David Wilson’s Vision: Part IV – Exploring the Gray Area

Wrapping up David Wilson Week at the RSP Blog with some good plays that might have been better in more experienced hands. Photo by Tech Sports.

If you’ve missed David Wilson Week at the RSP blog you can catch up by reading parts I, II, and III. If you want to start here that’s fine, too. No one is going to write you a ticket for improper blog reading.

Ever watch a ball carrier in a football game finish a good run and still wonder if his choices were the best ones? If you watch the game with any regularity it has probably crossed your mind numerous times. The “what-if” game is a natural part of being an avid football fan.

I had these questions arise while studying Virginia Tech RB David Wilson’s Sugar Bowl performance against Michigan. I frequently saw good runs where Wilson deserved praise for the work he did, but his decisions still left me wondering if he left better choices on the field. Would a runner with Wilson’s physical skills and greater vision been able to do more with these attempts? I don’t know if I have a good answer.

These runs are “gray area,” plays. I watched these runs enough to believe there’s a chance Wilson could have made a different decision and generated a better outcome on the play, but I think its highly debatable. Still, the alternative for each run profiled below is obvious enough to generate a post and potentially some worthwhile discussion.

Grey Area Plays

The first of these plays was a six-yard gain on 2nd and 6 with 8:40 in the third quarter from a 21-personnel, weak side twin-receiver, I formation set versus a 4-3 with two safeties deep.

Wilson gets the first down on this successful play behind his lead FB and pulling LG, but could he have done more in the second level of this run? See below.

Wilson ran behind his FB as the LG kicked to left end in order to seal the edge CB, the TE sealed the DE, and the LT slid into the defensive backfield to take on the MLB. These blocks created a nice crease and as Wilson reached the line of scrimmage, the FB engaged the SLB and the LT and RT were in the second level. Wilson veered outside his FB and lowered his pads into the SS for a six-yard gain. Good pad level to finish during the attempt’s final three yards.

Wilson heading for the safety outside his FB’s block…
Wilson after he clears the safety.

While it was a well-blocked play I wasn’t sure why Wilson didn’t dip inside his FB and behind his LT to get a lane that would have forced the SS to move inside. Wilson would have earned the first down and maybe split the MLB and SS for a huge gain up the left flat, which he might have taken the distance.

Wilson might not have been able to take this play inside without dealing with the DT at the line of scrimmage, but there seeemed to be two paths that could have led to bigger gains if he could have made the cut. If I froze this a step earlier, you would see Wilson’s shoulders were downhill and capable of turning inside rather that this outside position he took.

The one reason I can debate that Wilson made the right call is that the SLB’s helmet was inside the FB and Wilson might have had to run through the potential wrap of the SLB to reach that crease. In theory, if the defender’s helmet is to a specific side of a blocker, you run away from it, which he did.

Another fascinating gray area play came on 1st and 10 with 6:45 in the third quarter from a 1×2 receiver, 11-personnel shotgun set for a gain of five yards. Wilson began the play flanked the QB to the single receiver, weak side and took the ball towards the strongside end behind a pulling RG.

The play design is a run to right end behind his pulling guard.

However, it became evident that the RG wasn’t fast enough to get to the corner and the penetration up the middle forced Wilson to accelerate past the RG.

Wilson tried to be patient, but when a penetrating defender forces your hand you don’t stick around….

Wilson accelerated past the RG and lowered his pads into the safety, running through the defender and then getting pushed out of bounds by the corner for five on the play. This was a punishing, physical run for a nice gain.

Like a bowling ball with legs, Wilson lowers the shoulder and runs thruogh the two defenders circled in green before getting a shot on the third UM defender downfield as he’s knocked out of bounds. Note No.60 lagging behind when ideally the play call was for him to lead the way.

However, I couldn’t help but wonder if the decision-making could have been better. If Wilson were a little more patient with his RG, he would have spotted the cutback behind the guard and he might have avoided confronting the three defenders that he had try to beat at the edge.

Am I imagining things or does Wilson have a cutback lane that we’d see Adrian Peterson or even backs a notch below like Marshawn Lynch or Ryan Mathews hit? See next photo as the pulling guard takes another step or two…

If he made this cutback, there’s a good chance he gains at least five yards because his WR and LT had position to seal a huge lane at the numbers on the backside. In fact I think if he hits this backside crease, he has a decent possibility to gain at least 10 yards and maybe more.

Is it probable he clears this lane as far as I draw the arrow? Not likely. Is it possible if he started the cutback where that blue circle is rather than take that extra step or two towards the sideline? Yes.

It’s a minor point and making this decision would have resulted in a higher-risk play, which is something Wilson had good reason to avoid after a run of -22 yards in the first quarter.

The final gray area play was a two-yard gain on the very next play, a 2nd and 5 run with 6:30 in the third quarter from a 22-personnel, I-formation set versus a 4-3 with five defenders on the line of scrimmage.

Wilson as the I-back in a 22 personnel set in the third quarter.

Wilson got a double-team from the C-RG and the RG peels off to take on the LB with another good block. I think Wilson saw this RG’s block but he didn’t see the helmet of the DT coming inside the C, because when he took this hole and was hit by the DT at the line of scrimmage and stopped for a two-yard gain.

Wilson gains two yards inside the RG and behind the C peeling off the double-team to the LB. That green circle is the helmet of the DT veering outside the C’s shoulder, which becomes more visible within Wilson’s next step or two. This should have tipped him off to consider following the FB heading to the C’s inside shoulder.

If he dips behind the C, his LG and FB and sealed the outside of that lane for just as much if not more. In fact, there’s two other options that look better than the lane Wilson took.

It’s easy to second guess when you’re a 41 year-old guy behind a computer screen rather than running into guys that weigh 280-300 pounds, but if I had Wilson’s physical gifts and better vision, the blue arrows would have been my choices.

This might be the one play where I’d say he made the wrong decision and had more viable alternatives.

Overall Impressions of Wilson: Wilson’s great acceleration and willingness to bang into players without a lot of patience is reminiscent of Darren McFadden during the Raiders RB’s college career. Wilson has better cutting ability than McFadden, but like McFadden, CJ Spiller, LeSean McCoy, and Jamaal Charles, Wilson needs to learn to become a better decision maker at the line of scrimmage. He tries to bounce runs to the corner too often and he’ll even attempt to reverse his field once his initial bounce doesn’t work.

Accepting a short gain rather than a big loss is something Wilson has a hard time doing at this stage of his career. Based on the recent success of the players listed above, Wilson has the same kind, if not specific style, of athleticism to develop into a star at the position. His RSP score is lower than it could potentially be due to the 14 points of vision fundamentals he has yet to master.

He’s also not consistent with using his left arm when he carries the football to the left side of the field but he did it enough times that I’m giving him credit (all but once in this game). His footwork-punch coordination needs to be refined. He often delivers a punch when his feet aren’t in good position against the defender he’s tring to block and this can get him into trouble with better edge rushers. However, the potential to develop into a good pass protector is there.

Wilson’s quickness, speed, balance, and stop-start agility is among the best in the country and it makes him a special athlete/runner in the open field. Get him in space and he’s a nightmare to bring down. When he’s disciplined about what he’s doing conceptually, he has the pad level, acceleration, and technique to be productive as a between the tackles, chain-moving runner. Physically he might have as much upside as any back in this draft and he’s the best back to come out of Va. Tech from this perspective since Kevin Jones. He catches the ball well with his hands and he has potential to develop into a good pass protector because he generally diagnoses the blitzes that he Va Tech faces and his initial footwork before contact is good.

Wilson is a “strong,” 205 pounds and I think he can probably add another 10 pounds to his frame as he matures.  Talent-wise I don’t know if there’s a better runner in this draft other than Trent Richardson and Wilson probably has better speed and lateral agility. What he has to learn makes him more of a boom-bust pick, but I believe based on past history of backs like the ones I mention with my criticism of his game that Wilson will make the transition to a smarter runner that the NFL requires.

For more analysis like this at every skill position, purchase the Rookie Scouting Portfolio.  Pre-order the 2012 RSP and buy past RSPs (2006-2011) here.


12 responses to “David Wilson’s Vision: Part IV – Exploring the Gray Area”

  1. Nice work as always. I completely agree on Wilson. He has elite physical skills but lacks the feel and vision of the running lane. In space he’s dynamite. Space is hard to come by at NFL level.

    • Thanks. I actually think Wilson has enough vision and feel to transition in the next 2-3 seasons, but it might take some work. It’s just not as refined a skill for him as it needs to be.

  2. Thanks Mike. Glad you enjoyed them. I’ll be looking at a number of players-techniques in the coming weeks as I prepare to publish the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio on April 1.

  3. […] Good Plays, but Alternatives Available Share this:TwitterEmailLinkedInStumbleUponRedditFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in NFL Players, Pro Prospects, The RSP and tagged 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, 2012 RSP, David Wilsoin NFL Draft, David Wilson, David Wilson scouting report, Fifth Down Blog, Matt Waldman, New York Times, NFL draft, Rookie Scouting Portfolio by Matt Waldman. Bookmark the permalink. […]

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