Garrett Wilson plays with a unique style that makes him special but could also carry risks
The first two are understandable and were validated with Wilson’s rookie season. The Offensive Rookie of the Year managed to put up the 11th-most rookie receiving yards of all-time playing with quarterbacks that didn’t make replacement level.
What was the third all about, though? Why did I say ouch when looking at his film, and why do I continue to cringe every time Wilson makes a cut?
Because to the naked eye, Garrett Wilson looks like he’s a devastating injury waiting to happen—specifically, an ACL tear.
Joe Blewett pointed it out numerous times in Wilson’s college film: the guy has absurd athleticism, but it comes with a violent lunging style on many of his cuts. Blewett recently posted Part 1 of his 2022 Wilson breakdown and said much of the same.
Besides not being the most efficient way of route-running, these overstrides can lead to funny landings, false steps, and bad turns. The most common injury when a player lands wrong or makes a cut that their body can’t take is the ACL tear.
Many NFL teams use sports science to determine which players are at the greatest risk of an ACL tear. Given how common and how catastrophic it is for players and teams, it is worth their while to do everything possible to prevent that. A 2015 article by Mike Tanier (then of Bleacher Report) explains how such testing works.
There is a simple test for this called the milk carton test. The player stands on a one-foot-high box (it is called the milk carton test because it was originally conducted with milk cartons). They jump off, not forward but just as if they’re landing. Although there are all sorts of cameras and high-tech evaluations made nowadays, the basics of it are visible to the naked eye.
According to Dr. Timothy Hewett, director of biomechanics and sports medicine research at the Mayo Clinic, “Even if you have a simple cellphone, just take a video of it. You can see, right before landing, the position of how far apart the knees are. If those knees collapse into half or more of that distance, that player is showing what we call ‘ligament dominance.'”
There are many devices that can be used to alert teams to the risk of a ligament tear or other soft tissue injury. However, more important than that is utilizing a training and ramp-up program that will not place undue strain on players’ bodies. The zero-to-100 ramp-up of many NFL training camps is a big no-no that causes a major increase in risk.
Sports science also has many methods of tracking exactly which players are at risk and then providing personalized training programs. There are more details in Tanier’s article, but the point remains that if you know a particular player is at risk, you can work with him accordingly.
So far, it does not appear that the Jets have attempted to make any changes in the way Wilson runs. It does not take a sports scientist to know that the extra lunging Wilson does is an inherent risk. Changing direction so quickly, coming off the violence of his steps, risks that the ACL will not be able to follow quickly enough and therefore tear.
Are the Jets aware of this risk? Are they trying to do anything to mitigate it, or are they just leaving it to chance? Obviously, no team can eliminate all risk of injury, but when one is staring them in the face, it behooves them to investigate options for prevention.
Now, it could be that trying to change the running style that Wilson has utilized all his life will do more harm than good. Across sports, when players make major changes to their workout regimens, weight, and playing style, there is some evidence that unintended consequences follow. (Noah Syndergaard with the Mets building too much muscle and suffering oblique injuries comes to mind.) Still, are the Jets looking into this at all?
We already saw Breece Hall go down with an ACL tear last season. Hall also changes direction very quickly, although his steps are not nearly as forceful as Wilson’s. Unlike most ACL tears, Hall’s also appeared to be caused by contact, which is less preventable. But the results of Wilson going down could be disastrous for the Jets just as Hall’s loss was last season.
Furthermore, if Wilson were to go down, it would likely mean that he would be forced to change his entire playing style. Perhaps that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing in and of itself; it would cause him to focus even more on the technical details of route-running, at which he is already quite proficient. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
As we get closer to training camp, this is something that bears monitoring—and perhaps some bated breath and prayer.