As great as Garrett Wilson’s rookie year was for the New York Jets, he still has some work to do to complete his game
Two things can be true simultaneously about Garrett Wilson‘s rookie season for the New York Jets: he played like a star, and he has work to do to become elite.
While Wilson was considered by many to be the best receiver prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft, few could have seen his Offensive Rookie of the Year award coming. Joe Blewett ranked Wilson behind Drake London prior to the draft and, though appreciating his suddenness and YAC ability, thought he might take some time to develop into a top receiver.
What Blewett and others thought might be Wilson’s ceiling, Wilson put on tape as his floor in Year 1. There was a considerable improvement in his route-running from college to the NFL as he refined his release off the line and the stem of his routes.
That leap was almost immediately evident in Week 2 when he cooked the Browns to the tune of eight receptions, 102 yards, and two touchdowns, including the miraculous game-winner.
However, there was is part of Wilson’s game that still hasn’t fully developed: deep routes. How can he improve in the deep part of the field to join the ranks of the NFL’s elite?
As Michael Nania explained, Wilson’s deep numbers were not that great in 2022. According to NFL Next Gen Stats’ tracking, Wilson caught 4-of-23 targets for 68 yards and a touchdown on go routes (the one TD was actually his fade route against Cleveland in the red zone, which is tracked by computer vision as a go route).
His overall deep numbers (passes of 20+ yards) were 5-for-20 (25%) for 169 yards, no TDs, one interception, and a 41.5 targeted quarterback rating.
Those numbers are not on par with the top receivers in the NFL, to say the least. Not every elite receiver caught a great rate of deep balls: for example, Davante Adams (39.5%), Ja’Marr Chase (29.3%), D.K. Metcalf (28.5%), DeAndre Hopkins (38.5%), and Chris Olave (25.9%) did not exactly knock the lid off in terms of catching an elite rate of deep balls.
However, the top receivers in the NFL were usually big-time deep threats in one way or another. For example, Adams had nine deep touchdowns, best in the NFL. The top deep threats in yardage are highlighted by Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson, Adams, and A.J. Brown. Jaylen Waddle, Tee Higgins, and Cooper Kupp are in the top 10 in yards per route run on deep balls.
Wilson, meanwhile, did not crack the top 30 in any deep receiving category.
Bad passers = bad WR stats
Wilson was able to overcome terrible quarterback play to post an overall strong season, but it’s clear that QB ineptitude greatly influenced his poor deep stats. Here are the deep passing numbers of the Jets’ three quarterbacks from 2022.
- Zach Wilson: 10-for-33 (30.3%), 405 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT, 13.9% turnover-worthy play (TWP) rate, 49.0 QB rating
- Mike White: 5-for-16 (31.3%), 112 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 11.8% TWP rate, 38.5 QB rating
- Joe Flacco: 4-for-17 (23.5%), 143 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 11.1% TWP rate, 57.2 QB rating
In other words, one 66-yard Corey Davis touchdown on a blown coverage influenced the best QB rating of the three Jets QBs on deep balls, which was a whopping 57.2. They completed 28.7% of deep balls with 3 TDs, 8 INTs, and a 13.6% TWP rate.
That’s not exactly an environment in which any receiver will thrive on deep balls, no matter how open they are. For example, consider this miss, which could have won the Jets the game against the Vikings.
Wilson cooked his man off the line and could have had a touchdown. While NFL quarterbacks do miss open receivers deep, this one showed Wilson’s potential as a deep threat.
One of the weaknesses in Wilson’s game is stacking defensive backs deep. Often, when the ball is in the air, he is still parallel to or even behind the DB rather than over the top, and he struggles with creating that space.
Wilson’s quick feet still allow him to beat DBs deep at times, but he does not do it with the consistency of an elite receiver yet.
For example, on this throw, Wilson gets outside for the go route, but the defender isn’t fooled and stays with him, getting a hand on him that Wilson cannot fight off. The DB is parallel to him the entire time, giving him no space at the catch point.
Although the ball placement gives Wilson no chance to catch it, even over-the-top or back-shoulder attempts likely would not have succeeded. Wilson simply did not have any leverage on the DB to get over the top.
On this attempt, Wilson failed to stack the defender and was instead trailing him. It was also a poor throw by Zach Wilson, but the defender was in a good position until he lost sight of the ball. This was defensive pass interference and a good catch by Garrett, but the route was less than pristine.
Of course, then you have plays like this when Wilson cooked his defender on and out-and-up and would have had a touchdown with a better throw. Here, Wilson used the peek technique to perfection, freezing the defender in his tracks.
However, here, the peek technique as part of a stop-and-go does not do much. The defender bites a bit, but Wilson only gains a step toward the sideline and does not give Flacco any space to work with at the boundary.
Wilson has some work to do on his technique when running deep routes.
Rodgers throwing deep
From 2019-21, when Aaron Rodgers was throwing to Davante Adams, the pair hooked up for many go routes.
Jets QBs went 4/23 when targeting Garrett Wilson on go routes last season (17.4%).
Aaron Rodgers completed 32 of 69 go route attempts (46.4%) to Davante Adams from 2019-21.
Should see #12 unlock the deep game of yet another #17. pic.twitter.com/4CiwFdww7C
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) March 19, 2023
Adams is a more refined route runner than Wilson and is also better at the catch point. However, there is no doubt that part of Adams’s success vs. Wilson’s failure had to do with superior ball placement.
Even in 2022, Rodgers still spun a highly accurate deep ball more often than not, although that did not necessarily speak to his receivers’ ability to come down with the ball.
If Wilson can find space, Rodgers will find him. The remaining question will be if Wilson can hang on to the ball, something he struggled with on contested balls despite his low overall drop rate (2.4%; receiver average is 5.5%).
Overall, Wilson has the potential to become a top-five NFL receiver, but this will be the determinant of how high his ceiling can be. Will Wilson turn himself into a true deep threat in 2023 with the most accurate passer of all time slinging him the rock? Or will he simply continue to cook in the intermediate area and eat up chunks of yardage with YAC?