The Jets have 13 drops through four games
New quarterback, similar result: the dropsies continued for the New York Jets on Sunday.
The much-anticipated return of Zach Wilson ultimately yielded a victorious outcome, which makes it easy to overlook the flaws. However, through three quarters on Sunday, it appeared that the wheels had come off. Some of the blame goes to the team’s pass-catchers, who were credited with four drops against the Steelers (and had two more that they probably should have caught). The culprits were Tyler Conklin, Breece Hall, and Garrett Wilson.
In 2021, Jets’ pass-catchers were charged with 40 drops at a putrid 10.1% drop rate. Wilson’s 12.7% drop rate was by far and away the highest of any quarterback in the NFL, over 3% higher than the next-highest drop rate for Jacoby Brissett. It’s easy to stop there and say that Wilson just got really unlucky.
However, Michael Nania contends that there’s more to it than bad luck. He asserts that a quarterback’s drop rate is actually a fairly strong reflection of his accuracy. After all, the top 10 list of quarterback drop rates is consistently populated with the poorest quarterbacks in the NFL, from Brock Osweiler and Blake Bortles in 2017-18 to Zach Wilson in 2021. This is due to the fact that these QBs throw a higher rate of poorly-placed balls, leading to increased opportunities for pass-catchers to make mistakes.
Eli Manning is the poster boy for drops reflecting accuracy. From 2006-19, Manning’s receivers had a 9.2% drop rate. Manning’s career completion percentage is 60.3%, and his rate was often one of the lowest among QBs year over year. He threw 20 or more interceptions three times and averaged an INT or more per game eight times over his career. This was an inaccurate QB, and it showed up in his drop rates. It was easy to blame many of his drops on going off the receiver’s hands, but he put his receivers in a position to make errors.
The more “catchable” balls thrown behind a receiver, or up high, or down low, the more likely that the ball will be dropped. The receiver will still be blamed for dropping the ball, but in the aggregate, those plays are the quarterback’s fault and should be charged to his record as a whole. In fact, it would be wise to break down drops into “all on receiver” or “quarterback share.”
In Week 4, we saw drops of both varieties from the Jets receivers. Garrett Wilson dropped a ball that was right in his hands. Breece Hall had a drop on a lob from Wilson, a decently-placed ball that he should have caught. Tyler Conklin‘s drop resulted in an interception, but the ball was high. It was one of the classic “should have been caught, but bad ball placement” throws.
Receiver track record
It’s been very frustrating to watch Jets pass-catchers suddenly become drop masters after having a solid career track record of reliable hands. Corey Davis is much-maligned among Jets fans for his 15% drop rate in 2021; he dropped balls all the time and any time. However, his career drop rate excluding 2021 is 6.3%, slightly below the 2021 league average of 6.6%. He was below 6% in his first three seasons. What happened to Corey Davis in 2021?
The same goes for Tyler Conklin so far this season. Prior to 2022, Conklin had a 3.1% drop rate—just three drops in four seasons. He now has three drops this season, per Pro Football Focus. What happened to him?
Breece Hall is yet another drop culprit this season. He has been charged with a whopping five drops for a 25% drop rate. That’s Ty Johnson circa 2021-level running back yips. He did not have these drop issues in college.
And speaking of Ty Johnson, his nine drops last season were also uncharacteristic. In his other seasons, Johnson has a 4.9% drop rate, nowhere near the 20.9% rate he put up in 2021. Michael Carter also put up five drops last year for a 12.2% rate. Do the Jets’ RBs just have wooden hands, or is there something more at play here?
Garrett Wilson is the only Jets’ pass-catcher whose drops are not unexpected. It was one of the biggest knocks on him coming out of college and may just be something that comes along with his dynamic route-running and explosive YAC ability. He has been charged with two drops for a 9.1% rate through four games, and his third-down drop against the Browns nearly cost the Jets the game. (Wilson redeemed himself in spectacular fashion later in the game.)
Throwing too hard
Former UGA coach Mark Richt once made a very interesting quarterback move: He benched Matt Stafford for throwing the ball too hard.
We see this from Zach Wilson from time to time: throwing bullets on short passes when touch and accuracy are needed. It caused Garrett Wilson to comment about Joe Flacco, “He takes some pace off, can put some pace on the ball. He kind of does a good job of making the passes receiver-friendly. … They’re pretty easy to catch. He’ll take something off the ball when you’re running a slant route, versus an out route, he’ll put some zip on it, because it’s gotta be. Things like that. So, I’ll say that.” What Garrett wasn’t saying about Zach Wilson is that he doesn’t have that touch yet.
Josh Allen was the poster boy for drop yips over the first two years of his career. From 2019-20, he had the league’s third-highest drop rate. In 2020, Allen’s rate dropped to 30th of 41, reflecting his quantum leap in play. Now, the arrival of Stefon Diggs had something to do with that, but if Allen didn’t make any changes, there’s a good chance Diggs would’ve suddenly been plagued with the dropsies, too.
Before the 2020 season, Allen worked with quarterback guru Jordan Palmer on his mechanics. In college and early in his NFL career, Allen wouldn’t set his feet before throwing and often had his front foot set in the wrong direction. This led to obvious accuracy issues.
Not an exact science but you can see why Allen is inaccurate. Aside from too much movement in the pocket and his wide base/overstride imo, he doesn't set the hallway correctly. That's why I stated in his report that in these instances his arm/upper body can't cash that check pic.twitter.com/Z3a2sLzILD
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) May 8, 2018
There were many mechanic tweaks that Allen made, and it led to a breakout season that has firmly entrenched him as one of the top QBs in the NFL. His explosive physical traits can truly shine now that he has his mechanics down.
This is still something that Zach Wilson struggles with at times. Obviously, Wilson is a much smaller, slighter guy than Allen, but he has similar tendencies to rely on his arm too much. That leads to some of the errant throws we see, making the ball come in at odd angles to his receivers and causing many of the drops.
However, the 10 pounds of muscle that Wilson added this offseason appear to be making a difference. Against Pittsburgh, the additional strength in his lower half was evident, allowing him to drive off his legs more instead of relying solely on his arm.
Patrick Mahomes usually has one of the highest drop rates among elite QBs. That is largely because his mechanics are all over the place. The easiest way to understand Mahomes’s pre-draft evaluation is to look at the way he does not set his feet prior to throwing. This leads to the ball coming out at odd angles, making it harder to catch.
For example, here is every Chiefs “drop” from Super Bowl LV in which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Chiefs. Look at the arm angles from which those balls were thrown, as well as Mahomes’s feet on the play. Sure, those balls could have been caught, but adjusting to weirdly-falling balls is never easy for a receiver. It should be a prerequisite for all Chiefs pass-catchers to practice catching balls that come in weirdly—and perhaps it should be similarly required of Jets receivers, as well.
Looking ahead in 2022
Taking a look at Zach Wilson’s debut, the disconcerting pattern of inaccurately-thrown balls and high drops rates seemed to continue. However, the bright spot was Wilson’s fourth-quarter performance in which he was on the money. He clearly shook off the rust and trusted himself to sit in the pocket and make an accurate throw. His pass to Corey Davis on the game-winning drive was a thing of beauty.
Wilson still has a ways to go in improving his accuracy, but in the meantime, Jets receivers must improve their catch rates on balls that are accurately thrown.
It was encouraging to see Corey Davis make several plus catches when the ball came in with zip and timing. His fourth-and-seven reception required strong hands. Perhaps Davis is acclimating to the way Wilson releases the ball, or maybe it’s just a return to his career norms. Either way, the Jets’ most beleaguered receiver can give his brothers-in-arms some lessons about catching balls from a flamethrower.
The Jets hope that their receivers will become more accustomed to the way Wilson throws the ball at the same time that Wilson endeavors to improve his mechanics and accuracy.