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How good can NY Jets WR Garrett Wilson really be?

Wilson was the biggest surprise for us at Jet X

When you think of New York Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson, what’s the first image that comes to mind?

I think that the featured image for this article says it all: Wilson has the ball in his hands and is cutting to juke defenders out on his way to many more yards after the catch.

From his first catch in the NFL, when he swerved and wove his way to nearly make a first down out of a one-yard desperation heave from Joe Flacco, to his last game of the season, when he ducked around several Dolphins defenders for a 35-yard gain, this was Wilson’s MO. The 22-year-old put the NFL on notice as the cream of the next crop of elite pass-catchers.

In a season that featured several standout rookie receivers, Wilson outshone them all despite playing with putrid QB play. Anyone who makes an argument for his former Ohio State teammate Chris Olave as the Offensive Rookie of the Year will point to who threw him the football; that goes for Wilson times 100. Drake London and Christian Watson flashed their potential, but Wilson showed that he’s a more polished product. Some thought Treylon Burks had more talent, but Wilson is already miles ahead.

Let’s take a look at the numbers to discover just how good Wilson was in 2022 and how much better he can be in his second year.

The regular stats

Even if you just look at Wilson’s pure numbers, there’s already what to be impressed about. Here were his pure numbers and ranks out of 69 qualified receivers (min. 60 targets):

  • 83 receptions (T-19)
  • 1,103 yards (19)
  • 4 TD (T-32)
  • Average depth of target (ADOT): 11.0 (35)
  • Avoided tackles: 22 (2)
  • Catch rate: 59.7% (61)
  • Contested catch rate: 35.9% (58)
  • Contested targets: 39 (3)
  • Drop rate: 2.4% (12)
  • First downs: 56 (T-15)
  • First down rate: 67.5% (14)
  • Yards per reception: 13.3 (T-22)
  • Yards per route run: 1.85 (T-25)
  • Targeted QB rating: 91.5 (43)

The fact that the rookie Wilson ranked 19th in receptions and yards, second in avoided tackles, 14th in first down rate, and 25th in yards per route run already speaks to the raw talent that this guy has. However, what of his poor rankings in catch rate, targeted QB rating, and contested catch rate? Do those speak to flaws in his game?

Adjusted for QB play

It’s difficult to adjust a wide receiver’s results by quarterback play. Indeed, DVOA does a very poor job of this, which is why I use it very rarely in evaluating receivers. However, let’s try to tease out one performance from the other statistically.

Every QB is given a passer rating by the NFL, and every receiver has a QB passer rating specifically on plays that they were targeted. QB rating in and of itself is flawed for many reasons, and certainly targeted passer rating does not take into account the accuracy or advisability of a particular throw. For example, if a QB throws a ball into double coverage and it’s intercepted, the receiver’s targeted QB rating will get dinged when it was really a poor decision by the quarterback.

That being said, there is still some value in comparing a quarterback’s individual rating compared to the rating when that receiver was targeted. It gives us an idea of the overall productivity of the QB compared to the WR.

When looking at all 69 qualified receivers, Wilson ranked 12th with a difference of 18.8 points between his targeted QB rating (91.5) and his starting quarterback’s passer rating (72.7). Note that I used the quarterback who threw the most passes for the team, so in this case, the QB rating is Zach Wilson’s.

For those who believe that Chris Olave got a bad rap from his QB play, his targeted QB rating (86.3) was actually 8.9 points lower than Andy Dalton’s overall QB rating (95.2), which ranked 56th. Although this may speak partially to the inherent flaws in the quarterback rating statistic, it also tells us that Wilson outplayed his quarterback, while Olave, on the whole, did not.

Adjusted completion percentage

A receiver can only catch a catchable pass. PFF provides a stat called adjusted completion percentage, which records what rate of the quarterback’s passes were on target. Obviously, “on target” is relative; if the pass is a bit high, or a bit low, or forces the receiver to stop mid-stride, it’s difficult to evaluate if the ball could have and/or should have been caught. However, it does give us a better estimate of how accurate the QB is than completion percentage alone.

Therefore, to assess what a receiver’s catch rate really means, it’s important to include his quarterback’s accuracy rate in the equation. To do this, let’s subtract a quarterback’s adjusted completion percentage from his receiver’s catch rate. While this does not fully isolate the quarterback’s accuracy on passes thrown to the specific receiver, it gives us some idea of what the receiver was dealing with when trying to catch the ball.

Garrett Wilson’s 59.7% catch rate was 61st out of 69 qualified receivers, which seems pretty poor. However, when we account for his quarterback’s accuracy and then assess the difference, we find that Wilson ranks 23rd, with his 59.7% catch rate only 6% lower than Zach Wilson’s 65.7% accuracy. This would at the very least indicate that some digging is needed before we can say that Wilson had issues with catching the ball.

Furthermore, Wilson only had a 2.4% drop rate, which was in the 82nd percentile among receivers. If his catch rate is only in the 12th percentile, then something is pretty fishy.

Contested catches

According to PFF, Wilson was in the 15th percentile in contested catch rate, which would suggest that he struggles mightily on 50-50 balls. Furthermore, he faced the third-most contested targets of all qualified receivers, which suggests that these balls were a highly significant part of his game; indeed, he had the eighth-highest contested target share at 28.1% of his total targets.

Does this mean that Wilson had difficulty creating space if he was targeted in contested situations so often? It’s hard to say that when Wilson tied with Chris Olave for 17th in yards per route run against man coverage at 2.41 and had the eighth-most yards against man coverage of all qualified receivers with 448.

However, these are some of the balls that they are calling contested targets. Not all contested targets are created equal; some are still more catchable than others. On many of Wilson’s contested targets, he did not have much of a chance to actually catch the ball. This stat is rather misleading.

That being said, it is true that one of Wilson’s biggest areas to work on is putting himself in a better position to make contested catches. He often tries to jump over the defender rather than box them out or adjust to the ball.

Trait that separates him from the pack: YAC

Get the ball in his hand, and Garrett Wilson is a touchdown threat every time—as long as he runs straight ahead.

Statistically, Wilson was tied among qualified receivers for 21st in YAC per reception at 4.7. While that does not seem earth-shattering, it also does not capture just how shifty Wilson is. More on point was that he forced 22 missed tackles, the second-most among receivers (trailing only Deebo Samuel), on the way to that YAC. If you miss a tackle on Wilson, you will pay.

Next year, the goal for the Jets will be to scheme up Wilson in space more often, as the 49ers do with Deebo, to take full advantage of his combination of speed, elusiveness, and knack for getting small when tacklers are nearby.

However, Wilson’s goal will be to run straight for space rather than trying to make that one extra move. It cost him a few possible touchdowns this season.

Intermediate weapon

Wilson was lethal in the 10-to-19-yard range. He was fifth among receivers with 50 targets in that area of the field, sixth with 28 intermediate receptions, fourth with 556 yards, fifth at 19.9 yards per reception, tied for eighth with three touchdowns, and eighth with 6.2 YAC per reception.

It’s impressive that Wilson managed to put up a 115.1 targeted QB rating in the intermediate range considering who was throwing him the ball; Zach Wilson and Joe Flacco ranked 27th and 30th, respectively, in that range. However, a large chunk of Wilson’s intermediate targets came from Mike White, who ranked fourth with a 116.6 passer rating in the intermediate area.

Over a three-week span with a healthy White at quarterback (Weeks 12-14), Wilson led the NFL in intermediate receptions (11) and intermediate receiving yards (240) while tying for the lead with two intermediate touchdowns. He had 90 more intermediate receiving yards than the second-ranked player (Ja’Marr Chase, 150) over this span.

If Wilson continues to be such a lethal weapon in that area of the field, the Jets should have an easier time marching methodically down the field. As it was, Wilson ranked 14th in first down rate on his catches this season, moving the chains on 67.5% of his receptions. That number could rise with a more accurate QB next season.

Deep ball struggles

One of the reasons that we at Jet X thought that Wilson might take time to adjust to the NFL was his relative lack of prowess on deep balls. He wasn’t great at it in college, and that continued in his rookie season. Wilson caught just 5-of-20 deep passes (20+ yards downfield), a 25% catch rate that ranked 59th out of 73 qualified receivers (min. 10 deep targets). He did not drop any of those balls, but he also didn’t put himself in the greatest position to catch them.

There was a target against the Vikings where Mike White missed him, as well as several Zach Wilson desperation heaves that hardly count as targets. Still, if Wilson wants to take the leap from a top-20 receiver to a top-10 or top-5, he will need to improve in this area. All the most feared receivers are deep threats.

Moving forward

Joe Douglas hit a home run with the Garrett Wilson pick at No. 10. No one thought Wilson would be this explosive from Day 1. Wilson is the Jets’ true X receiver, the versatile threat that the team was looking for. He can excel both inside and outside, runs all different types of routes, and keeps defensive backs guessing.

The next step for Wilson is to pair with a quarterback who will find him when he’s open. There was a lot of meat left on the bone for him in 2022. He gets open early and often; feeding him the ball like Joe Flacco did for a period of time in the season finale is the way to go.

At the same time, Wilson should spend the offseason working on stacking defensive backs and making contested catches. Facing Sauce Gardner in OTAs and training camp will likely be good practice, as one of Sauce’s prized traits is breaking up balls at the catch point.

One way or another, this is a truly special talent. Buy your No. 17 jerseys; Garrett Wilson isn’t going anywhere.

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1 year ago

Great article as usual, Rivka! GW is a winner. Its been soooooo long since we had a great WR! The fact that he is a rookie makes it even sweeter. Such a class act! I am so happy that we drafted him. We need to get Carr and we will be rocking with him and EM. My draft is as following by position:
1) OT
2) OC
3) WR
4) LB
The rest whatevs. Sign a great guard, sign a new FS and LB. Next year playoffs