In law school, there's a type of person we call a "gunner." There are usually two types of gunners, vocal and silent gunners. Vocal gunners are the people that raise their hand constantly; that want to show everyone in the class how smart they are by challenging the professor, proffering their own opinions, etc. Often times, it's the vocal gunners who do the worst in the class, with their constant hand-raising serving as compensation for their lacking grades. During has last few seasons, Bart Scott was a vocal gunner; loud, but often performed poorly. The silent gunner, on the other hand, generally doesn't raise his hand, but they're the ones that you need to watch out for. They're the ones that do the best in the class, and you never see them coming. They keep their head down, and they'll sneak up on you.
Kyle Wilson is a silent gunner.
We looked at Wilson midway through the season and it's time to follow up on him, now that the season is over. He was a first round draft pick in 2010, after a stellar career at Boise State as an outside cornerback. During training camp, which coincided with HBO's Hard Knocks, he spent his time working as an outside cornerback across from newly-signed Antonio Cromartie, due to the holdout of Darrelle Revis. When Revis returned, Wilson was relegated to the third cornerback position, the slot, as part of the nickel package.
If you don't know, being an outside cornerback is completely different than a slot cornerback. For one, you have the sideline to help you out by limiting the range of what area you have to cover. Although you're generally covering the "better" receivers on the outside, the slot cornerback generally has to deal with shiftier wide receivers that can go any direction which they choose. In certain ways, it's a harder position. Ignoring that, in case you disagree, let's agree that it's just a different position.
So with Revis back, Wilson was forced to play the slot position, which he hadn't done in all of college or training camp, in his first game against the Baltimore Ravens. Unsurprisingly, he struggled. No, that's putting it too nicely. He got savaged. And for most fans, that's all they remember of Wilson.
After that, he put his head down and he worked. He started training in the offseason with Revis in Arizona, and has steadily improved since that awful rookie game. Don't believe me? In his second season, ProFootballFocus ranked Wilson in 2011 as the #20 slot cornerback in the league. In 2012, he rotated between the slot and the outside with the injury to Revis, but still managed to be rated as the #28 best cover corner in the league (including both slot and outside). In 2013, with a return to the slot, Wilson was rated as the #1 slot cornerback in the entire National Football League by ProFootballFocus (looking at statistics, not their more debatable grading scheme).
This past year, Wilson gave up 24 receptions on 41 targets, sacrificing a quarterback rating of just 73.3. He allowed only 71 yards after the catch and gave up just one reception every 11.6 snaps, which is the best in the league for a slot cornerback. The slot is where teams go on crucial third downs, and it's where teams often build up yards after the catch through their shiftiest receivers. But, with the exception of his penalty meltdown against the Buffalo Bills, Wilson locked everyone he faced down this season.
Now, some of these numbers should be couched in context. Cromartie and Dee Milliner performed exceedingly poorly, and opposing quarterbacks simply were able to exploit so much else in the secondary that they weren't forced to challenge Wilson as much as they otherwise might. But even if you were to knock Wilson's numbers down, let's say to fifth best in the league assuming he should have been targeted more, that's still a damn good accomplishment. It's called doing your job, and Wilson does his job well.
Oh, and did I mention the team named him their 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his charitable donations and time spent giving back to the community? Not only is he good at his job, but he's a good person too.
Wilson snuck up on us all and when we weren't paying attention, he became a silent gunner. He's doing the best in the class, and we didn't even see he was there. It's time to start paying attention though, because Kyle Wilson is the real deal.