I scouted Russell Wilson before I included him in my “Quarterbacks of interest” series in late 2011. Typically when I scout a player I cover the basics (arm strength, mobility, style of offense, intangibles, etc) without delving ultra deep. I came away from my initial scouting experience of Wilson with a remarkably positive impression. I thought Wilson had the best tape of any quarterback in this draft. That said- if the players with the best tape always made for the best professional athletes, then teams would never draft busts nor spend millions on their scouting departments. That’s why it’s critical to determine whether a player’s skills will project to the next level or not. After breaking down Wilson twice, I am completely convinced that height will not effect him almost at all in the NFL.
However, there have been a handful of other concerns for Wilson, which I think are fair game. Today, I’m going to break down the common assertion that Wilson’s accuracy “dips” when taking throws in the pocket. For this exercise, I used the three compilations available on Youtube: Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan State again in the Big 10 championship game.
@ Michigan State
One of the things that jumped out at me while charting all three of these games was how many of Wilson’s passes were attempted from the pocket. Granted, the definition is a bit nebulous as Wilson moves around so much. I generally considered the play to be a pocket pass if it was designed as such and thrown in an area that was intentional grounding eligible. I excluded bootlegs or scrambles that took Wilson clearly outside the tackles. For a guy that is so athletic and so short, I was surprised to see that Wisconsin didn’t move him outside the pocket more often.
Wilson threw 21 passes in this game. 16 of them were thrown from the pocket. Wilson went 10/16 in the pocket and 4/5 outside the pocket.
Of those six pocket incompletions, two were intercepted. The first interception was actually receiver Nick Toon’s fault for failing to look for the ball and adjust his route accordingly. The second interception was a desperation deep throw across Wilson’s body that was slightly overthrown. Had he been throwing to Sidney Rice, it probably would have been caught for a huge gain, but unfortunately for Wilson, his target didn’t quite have enough juice in the tank to reach it, and a converging defensive back swooped in for a sideline pick. This was still arguably a poor decision for Wilson, and it was also an over-thrown ball. Had it been throw a tiny bit less, he would have had a huge completion instead of a pick. These would be the only two interceptions Wilson would throw in any of the three games.
Of the four remaining incompletions, one was a perfect deep ball that his receiver dropped. Another was a hot read that led his target too much. It wasn’t a great pass, but it’s the kind that should have been caught just the same. Wilson’s two remaining incompletions were over-throws, including one that blew a sure touchdown.
Wilson also had an incompletion that didn’t count because it was ruled intentional grounding for a safety.
Wilson finished 10/16 in the pocket, good for a 62.5% completion rate. He was 4/5 outside the pocket, good for 80%. If you give Wilson credit for the two balls his receivers dropped, his pocket number increases to 75%.
Wilson did not have a single throwaway in this game. He hates to give up on plays and will almost always make something happen.
Wilson’s high completion numbers are even more impressive when you consider that he throws deep very often. Wilson made plenty of mistakes in this game, and faced a very tough defense that barely gave him time to throw, and yet he still finished with over 10 yards per attempt.
Wilson’s big hands help him out a lot. Wilson has a terrific pump fake because he can grip the ball so well. He also has a nifty quick shovel pass and therefore effective fake shovel pass move.
Wilson isn’t as great a rusher as his combine speed would make you think, but he can buy time in the pocket like few quarterbacks can, while keeping his eyes (deep) downfield at all times.
Play action and bootlegs work well for Wilson’s skill set. Bootlegs have an obvious benefit: they get him outside the pocket and they take advantage of his speed to buy time. The play action also benefits Wilson because the act of turning around and running to the fake handoff has the added effect of dropping Wilson deeper into the pocket in less time than a normal dropback would.
Wilson had an awesome run for a TD in this game that was sprung by a perfect pump fake on the run to freeze an enclosing defender. Wilson’s hard sell on his pump fake is one of his biggest weapons.
@ Ohio State
Another tough defense on the road. Wilson took a fair number of sacks in this game as Ohio State has a very athletic defensive line.
Wilson threw 32 passes in this game, and only 4 of them were attempted outside the pocket despite all the pressure Ohio State brought all game long.
Wilson went 17/28 (61%) in the pocket and 3/4 (75%) outside of it.
Four of Wilson’s eleven pocket incompletions were throwaways forced by pressure or coverage. Another was a drop where the receiver took a hit and couldn’t hold on. Wilson also had an incompletion where he was hit as he threw. More than half of Wilson’s pocket incompletons in this game had zero to do with his accuracy. Most of Wilson’s remaining incompletions were over-throws on mid-to-deep pass attempts. Take those six “excusable” incompletions out of the data set, and Wilson would have finished 17/22 in the pocket, a rate of 77%.
Michigan State (Big 10 championship game)
Wilson went 16/22 (73%) from inside the pocket and 1/2 (50%) outside the pocket in this game.
Wilson’s receivers really came through for him in this game, making several tough catches including a crucial catch on 4th and 6 late in the game. They didn’t drop a single pass either.
Wilson also erased one of his potential incompletions when he caught his own pass after it was batted back to him. Wilson is one of the few quarterbacks who is electric enough as a runner to actually make it worth catching his own pass, although sadly he lost two yards on the play.
Wilson has a snappy fast shovel pass. At one point early in the game a pass rusher came off the edge unblocked and Wilson froze the guy with a fake shovel pass then ran around him. It was awesome. Later Wilson scored with an actual shovel pass near the goal line after sucking in the defense by showing intent to run the ball outside.
Wilson caught a pass from his running back for a big gain. NFL defenses will have to account for Wilson even when the ball isn’t in his hands.
Wilson doesn’t really have a pocket accuracy problem. He does have a bit of a deep ball over-throw issue, and Wilson throws a lot of deep passes. Because Wilson typically throws deep from within the pocket, his overall accuracy completion numbers dip as a result. As for the reason why Wilson is good for a handful of overthrows a game, I’m not exactly sure of the reason, but I suspect it’s because he doesn’t step into his deep throws when making them from the pocket very often, instead relying on pure arm strength and overcompensating as a result.