Zach Wilson, NY Jets, Stats, Grade, Film, 2021, 2022, Nania QB Grades
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

This element of Zach Wilson’s game plays a huge role in determining how well he plays overall

Zach Wilson‘s rookie season with the New York Jets was extremely erratic. Identifying patterns in his play is a difficult proposition.

Sometimes, Wilson would receive fairly good support from his teammates but still hang them out to dry. His Week 5 game against the Falcons was an example of this. Receivers were getting themselves open, but Wilson missed one wide-open target after another as he failed to capitalize on the opportunity to win a close game.

Other times, Wilson was thrown into hellish situations and performed well in spite of the circumstances. His strong late-season performances against the Jaguars and Buccaneers came at a time when he was surrounded by backups due to an onslaught of injuries.

The moral of the story is that Wilson was incredibly unpredictable in 2021. There aren’t many identifiable patterns in which you can say, “Wilson tended to struggle when he did this,” or “Wilson tended to play well when he did this.”

That is, except for this one particular factor.

After digging deep through Wilson’s numbers, I finally found a statistic that tended to correlate fairly closely with his overall level of play: his average time to throw.

Zach Wilson’s average time to throw might be the most important factor in his success

We’ll abbreviate Wilson’s average time to throw as “TTT” for short. It simply measures the average amount of time that elapses from the point that the ball is snapped to the point that the quarterback releases it from his hands.

Speedy releases were the key to Wilson’s success. Wilson tended to play his best when he got the ball out quicker. When he held onto the ball longer, he tended to have a rough time.

On the year, Wilson registered a TTT of 3.05 seconds. That’s very high. It ranked fifth-highest out of 38 qualified quarterbacks in 2021.

The 3.0-second mark represented a crucial barometer for Wilson. In six games where he had a TTT under 3.0, Wilson registered an average game grade of 61.7 in my personal 0-to-100 grading system (which is based on my grading of every snap he played by rewatching each of them on film – learn more about that grading system here).

A grade of 50 represents an average-level performance, so Wilson’s 61.7 grade in those six games is pretty good. This six-game sample of sub-3.0 TTT outings includes Wilson’s games against the Jaguars (2.93 TTT), Eagles (2.66), and Buccaneers (2.65) – which were my three highest-graded games of the season for him.

Disaster often struck when Wilson had a TTT above 3.0. In seven games where he held the ball for longer than three seconds on average, Wilson had an average game grade of 38.3 in my grading system, which is brutal. This sample includes four games that many would agree were among his ugliest of the season: his contests against the Bills (3.73 TTT), Falcons (3.33), Patriots in Week 2 (3.29), and Saints (3.16).

Overall, when we include all 13 of Wilson’s games, the correlation coefficient between his TTT and his game grade was -0.584, which is decently strong (for reference, 0.000 would equal no correlation while -1.000 would equal a perfect negative correlation). This tells us that as Wilson’s TTT increased, there was a fairly strong tendency for his game grade to decrease.

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What correlated even more closely with Wilson’s TTT than his overall game grade was his consistency.

In my weekly grading system for the Jets quarterbacks, I also track their ratio between positively-graded plays and negatively-graded plays. This gives us an estimate of their overall consistency, showcasing how often they beat the expectations of the given situation compared to how often they fail to meet the expectations of the given situation.

The correlation coefficient between Wilson’s TTT and his positive-negative ratio was a whopping -0.740.

In his six games with a sub-3.0 TTT, Wilson had a 2.27-to-1 ratio of positively-graded plays to negatively-graded plays, representing solid consistency (I consider 1.8-to-1 to be approximately league-average). In seven games with a TTT above 3.0, Wilson’s positive-negative ratio was a ghastly 1.11-to-1.

Six of Wilson’s seven most consistent performances came in games where he had a TTT below 3.0. Each of his six least consistent performances came in games where he had a TTT above 3.0.

Wilson’s worst enemies in 2021 were overthinking and overaggression. When he tried to do too much on a play, he usually paid the price. Think back to his Week 2 nightmare against New England. Wilson’s forced throws – like the ones he made in that Patriots game – were the ones that pushed his TTT to high levels.

But when Wilson played with a confident rhythm and took what the defense gave him, he usually did a nice job. Just look at his Tampa Bay tape. That Bucs game is a perfect model of the mentality that Wilson needs to play with in 2022 and beyond.

As things stand, getting the ball out quicker is the key to Zach Wilson’s success. Perhaps he will one day develop the ability to thrive on long-developing plays. But until then, Mike LaFleur would be wise to focus on constructing the passing game around fast-developing concepts in which Zach can make quick decisions. These concepts will help him build consistency, which in turn will lead to a steady accumulation of confidence.

None of this is to say that the Jets offense should have no aggressive passing concepts and that Wilson should be getting the ball out quickly on every play. The Jets will definitely integrate plenty of deep routes into their passing concepts this year, and Wilson must be ready to take them when they’re open.

And that right there is the key – Wilson needs to master the ability to take the best option available on each snap, whether that be the aggressive play or the safe one.

This is what Wilson did in his successful, lower-TTT games. What’s important to note about Wilson’s TTT splits is that, even in his lower-TTT games, he wasn’t necessarily getting the ball out at a lightning fast speed. In his six games with a sub-3.0-second TTT, his average TTT was still 2.78 seconds, which would have ranked 16th-highest out of 38 qualified quarterbacks last year.

That’s a middle-of-the pack rate, exemplifying the healthy balance that Wilson struck in those successful games. For the most part, he was consistently willing to take the quick and easy play if the defense handed it to him. But he wasn’t just dropping back and checking the ball down immediately like a game-managing QB. Wilson did occasionally hold the ball for a while and search for the big play, although he typically only did so when it was the right call.

Far more so than how fast Wilson was getting the ball out in his quicker-release games, the main takeaway from the TTT numbers in this article is how long Wilson was holding the ball in his slower-release games.

In his high-TTT games, Wilson’s TTT was really high; to a severely problematic degree. In his seven games with a TTT above 3.0, his average TTT was 3.28 seconds, which would have been the highest mark in the NFL last season. Jalen Hurts led the league at 3.18 seconds. Wilson matched or beat Hurts’s mark in over one third of his rookie-year games (5/13).

The moral of the story is not that Wilson should turn into Checkdown Charlie. It’s simply that he needs to avoid games in which he constantly tries to be the hero.

Wilson held the ball for an eternity in his bad games. In his good games, he held the ball for an approximately league-average amount of time, striking a productive balance between taking the easy play and searching for the big play.

I think the Jets’ offensive scheme is the perfect environment for Wilson to fulfill his potential. Wilson is a naturally aggressive quarterback who must tone things down to the point where he can smoothly combine the two sides of himself: the precise pocket QB who keeps the chains moving and protects the ball, and the gunslinger he was born to be. He’ll be able to learn how to get the best of both worlds in LaFleur’s offense.

In this scheme, Wilson will get the chance to primarily focus on keeping the offense moving in a methodical fashion with quick, high-percentage throws, relying on the YAC and short route-running skills of guys like Elijah Moore, Garrett Wilson, and Braxton Berrios. It will allow him to settle into games and generate momentum. All the while, his aggressive mentality will still be there, and LaFleur will give Wilson chances to allow his explosiveness to shine when the time is right.

If he were in a vertical, dropback-passing offense, Wilson’s aggressive mentality might be left to fester, turning him into a loose cannon who fires off some highlight bombs but also racks up plenty of turnovers and struggles with consistency.

But under LaFleur, Wilson is learning to harness his gunslinger style and turn it into a weapon that he can control rather than a ticking timebomb that can implode at any moment.

Balance. That’s the key for Zach Wilson. Backyard football isn’t going to cut it. Neither is game-managing. Mixing in both playstyles in each game – pulling out whichever one is best for the given situation on each play – is Wilson’s recipe for success.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania

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ncjetsfan
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ncjetsfan

I think the TTT can be construed to be too important. IMO it all depends upon why that time is longer. If he’s struggling to see the field, read the defense or is indecisive and simply holding the ball too long, or if his WRs can’t get open, it’s a problem, but if his OL is giving him time, he’s making good decision, and is successfully attacking downfield, it’s not a problem. Also, remember that early last season, when Zach struggled the most with his TTT, LaFleur was having him attack perceived weaknesses/holes in their opponents’ secondaries, rather than giving… Read more »

DFargas
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DFargas

The irony of this correlation with TTT is that the Jets OL has been improved so much (on paper) that ZW may have a lot more time to look for the bigger splash plays that will likely be built into each play to deep the defense dispersed/guessing. So, it seems to me it comes down to discipline and temperament/humility, and it seems like the jury is still out on that for ZW. Is he thoroughly convinced that short, quick, “easy” throws are the road to his and the team’s success or not? You look at how successful Mike White was… Read more »

blang76
Member
blang76

I wonder how much an improved O-line with a healthy Mekhi and an improved cast (TE’s, RB’s & WE’s) will affect that TTT? I get it was feast and famine in inconsistent situations and what you say makes sense, but he should have more time for things to develop and pushing the ball down field to an improved cast will open the run game/should make his TTT better. How much of his lack of success with a longer TTT was due to people just not getting open? Either way, I think the run game is the one main factor over… Read more »

blang76
Member
blang76

I thought the one factor was going to be how hot his mom’s friends are. An individuals game is always on point when they have a hot older woman under their arm.

DHB
Member
DHB

TTT may not in itself be contributing to improved performance but instead be a symptom of something else that is. For example, having receivers get open more quickly, seeing the field better, and being more confident and decisive.

hh11212
Member
hh11212

You alluded to this during the season and it is great to see you dive in deeper in the offseason and show just how stark the difference is between on time Zach and looking to make a big play on 1st and 10 Zach. I love his talent but early in the season he didn’t understand teams have to respect the entire field. If you just let them read the route concept they will take away your primary read. Go through your progressions and hit the open man. Defenses will eventually make mistakes and that is when you strike.

Robert725
Member
Robert725

This is going to sound very simplistic, watch tapes of Dan Marino, make 3 reads then throw the ball out of bounds if the play is not there. Keep the chains moving, get close enough for a good punt, closer still for a field goal, then go for a touchdown! Can’t wait! Just extend This season!

Jets71
Member
Jets71

I hoping after a year in the system he’ll be better at those long developing plays. They will need some of those plays to win games, not every pass can be a 6 yard slant, 10 yard in, or swing pass. He’s got to be able to stand in there, with time, and make some big plays down the field. I don’t disagree with your analysis but if he’s going to take the next step, then it can’t just be, get the ball out quick. He’s got to know the play, understand the defense, be patient, and take the shots… Read more »

Jets71
Member
Jets71

You’re right, I just have major concerns about him being accurate enough to just pick up completion after completion. I haven’t seen it in his game but it does have to happen if he’s going to be any good.

ncjetsfan
Member
ncjetsfan

I suggest you go back and watch Zach’s play his last year at BYU. Accuracy is NOT a problem for Zach. It was last year only because he was a rookie and learning, and the whole offense (along with LaFleur) was struggling in learning and executing the system.

Psi
Member
Psi

Quite frankly if he can be just Garoppolo in year 2 the team will be in most games. He is a superior athlete to Garoppolo so that would ultimately give him a higher ceiling.

Matt Galemmo
Member
Matt Galemmo

Consider his long developing plays were often because he failed to read the play and get the ball out on time (anecdotally, I don’t have the evidence, but I think that’s right). That’s different than having a long developing play actually dialed up. I think what Michael discovered is that his TTT improves when he reads the plays right and the ball is out on time. That might mean 3.2 seconds sometimes, but what he must avoid is missing the slant when the slant was the right read.

Jets71
Member
Jets71

Yes, makes sense, way too many times he would not throw to the wide open guy right in front of him and keep looking for something down field. Then by the time he was ready there were no options.