Here are the specific statistical goals Zach Wilson needs to shoot for in 2022 if he wants to get the New York Jets to the playoffs
The New York Jets will only go as far as Zach Wilson takes them. How many times this off-season have you heard that phrase? I’ve probably muttered it myself more than a couple of times. But what exactly does that mean?
Obviously, Wilson needs to play better if the Jets hope to reach the playoffs, but how much better? For a sport that consists of an initial roster of 53 players, a lot of responsibility is hoisted onto the shoulders of the signal caller.
I was asked yesterday what Zach’s stat line would look like if the Jets hoped to make the playoffs and I spouted off a random bunch of numbers that sounded logical, but then I stopped to think if there was any way to really get a better understanding of what his stat line would need to look like.
I decided to look at the QBs of last year’s playoff teams. Looking at their key stats, I identified the stat line of the average playoff QB, the top-end playoff QBs, and the low-end playoff QBs, allowing us to fully comprehend what the Jets need from Zach in year two.
Here’s the disclaimer: every single NFL team is different and this is a team sport. Zach will rely on his offensive line, his skill position players, his defense, and his special teams to help him win games. Some QBs who have excellent statistical years miss the playoffs due to circumstances out of their control.
For instance, here’s the stat line of Chargers QB Justin Herbert in 2021:
- 66.6% Completion
- 4,336 yards
- 31 touchdowns
- 10 interceptions
- 3 game winning drives
- 234 rushing yards
- 5 rushing touchdowns
Even with that performance from their QB, the Chargers missed the cut for the playoffs. So while this is a data-driven piece on the stat lines and performance of playoff QBs, it’s key to remember that football is a team sport.
Before looking at where the Jets need Wilson to get to, it’s probably worth just quickly reminding ourselves where we’re coming from in relation to Zach’s rookie season with the team. A few things to consider:
- Zach dealt with a PCL injury last season which ruled him out for 4 games. This can either be seen as a negative (fewer snaps of experience) or a positive (time to sit and learn).
- The Jets offense lost players throughout the season. Mekhi Becton was gone from Week 1, Corey Davis and Elijah Moore missed considerable time, and Connor McGovern, George Fant, and Michael Carter all missed a little time as well.
- The Jets had a rookie coordinator calling plays for a rookie QB and it took Mike LaFleur some time to find his feet. Zach also lost his quarterback coach just before the season in tragic circumstances.
I’m not making excuses for Zach, I’m just laying down some context.
Here are the base numbers that Wilson will be working to improve in year two:
- 55.6% Completion
- 2,334 yards
- 9 touchdowns
- 11 interceptions
- 1 game winning drive
- 185 rushing yards
- 4 rushing touchdowns
Let’s start with the regular-season performances of the QBs who helped lead their respective teams to the playoffs.
The first thing I wanted to look at was the average stat line of the QBs who took their teams to the playoffs in 2021:
- Games: 16.2
- Yards: 4,245
- Touchdowns: 29.5
- Interceptions: 11.9
- Game Winning Drives: 3.1
- Rushing Yards: 243
- Rushing Touchdowns: 3.0
That is what an average NFL playoff QB looks like when you take the 2021 season in isolation.
The first thing to note is availability. Every playoff team had their starting QB for the majority of the season, with only Kyler Murray missing more than 3 games. So when you hear that the best ability is availability, there may be something in that.
No team made the playoffs with their QB throwing less than 3,000 yards and Jalen Hurts (3,144 yards) is an anomaly because of his ability with his legs. Of the 14 QBs, 13 threw for more than 3,500 yards and 8 of them threw for more than 4,000 yards.
Every QB outside of Hurts had at least 20 touchdown passes, although only Hurts and Rodgers recorded less than 10 interceptions. Again, there is a risk/reward element to playing the position and even Mac Jones managed to hit that 20 TD threshold, so we really shouldn’t be expecting anything less from Zach.
I wanted to look a little deeper into the statistical performance of last year’s playoff QBs to better understand how the team around the QB can help him achieve that average stat line needed to make the playoffs.
The first stat I turned to was drop percentage. You can find a QB’s adjusted completion percentage, which takes into account dropped passes, but that doesn’t always tell the whole story. A drop can be statistically documented, but it doesn’t take into account where on the field the drop came and how much it knocked the QB off his game. So is there a correlation between low drop percentages and QBs making the playoffs?
- Kyler Murray – 3.5%
- Mac Jones – 3.8%
- Aaron Rodgers – 4.5%
- Derek Carr – 5.7%
- Joe Burrow – 5.9%
- Patrick Mahomes – 6.2%
- Josh Allen – 6.2%
- Dak Prescott – 6.2%
- Tom Brady – 6.7%
- Ryan Tannehill – 7.0%
- Jalen Hurts – 7.3%
- Jimmy Garopolo – 7.4%
- Big Ben – 7.6%
- Matthew Stafford – 8.0%
- Group Average – 6.1%
- Zach Wilson – 12.7%
7 of the 12 QBs had a drop percentage that ranked in the top half of the league out of 30 qualifiers (based on a minimum of 400 regular season snaps). Oddly enough, eventual Super Bowl champion Matthew Stafford suffered the highest drop rate among playoff QBs (8.0%, 5th-highest out of 30 qualifiers), but even that was 4.7% lower than what Zach Wilson experienced in 2021.
For some context, the gap between the lowest drop rate in football (Murray’s 3.5%) and the second worst mark (Darnold’s 9.3%) is 5.8%…which shows just how bad that number is for Wilson.
As mentioned earlier this is not to excuse Zach – even his adjusted completion percentage which takes drops into consideration would rank him at the bottom of the league – but drops alter drives, and they impact rookie QBs more than any other. The average drop rate for a playoff-bound QB in 2021 was 6.1%, which is 6.6% lower than the number Zach Wilson saw in year one and a bit below the 2021 NFL average for all QBs (6.5%).
Dropping fewer passes is an obvious area for improvement when it comes to supporting Wilson. Adding Tyler Conklin was a good start as the former Vikings man has some of the best hands at the TE position, dropping just 1.6% of his catchable passes in 2021.
There are many examples of QBs who perform well under pressure. Joe Burrow managed to lead the league with a 60.9% completion rate when under pressure in 2021, even though he was sacked more than any other quarterback.
Zach Wilson was not one of those players. When kept clean, his completion percentage was 67%, but when pressured it fell to a horrendous 29.3% (worst in the league). It wasn’t helped by the fact that when throwing under pressure his receivers had a drop rate of 19.0%, but his 45.7% adjusted completion percentage under pressure was still the league’s worst mark.
Here is a quick rundown of each playoff QB and their key pressure stats.
Player/Pressured Dropback%/Sacks/Completion % under pressure/Completion % kept clean
- Kyler Murray – 31.6%/30/54.9%/74.1%
- Mac Jones – 27.6%/28/53.7%/71.9%
- Derek Carr – 34.8%/40/53.8%/74.5%
- Joe Burrow – 33.3%/51/60.9%/73.6%
- Patrick Mahomes – 31.7%/28/42.6%/75.4%
- Josh Allen – 34.0%/26/45.4%/71.0%
- Dak Prescott – 30.3%/30/52.6%/74.3%
- Tom Brady – 20.0%/22/44.8%/72.2%
- Jalen Hurts – 36.7%/25/43.4%/69.6%
- Jimmy Garropolo – 28.2%/29/59.0%/71.0%
- Big Ben – 22.6%/37/53.3%/66.9%
- Matthew Stafford – 26.4%/30/49.6%/72.14%
- Aaron Rodgers – 26.0%/35/39.5%/76.9%
- Ryan Tannehill – 34.6%/48/53.7/72.5%
- Group Average – 29.8%/33/50.5%/72.6
- Zach Wilson – 38.5%/45/29.3%/67.0%
Wilson struggled under pressure, but he also took pressure more often than any playoff quarterback. The Jets need to make sure he gets pressured less frequently in 2022.
The Jets have spent considerable resources improving the offensive line over the last two years and they continued that trend this off-season with the signing of Laken Tomlinson. They’ll also be welcoming back Mekhi Becton who missed nearly the entire 2021 season. There is reason to believe that the Jets could have a top 10 offensive line in 2022 if everyone stays healthy.
None of this is an exact science, but I wanted to give a little statistical context to the question of how much better Zach Wilson will need to be if the Jets are to make the playoffs next season.
Wilson may have to do a little more than the average line, or a little less. But if Wilson’s stat line looks anything like the average one for a 2021 playoff-bound QB…then there’s a good chance Jets fans will be welcoming playoff football into their lives for the first time in over a decade.
Here are all of the averages from 2021 playoff QBs that we analyzed today (in parentheses I’ve placed the improvement Zach will need to make from year one to two to hit the average line):
- Games: 16.2 (+3.2)
- Yards: 4,245 (+1,911)
- Touchdowns: 29.5 (+20.5)
- Interceptions: 11.9 (-0.9)
- Game Winning Drives: 3.1 (+2.1)
- Rushing Yards: 243 (+58)
- Rushing Touchdowns: 3 (-1)
- Team Drop %: 6.1% (-6.6%)
- Pressured Dropback %: 29.8% (-8.7%)
- Sacks: 33 (-12)
- Completion Under Pressure: 50.5% (+21.2%)
- Completion when kept clean: 72.6% (+9.0%)
Obviously, Wilson already outperformed the expectation in a couple of categories (INT/Rush TD), so they don’t want him to raise his interceptions or score fewer rushing touchdowns.
Two key ones that stand out to me are completion percentage under pressure, which Wilson needs to raise by 21.2%, and sacks, which Wilson has to lower by 12. The yards will come, but Wilson’s completion under pressure and sack total will be keys to future success.