After the 2011 season, a season in which Tyler Wilson completed over 63% of his passes for 3600 yards and 24 TDs with only 6 INTs, Wilson seemed as good a candidate as any for the 2012 Heisman.
With an unexpected scandal and the ensuing firing of head coach Bobby Petrino combined with Wilson losing his top 3 targets to the NFL (Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs were all drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 draft, Adams to the Panthers and Wright and Childs to the Vikings), Wilson’s chances at a Heisman or a National Championship looked substantially worse but Wilson and the others were still hopeful, as this Sports Illustrated piece in August of 2012 demonstrates.
Wilson had a solid season, completing over 62% of his passes and still throwing for over 3300 yards but the team struggled to score and went on to win only 4 games in 2012, one of the wins coming against lowly Jacksonville State University.
It was going to be interesting, therefore, to see what the tape showed about Wilson as a QB – both in 2011 and 2012.
Wilson does a great many things well – as should be expected for someone who was a possible Heisman contender and once considered a likely first round pick – but he has his struggles, too.
His biggest issues come in the deep game. He seems to have enough arm to make the throws but his mechanics on deep throws are a concern. He often throws off his back foot to much when lobbing a ball deep, which causes there to be too much air under the throw when it arrives downfield.
The deep throws that have too much air on them tend to drop too early, so the receivers have to come back for them. It also results in interceptions.
The mechanics of his throw can, of course, be corrected or at least improved. The other issue – and one that cannot be corrected or improved – is that Wilson possesses small hands. Measured at the Combine at 8 ¾” (the average for an NFL QB is 9 1/2”), Wilson struggles to get great rotation on the ball and that lack of great rotation doesn’t help Wilson on the deep passes. In fact, the deeper the pass the more his balls flutter or outright tumble short of their target.
Here is an example of Wilson’s suspect deep throw abilities. To start, the Razorbacks are in a shotgun formation:
The Razorbacks OL, which struggled most of 2012, has provided Wilson with a clean pocket for this play. His intended target is at the bottom right of the picure, here, and you can see that the receiver has a half step on the corner. By the time the ball gets down field, the receiver will be a good two steps or so past his man and he'll be wide open:
Wilson sees the advantage that his receiver has gained and is able to step up to throw the ball downfield:
As you can see, Wilson has a space to throw – he is able to step up and make the throw downfield and he is not hit has he throws:
However, the ball, which flutters fairly quickly and loses it's momentum, falls well short of the receiver. The cornerback, who was trailing the receiver, is now in a better position to make a play on the ball than the wideout. The wideout runs back to try to break up the pass:
The wideout was not able to make it back in time and the cornerback hauls in the interception. The wideout arrives in time only to make a quick tackle:
It's not always so bad for Wilson, of course. His normally accurate passes simply become more erratic when he's asked to throw deep. Sometimes, Wilson is able to put it all together and deliver a truly beautiful deep pass, such as this one, below.
In this play, the Arkansas offense starts out with an offset I formation:
At the snap, Wilson fakes a handoff to the runningback, freezing the defenders a moment and allowing his receivers to get downfield:
Like the last play, Wilson has a clean pocket that allows him to step up to make the throw downfield:
The ball was thrown at almost exactly the 50 yard line. Here, it's at about the 35 and it's still traveling upwards with great velocity. This was a well thrown pass:
Here, when the ball hits the 20 yard line or so, the ball starts it's descent. It loses rotation quickly but it's been thrown well enough that the lack of rotation actually helps the throw in this instance:
The ball drops down at a very catchable angle, the lack of rotation has caused the ball to come down almost nose to the ground into the hands of the receiver who has been able to get past his man. A ball placed this well is almost impossible to defend because the angle it drops doesn't allow a defender trailing to get a hand on it:
The ball comes down just past the 10 yard line, meaning that this ball traveled 40 yards in the air for a perfect throw and catch from Wilson to his receiver:
The receiver is able to step into the endzone without being touched:
Of course, 40 yard pass plays are the exception, not the rule. The majority of Wilson's passes will be in the five to 20 yard range. It's in this range that Wilson really excels, too.
In particular, he does very well with out routes and, most particuarly, with crossing routes. The NFL has become so much about being able to put together sustained drives in order to march down the field and score while simultaneously giving your defense a break.
Gone are the days that Al Davis loved, when a deep armed QB would constantly throw downfield and hit deep passes enough times to make a difference. Now, a QB must be accurate at most levels of the field and must be able to get the ball to his receivers on short and intermediate routes so that the receivers can get past the first down.
Wilson has very good placement on these short and intermediate routes, which is an underrated skill. Because most pass plays will take place 20 yards or less, an accurate QB is essential in today's NFL. A difference of a few feet makes a large difference in the result of the play.
Here is an example of this. In this play the Razorbacks are, again, in a shotgun formation:
At the snap, Wilson goes back to read his progressions. His primary target on this play is WR Cobi Hamilton, who is making his break to cross center at the top of the pic below:
As you can see, this is a well designed play where the other receivers have opened up the center of the field, right where Hamilton is headed. Still, the defensive back is right on Hamilton so the throw needs to be accurate. A throw at or slightly behind Hamilton will still result in a first down, but a leading throw can result in much more:
Wilson has made the pass in the pic below (it's just below and left of the "0" in "40") and he was taken out right after making the pass (more on that below). As you can see the defender is closing on Cobi Hamilton, who is not a burner at wide receiver. If the ball isn't placed very well and Hamilton has to slow a bit to get it, he'll get hit by the defender who is fast closing:
The ball has been placed slightly in front of Hamilton and he's able to turn up the field before the defender can get to him. The defender makes a last dive at Hamilton's legs to try to stop him:
However, because Hamilton hasn't had to break stride, he is able to complete his turn and get past the defensive back:
Hamilton turns the pass that was initially only a 7 yard completion into a footrace with the safety on the play. Because he hasn't had to break stride, Hamilton ends up taking this pass approximately 50 yards down the field for a long yards-after-catch touchdown:
Another really admiriable quality of Wilson's is that he doesn't shy away from contact. Wilson was hit a lot in 2012 but he kept getting up and delivering passes. In the last play, Wilson threw the ball to Hamilton despite the fact that a defender was in his face as he delivered the ball, as shown below:
Wilson ended up being taken down by the defender but the play resulted in a touchdown because he didn't shy away from contact, stood tall in the pocket and delivered a great pass:
It's no coincidence that Wilson's ability to be accurate in the short to intermediate passes works well with Raiders' offensive coordinator Greg Olsen's tendencies of utilizing a variety of short to intermediate routes to wear down an offense and help move the chains.
Wilson's arm is good enough to make all of the necessary throws and with some mechanical help, he can easily be a starter in the NFL. His windup motion has been well publicized but it didn't bother me on tape so while he can use some tweaking, he doesn't need to go through the changes that a player like Tim Tebow could use.
In addition, his intagibles – the toughness, being an outspoken leader – will help him win over his teammates quickly. Wilson is not likely to be the Raiders starting QB the first week of the 2013 season but I would not be surprised if he was starting by week 17 and beyond.
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