Mythbusting: Kyle Wilson’s 2013 Season

Mike O’Connor sets out to solve Kyle Wilson’s enigma of a 2013 season once and for all.

That show on ESPN called “Numbers Never Lie” is a fraud.  I would never waste my time watching it, but just the title turns me off to start with anyway.  Numbers do lie.  Statistics are played out to be 100% fact, but nobody can steer completely clear of bias and pure assumptions that such numbers can encourage.

If somebody eats six cheeseburgers in one sitting, one would appropriately guess they’re unhealthy. Yet that same person could be an exercise freak and keep themselves in check. If I boasted about a high GPA in my senior year of high school, one may assume I’m a very good student despite the fact that my classes were ones I hardly even needed to show up to.  And if you uncovered the statistic sheet the Kyle Wilson crafted together in his 2013 season, you would think he’s vastly improved to become one of the better slot cornerbacks in the NFL.

I like to study wide receivers and defensive backs primarily when it comes to football, so I wasn’t going to fall for this massive overreaction to Wilson’s season that started to get noticed around mid-season that quickly. But like everybody else, I too thought he was doing something better than usual. On the tape he still struggled mightily defending at the point of the catch, but Pro Football Focus was advertising him as the league’s #1 slot corner based off their grading system. Gang Green Nation also heralded him as an underrated gem. The fourth year corner had to be doing something better than the rest to be praised so highly.

That’s when the stats started to wreak their havoc. PFF had Wilson down for 24 completions and no touchdowns allowed off of 41 targets, which makes for a very impressive 58% completion rate. In comparison, an outside corner would be totally satisfied with such a low percentage, let alone a slot corner who doesn’t have the boundaries or consistent safety help to work with. Now if the NFL was easy to solve and analyze, this stat alone would be the dagger in thinking Wilson struggles around the point of the catch. I mean, quarterbacks are throwing at him when he leaves receivers open presumably, so he must be making some plays on the ball, right?

Wrong.

I credit my sickly need for perfection in understanding corners for making me do this, but I doubted PFF’s truth in their statistics for Wilson and went back to find all of his targets. What I found is one of the weirdest coincidences I’ve come across. It’s almost as if quarterbacks were trying to cushion Wilson’s completion percentage. Before I dive in, here are my charts I collected for the corner. You may view the several screenshots I posted below or view the actual document here.Screenshot 2014-07-23 at 1.40.45 PM

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Let’s get right into it by breaking what’s clearly evident in the charts – Kyle Wilson was a very lucky football player during the 2013 season. I had Wilson down for 51 targets and 25 completions. I’m guessing PFF didn’t include instances when Wilson had a teammate share coverage with him as part of his isolated targets. I did, however, because it’s still his job to stay with his man as well as he can unless he would be better advised to pass him off (I would disregard those times). Now, my charting would give Wilson an even better completions percentage of 49%, which is near elite to be honest. Yet, notice the detail I added to each target and Wilson’s extreme luck starts shining through the stats.

Receivers Wilson covered in man coverage flat out dropped four passes, which is a significant amount when you consider that’s only on 26 incompletions. Furthermore, a whopping 14 passes thrown Wilson’s way were considerably poorly thrown or uncatchable. Next, you have his unforgettable penalty meltdown in which he suffered three penalties in coverage within four plays versus Buffalo. Adding all of these mishaps together, that counts to 21 of Wilson’s incompletions that boost his completion percentage that he can’t take credit for. Even worse, those five incompletions that don’t fall under the category of the above mishaps consisted of a screen pass, a play in zone coverage, and two split coverages with a teammate.  es, you’re not wrong here; those numbers mean that Wilson only directly caused one incompletion all year.

With his fluky numbers now crunched, I figured I would try and measure what I could with the stats Wilson still had standing.  As you can tell by the charts, I determined how Wilson was performing in regards to separation allowed despite the luck he was granted with all of the poor throws and such. I proceeded to simplify the process by giving color grades for charting purposes. Bad plays (red bar on chart) were decided by either too much separation given on a play, a poor approach to defending the pass if a play on the receiver/ball was within reach, or simply an easy completion. Orange was given on more undesired play, but not to the extent of a red play. An orange would be the result of a closer contested completion or an incompletion where the separation gained would have likely resulted in a completion allowed. Plays without a color bar at the end of them are plays Wilson gets a pass on because of fair enough coverage or a middling completion allowed. I invented blue and green bar colors to use for good and great plays respectively, but I was disappointed to not even get to use the green and only use blue for Wilson’s one defending pass versus the Patriots.

*Note: I provided time stamps for each target, so if you sense bias or doubt the concerning statistics I extracted form this study, you can literally go to the game on Game Rewind if you have it and see for yourself.  I promise, the film was exactly how I put it.

With that explained, it’s hopefully obvious how blatantly false the narrative is that Wilson improved vastly for his 2013 season, or even held his own, for that matter. The “new” stats we have basically serve as the blood stains of a bullied corner – 23 red plays were very bad, and 13 orange ones were not good at all either. Being an NFL corner who lives and dies by the slot is no easy task, but there are many of them who hold their own or at least make some plays to make up for completions. Wilson does neither.

The thing is, Wilson is not a terrible corner. I understand what the Wilson defenders will respond to this, and it’s that I nitpicked his game to only analyze times he was targeted. To only be targeted 51 times as a corner who’s on the field typically 30-40% of defensive snaps every game, he must be displaying at least adequate man coverage most of the time. I admit I could have gone above and beyond to be thorough and graded all of his snaps in coverage, but I believe in the legitimacy of the stats I gathered.  Why?  Because it would be unfair and therefore biased to assume Wilson is consistently allowing little to no separation when he isn’t being thrown at. Antonio Cromartie was terrible literally all year and Dee Milliner hit rock bottom during parts of his rookie season. If quarterbacks were going to tear up the Jets through the air, there was no need to specifically target any one Jet corner in their gameplan; there wasn’t any receiver not to throw to usually. Wilson could have been just as lousy in coverage when Cromartie was getting beat over the top. Assuming that he was either just as bad or efficient during these snaps would be wrong, so it’s appropriate to trust and believe what the stats we have explain.

With the exposing statistics in the dust, the question lingers- where does Wilson stand in terms of his career? The Boise State alum enters his fifth NFL season this summer and still cannot be counted on. Not to mention, it’s tough to say he’s improved at all since he’s gotten used to life in the slot and not an outside corner. Above all, this season will be a contract year for Wilson. After my study of him, I’ve all but confirmed my opinion on him and wouldn’t like to see him return on the assumption that he will be a close version of what he’s been the past couple years. The fact of the matter is, even if Wilson can disguise himself as a middle of the road NFL slot corner in coverage and hang with his man, he has proved throughout his career that he can’t defend the actual point of the catch, and last season provided plenty of fresh examples.
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Above is a prime example from last season, and we’ve been force fed a lot of this. Wilson doesn’t know when or how to locate the ball, and even if he does, he struggles with most facets of defending the pass. Here, he does his usual tactic of trying to undercut the receiver (Stevie Johnson) for a hit instead of locating and attacking the football.

Kyle Wilson better be determined heading into the 2014 season, because the Jets secondary has undoubtedly improved with the additions of Dmitri Patterson, Calvin Pryor, and Dexter McDougle, along with the anticipation of improvement from youngsters Antonio Allen, Dee Milliner, and Darrin Walls. If the majority of this back end performs for Rex Ryan, Wilson might be exposed for what he is when he likely doesn’t get the miraculous luck he was given last year. With McDougle having the ability to play in the slot, Wilson is in an awfully hot seat in my opinion.

***Dislaimer:  This article was written in hopes to teach.  I’m not out to get anybody.  Ever.  While the article is demeaning to Kyle Wilson, it’s all truth from what I studied. If direct negativity to one player and one player only is what it takes to write something that people can take away from, then I have to go with it. I respect Kyle for all of the work he does in charities off the field, but football analysis is football analysis.