Spuhler

Agree with you on this one Ms. Boord

Richard Hausig
Member
Richard Hausig

Because I’ve seen this act too many times. He of all the players on this team can’t have ANY scandal. He was so bad last year that only thing he should have done was be in the playbook, working with a QB guru on his unacceptable, amateur fundies and mechanics and working with his receivers in a group practice session(s). If you think that’s harsh it is but when you’ve outright failed year one, you better get to work, Micheal showed in the article how badly the numbers are stacked against him at this point. He has to be a… Read more »

Matt Galemmo
Member
Matt Galemmo

First off, kudos on a great line. Skipping down Bust Rd reading the map upside down made me laugh. But you don’t know him, and you can’t judge him through tabloids that are entirely devoted to creating controversy. The sports world is quite literally littered with seemingly immature superstars. Either it is entirely possible to be immature and still great at your craft, or the tabloids just paint everyone as immature and from afar we can’t tell the difference. Joe Namath was perhaps the Jets’ quintessential example, although you and I probably aren’t old enough to know it first hand.… Read more »

Richard Hausig
Member
Richard Hausig

I love your retort! Very well said but I don’t think you give yourself the credit you clearly deserve to analyze this. I go back to the end of Joe, 1972 was the first season that I began to understand the NFL but there is a big difference here. Joe was successful on the field so he could get away with it. However, I think we’d both agree that as the injuries mounted things like Bachelors III didn’t help him (even though I believe he had every right to do it and the NFL was wrong) with his teammates or… Read more »

Richard Hausig
Member
Richard Hausig

That’s a lot to unpack. I would say that the QB examples you gave are a good list of the possible outcomes. This might sound kinda funny but I’m being honest. I don’t love Mayfield and didn’t want him at the draft. I wanted Sam. And I still think either is better than this guy. Here’s the funny part. I think Mike White is better at this point because he knows the offense. He’d be exposed over a full season but he is closer to a Garappolo than Wilson is right now. I think Wilson tricked JD in the pre… Read more »

Matt Galemmo
Member
Matt Galemmo

You’ve given this a lot of thought. I’m confident that’s an understatement. I won’t get pulled into most of the subjective, player vs playa types of discussions. I just do not know. Even if I did know, I’m still not qualified to *know* (IYKWIM), plus people are not stagnant so what I *know* today may not be true tomorrow. It’s these ideas that stand out to me: “He can’t hand the ball off on time because he’s never learned the proper footwork,” or “the bad fundies and mechanics are facts.” His bad footwork is on film for all to dissect… Read more »

Richard Hausig
Member
Richard Hausig

“His bad footwork is on film for all to dissect and bad footwork is all but a death sentence.” Bingo. And it’s a microcosm the entire problem with this player. Bad footwork is a death sentence but it also speaks to work ethic and an understanding of how to do your job. This kid got away with bad fundies his whole life because of his other talents, now he finds out that his talent alone can’t cover up his mechanical flaws because of the speed of the game and the talent of the opposition. I read he’s beefy and he’s… Read more »

Richard Hausig
Member
Richard Hausig

I have nothing against the generations, there are all types in every generation. If anything I’d say the younger generations actually have better software than the older generations because of they have access to information much earlier than previous generations did Things have changed in the workplace a lot, the jury is still out on whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But pro sports, the military, gaining a higher academic degree, and most of the professions don’t operate like big tech. They are Uber competitive, dog eat dog last man standing. The people who succeed… Read more »

Richard Hausig
Member
Richard Hausig

“Even if I did know, I’m still not qualified to*know* (IYKWIM), plus people are not stagnant so what I *know* today may not be true tomorrow” Just wanted to comment on this because it’s such an intelligent point. What you say about things changing tomorrow is true, there are very few absolutes in life. I appreciate your open mind and humility. And I don’t mean to come off as a know it all, but I made the original comments so I’ve tried to explain my thought process and why my opinion is what it is. You don’t have to pass… Read more »

hh11212
Member
hh11212

Good breakdown, definitely see great potential inZacg waited for 2022