Wilson and the Numbers
I'm not completely sure what is up with Kyle Wilson and NY Jet fans. I think it all started with his relatively high draft choice and then being unexpectedly thrust into heavy responsibilities due to the selfishness of a cornerback everyone gets compared to now. He was exposed, suddenly and quickly, to be just what he was...a rookie - and a rookie put up against some bad matchups at that. Somehow, someway though it all became a permanent mark against him, perhaps enforced by his performance in 2011 where he was asked to simply to cover the slot while Cromartie and Revis did the heavy lifting. How hard can it be? Well, as it turns out for some players it is pretty hard and it requires a certain skill set, clearly one he did not really have yet. So when it came down to Revis exiting stage left with his injury we all thought the pass defense was doomed. A guy who really couldn't handle the slot was suddenly pushed up the ladder and the whole thing looked like it was going to crumble. The thing is...it didn't. Aided by lots of Pettine zone Wilson actually performed in the top 1/3 of the league in QB rating allowed, yards per target allowed an completion percentage allowed. He was a hidden and unexpected factor in a pass defense that became the strength of an otherwise flawed team.
All the talk about Wilson brought me to take a look at his stats over time. My eyes were telling me that he just wasn't as bad as a lot of fans seemed to feel and I wanted some objective reference. This is what I found referencing the data at ProFootballFocus:
Wilson's rank against league corners by year shown above - lower numbers are better
Boldly marked on the graphic is the % of snaps taken in the slot, its an important fact. When examining Wilson's performance we can't escape just how much time he spent in the slot...and additionally I was surprised how little he spent there in 2010, proportionately. He became the slot defender in 2011 and simply didn't do well at a it. These are his overall coverage numbers including QB rating allowed, yards per target and completion percentage, but the placing of the marker is "rank". The numbers had to be equalized across varying data, so for instance in 2010 his rank is projected into where it would have measured in the top 75% of snaps if he had qualified. Here the lower the mark (closer to 1) the better. As much as fans were disappointed with Wilson in 2010, he actually showed skills that if projected would have made him 15th in QB rating allowed, 9th in yards per target and 6th in completion %. These numbers were actually kind of buried by all the negativity about him and his lack of fulfillment of his promise. He was a rookie and showing something, despite a few mis-plays.
In 2011 he was moved over to the slot more or less full time and he really didn't do well. He was (if projected) about 30th among league leaders in snaps in these 3 essential categories. Not absolutely horrible - there are 64 starting CB slots in the league, but really not promising.
But then his move to corner came last year, and he really flourished in a kind of under-the-radar way, assembling very solid defensive numbers while Cromartie took the deserved glory.
Wilson and the Slot
The most obvious takeaway from the graph above is that the move to heavy slot coverage was bad for Wilson. 2010 and 2012, when he played a fewer percentage of slot coverage snaps he showed better defensive production. It leaves one inclined to say that WIlson just isn't a guy who can cover the slot. Fair enough. But PFF also offers slot defense numbers on CBs so I plotted out the same categories and his rank against other slot defenders (projecting when I had to in 2010 and 2012) and was surprised by what came back in 2012:
Wilson's rank against league corners in the slot by year above
Surprisingly Wilson in 2012 when he found himself in the slot only 34% of the time did very well there. In fact he would have had the 4th best QB rating in the league (projected out) and the 9th best completion percentage in slot coverage. It shows how good of a season he had last year, he even turned a weakness into a strength, when not exposed to it all the time. In the graphic above you can also see that despite some good overall slot numbers in 2010 (a surprise to me) it was the yards per target that really got away from him, big plays.
What this seems to be saying is that Wilson just isn't a slot defender if you are going to ask him to do it all the time, he's a cornerback - and probably a corner best in zones like what Pettine was running. He has improved his slot play, but it probably doesn't bode well to put him there for heavy snaps. The bad news is that with Pettine gone and Milliner being lined up as the number 2...AND with Rex going high risk and pressure in his Defense there doesn't seem to be a pure place for him, which may be behind some of Rex's talk about some time for Wilson at safety. How to balance Wilson's skill set with the needs of the Defense will be a very interesting thing to watch, but what cannot be denied is that he has shown himself to be more skilled that many of us thought last year.
Forgive typos, written quickly.