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How Josh Allen’s Year 3 breakout can guide NY Jets QB Zach Wilson

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?

New York Jets, Jets X-Factor

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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Richard Hausig
1 year ago

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, which is par for the course with him. But I assure you, JD knows it.

John Spuhler
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Agree with you on this one Ms. Boord

Richard Hausig
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

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 good player AND their leader. He’s not a good player, he’s the worst QB in the league by every measure and he clowns around at baseball and hockey games like a child. If you were in that locker room would you trust him? He seem like the kinda guy you can count on?

Not his fault the team reached for him but he got 2nd overall money and the responsibility that comes with it. The numbers speak for themselves, but beyond that he has proven so far that he’s not mentally ready to be a leader or even a person who is serious about his job. I don’t think he’s lazy I just don’t believe he’s intelligent enough to understand what he’s gotten himself into.

That’s why I said what I said. You’re welcome to your opinion, I hope you’re right, I really do, I want the team to win. I also appreciate that you’re supportive and I’m generally that way too but this guy is an unmitigated disaster, it’s all right there for everyone to see. He is skipping down Bust Road and reading the map upside down.

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Hausig

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.

Saying you’ve seen it before is dubious. I’ve seen it before, too. But so many other athletes that you must be forgetting reached their potential regardless of unflattering, sensationalized press.

Notice this is different from me saying you’re wrong. I’m saying you can’t know; you may turn out to be right, but even if so I believe the more predictive evidence is in the historical analysis of his rookie performance.

Richard Hausig
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

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 the fans. And as much as I loved him and believe he was a great leader on the field, I think his overall leadership is open to debate. Also, it was a different time and leadership is defined differently in the NFL now.

I don’t try to break down game film, that’s why I follow this site. But my eyes tell me everything the stats say about him. Obviously, you also have a lot of experience with this too and I would say to you that we have seen over and over how players succeed or fail, no? We’ve seen them fail for health reasons, bad coaching (which is a major problem in the league these days) attitude reasons or because of their personal lives. We’ve also seen undrafted players like Wayne Chrebet work their way into the ring of honor. There is a pattern to the players who succeed and multiple patterns to those who fail. Wilson is patterning to the latter group.

Micheal laid it out in numbers, he’s got a 20% chance to not fail. Not a 20% chance to be a superstar, 20% not to fail and he’s been conducting himself off the field in a way that will ignite the fans against him after the first interception or fumble, even before Mrs Robinson. Once that happens there is no return when you have no body of work to fall back on.
Remember Kenny Walker from the Knicks? As he was busting from day one he got the fans on his side by making himself the hard working underdog and slam dunk winner. (crazy to be an underdog when you’re a number one pick, and from Kentucky no less!) But he showed the fans he was dedicated and serious about getting better. It didn’t work out but at least he wasn’t pushed out by an angry fan base. He answered questions like a pro and took responsibility. This guy gives you the, no worries, I got this, trust me, answers as if we’ve never seen him play. He gives us nothing material because he has nothing material to say. I don’t remember the player but he told us HE knew that the guy had what it takes to succeed! Why would he even think he knows that? He can’t hand the ball off on time because he’s never learned the proper footwork but hes qualified to be a scout? It’s all false bravado and a massive overestimation of himself. Don’t listen to the press, who BTW have treated him with kid gloves, trust in what you see and what you AREN’T seeing in him. I don’t care about Mrs Robinson, I commend any young guy for being a PLAYA. My problem is he’s not a PLAYER and his act so far has been an indictment of his ignorance of who he is and what he needs to do to be an NFL QB.

I’ll give you one ray of hope from my now 50 years of fandom. Salah and JD know what they don’t have in this player by now. They have surrounded him with play makers so like SF, they will run the ball like it’s 1945 and limit his throws to bubble screens (he doesn’t even throw those well) and 3 step drops and hope the receivers can make yards after the catch. If they can play a little defense, ok a lot of defense, and keep games close maybe he can learn to manage the game. I’d go as far to say that the fewer passes he throws the better our chance of winning will be if the defense can be competitive. I’ll go further and say I’d be stunned if we win a game where he throws more than 25 times and that he will average 18-20 attempts per game. It’s not going to get him a fourth year but it might save the HC and GM from being fired because they’ve built a decent supporting cast and our owner will follow the path of least resistance. But look at the schedule we are facing. It’s so tough that a 3-7 start may be a best case scenario. Unless you believe he’s going to go from the worst QB in the league to somewhere in the middle, which is a long-shot at best, he’s not ready to be put in a position to win games for you. We can hope the QB fairy takes pity and sprinkles pixie dust on him but that’s a long shot too because the QB fairy has hated us ever since Joe Willie.
I’ll say it again, I wish I was wrong. I don’t remember SB III so I’m 0-50 as a Jet fan. I want to win. Even though I knew they could never admit the mistake after year one, I was praying somehow Mayfield would get released and end up with us. Mayfield isn’t good but he’s good enough to make us competitive with the roster JD has built. This guy has 34 games or less to prove himself and we won’t be favored to win any of the next 10-12 of those games based on the schedule.
My base complaint with him is footwork and mechanics. Obviously, I think he’s a moron too but that’s just an opinion, the bad fundies and mechanics are facts. If I’m wrong and he has been working on his (fatal) flaws we will see it right away. The offense will be better synced and his accuracy will be markedly improved. But if we don’t see those improvements right away it’s because he’s ignored it or just can’t do it at this level and speed. If that’s the case it’s over for him and we’ll be counting down to his end. Worse, for him not us, 2023 is supposed to be a good QB draft right? If we are 2-15 and there’s a QB there that JD likes he’s already proven he’ll take him even if he has a young, top 5 pick in the roster. So Bust Rd may only have 17 off ramps for Wilson, not the 34 he sees on his upsidedown map. His personal faults aside, this would be a rough road for any young player because of our history and quite frankly, the competition the team faces. We got better, but we were far behind and every team in our division also got better. .500ish would be a miracle for us this season. 6 wins might buy him some time but not much. Anything less than that than that leaves him in no man’s land.

Richard Hausig
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

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 draft which is mind boggling but why do you think there was no vet QB in camp last year? Because Wilson wouldn’t have beaten him out, IMO, and the team can’t play the lesser QB without igniting the locker room but they wanted to play him. If you buy into that theory, than last season, as bad as it was is, is just as likely to have set him back as move him forward. I said to you before that I believe Wilson’s believes in himself to a fault. A QB needs to have an ego and the confidence to play the position but if part of that ego is actually overconfidence than it can be shattered easily when things get real.

To your point about the WRs. That’s the current diva position, it used to be CB. You don’t see a lot of WRs who are also captions, a few, but not many. You don’t have to lead the team at X Y or Z you just have to make plays so I don’t think the bar is set as high for them when it comes to a leadership. There are plenty that are, Steve Smith, Rice, Heinz Ward, Julio Jones and we’ve had some good vets over the last 10 years. But there are lot who screw up their careers, and their teams too and in any case they don’t have the same responsibility as QBs.

Jets X is great for breaking down the analytics and giving them context. Sadly, and this includes me, we always believe in the stats that give us hope but we tend to rationalize the ones that we don’t like. I believe there’s a sweet spot between what the numbers predict and the non measurable stuff like coaching, intelligence, desire, luck etc. The problem for Wilson is that the numbers are heavily against him. He’s playing on a team and in a situation that’s not conducive to where he’s at in his career because they have to get to winning and he needs development. If you’re a top pick and you aren’t ready by year 4 you are done because of the money. In Wilson’s case it has to improve big-time NOW. If they start off 2-8, which is a real possibility, and he’s playing well enough and improving to the point that you can say he’s making material progress he’ll get the third year. But if they are 2-8 what are the chances of that? He’s the #2 overall, being Kerry Collins isn’t going to cut it.

The numbers and history are stacked against him.

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Hausig

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 and bad footwork is all but a death sentence.

Also on film are second half breakdowns by Michael Nania, Luke Grant and others that (while perhaps rose colored especially in Luke Grant’s case) have shown how the “offense [was] better synced and his accuracy [was] markedly improved,” at least in flashes. He is capable of good footwork, and in doing so, capable of throwing into tight windows with anticipation.

Where we disagree is in what I took to read as your assumption that he will not work hard enough to develop the sort of muscle memory where those flashes become routine. I don’t see how you can know that. Even if you knew him personally, how could you know that? Even if he wasted months palling around with Rangers and Mets he could decide to dedicate himself today.

He’s capable–that’s a fact, too. Maybe he’ll waste that capability, maybe not. I’m believing in the flashes, but I am certainly not going to promise I know what’s going to happen.

Richard Hausig
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

“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 “much more comfortable with the playbook”. I didn’t hear anything about what we want to know, did he work on his existential problems? Crickets.
I’ve seen him at hockey games and baseball games, I’ve seen him on vacation, I’ve seen his ex dating his best friend and Mrs. Robinson. I also saw him fly around the country to meet with his receivers. That seems proactive right? I guess. Bringing them together and working as a group would have been more productive.

None of those things matter in the big picture right? To me they fit a pattern of his priorities and lack of self awareness. He’s a laughingstock who flat out failed year one. Go do your work. Hide and work and don’t try to PR your way out of this, you can’t. Be humble and say, I can go to the hockey game or use that time to study the PB or watch film. I’m so harsh I know, I am when the player in question needs to attain a Masters in his chosen field and be judged along the way. He may not make it if he does do everything the right way. He sure won’t make it if he doesn’t.

I called him a moron, that’s unfair. He might we’ll be a moron but I can’t prove it. He’s a child, he acts like a child, he speaks like a child and he plays like a child. You can’t get around doing the work or being immature. Unless you’re Brett Farve, which is what he thought he was. Maybe he is… Farve took 3 years to get it going but there’s one big difference. Farve was football player playing QB. He was tough and fearless. Wilson is neither of those. I said it before, if I’m wrong we will know right away and you can have at me. Maybe he took ballet lessons and trained secretly with a QB guru. Note: Sam had a QB guru and it didn’t help him. But you have to figure it out during the off-season and put in the work.

Nobody cares what you do off the field as long as you play well. When you dont the scrutiny starts. More than that, a QB has to be a leader-servant. He sets the tone and everyone has to be able to trust him. That’s a big job and when your play has been sub par, all you have left is your character and work ethic. You’re not hearing that about him, in fact, in his appraisal of both Wilson and Becton Salah has been luke warm compared to his comments about other players. It’s not always what you hear that matters, many times it’s what you don’t hear.

Richard Hausig
1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

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 aren’t trying to be a cog in the machine, they are trying to be the best in the field. (I’m not saying one type of person is better or worse, if anything the cog in the machine people are usually great team players and people who value other things in life more than money and I think they are happier and nicer).

But when you are chasing what Wilson is there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it. Talent has to be a given, you don’t get that far without it. What separates the boys from the men is mental and part of that is understanding what is necessary. Have you noticed just how many sons of ex players are succeeding in sports now? Most are even better than their fathers. Part is talent for sure, but I’d argue that the knowledge gained by growing up around the clubhouse with a parent that’s been there, done that gives these legacy guys a road map other players don’t have both on and off the field. Look, coaching is a huge part of this too and IMO the NFL fails as many players as it helps. Belicheck and a few others make everyone better, you can’t say that about most other coaches. A player can’t control that, he can only control how and what he does and learns. It’s not so easy and that’s a part of the reason so many high picks, especially QBs, don’t make it.

Richard Hausig
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Galemmo

“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 a test to be a fan but you certainly have a right to your opinion and a lot of fans are smarter then we are given credit for because there are a lot idiots who make us look bad. I love comps in sports and in life. No comp is 100% true, but when there are enough similarities it’s a way of putting players into perspective. Part of that is comparing the similarities off the field as well. We don’t hesitate to say, player X runs the rout tree the way player Y did etc. But how players and rock stars and plumbers and all humans conduct our lives impacts our careers, especially when you are a public figure who is judged on your performance. Average fans can’t conduct studies on this stuff but pro sports teams and big businesses do it every day. However, we as fans can create comps to how other players have fared and how their off field actions either helped or hurt their careers. If you listen to Brady or Mahomes speak then listen to Wilson there is a notable difference in maturity.

I would have told you the polar opposite about Sam and I would have been wrong. Everything about him said, serious, committed, hard working and humble and it still didn’t work out. That’s how hard this is. Remember the Chris Herndon? He had it moving forward and looking good but the clowning around led to a suspension, then he comes back and gets hurt. Maybe it was just bad luck but all of a sudden he’s hoping for a contract, not a Pro Bowl selection. I can give you a hundred more and those are the type of comps that led me to my opinion on Wilson.

I know, he didn’t get a DUI or do anything ilegal. And even if he did it doesn’t disqualify him from succeeding. There is no one formula to success or failure. But there are red flags and checkered flags. Revis was the biggest extortionist in the NFL, his loyalty was to the money. But off the field he was an example of how a player lives a Hof life. IMO Wilson is a fine person who hasn’t done anything egregious or malicious. But he hasn’t shown that he understands the significance of his job or the urgency required to keep it either.

1 year ago

Good breakdown, definitely see great potential inZacg waited for 2022