Zach Wilson: Why This Decision?

We are further diving into concerns about Zach Wilson, and today the focus is upon a few baffling decisions.  I wanted to highlight a couple of the issues that do pop up on film, and paint a larger picture of the consistent problems in terms of pocket presence and decision making.  This is just a part of the scouting report, as we’ll dive in deeper into most aspects of his game, but once again, I’m not a fan of picking Wilson for the Jets at pick 2.   

1)

This is a first down play against Boise State, and Wilson executes a roll out to his right, and throws this ball out of bounds.  One of the underlying issues with Wilson on tape is that he focuses on the outside receiver to the field side, especially if the defense is not playing press coverage.  You see this often with him, and once again, he turns to field side.  These defenses are not used to playing a QB that can make those field side outside throws, thus Wilson looks to exploit them often.  There should be some worry about how this translates to the NFL, because the defensive backs can react much faster on these passes. 

The baffling aspect of this play is the timing of this throw.  Why throw it?  He has an absolutely pristine pocket.  He might even have some room to run.   If Wilson waits a tad longer, the angle to the crossing route becomes open, yet Wilson throws this away.  I didn’t include this play in the stare down article, but this is another example of Wilson staring down his receiver.  He does a good job at trying to hold the safety at the start of the play (His first look is towards the middle of the field), but once he sees bracket coverage, he needs to move onto his next progression.  The timing of this throw doesn’t compute, he could have held onto the ball for the crossing route to be open, or tried to use his mobility. 

At the end of this series, I’ll present my scouting report but this play does highlight one of my concerns in that Wilson mobility is more for scrambling than running.  Given the opportunity, he can run with an open field, but he’s not going to create much as a runner if a play breaks down. 

2)

You can legitimately make an argument that every single one of his receivers were open on this play, yet it ends up in a sack.  The first issue with this play is Wilson’s pocket stretching because he’s essentially 9 yards away from the line of scrimmage when he reaches the top of his drop back.  This issue presents a problem for offensive tackles, because speed rushers can go further up the field to get a better angle towards the QB.  Wilson has a tendency to float backwards in the pocket with his drops, which would need to be corrected. 

It’s not clear if this is a stare down because Wilson is looking to his left, which has a scissors release, thus it’s not clear which receiver he might be locked on.  However, the out route is wide open yet he doesn’t pull the trigger, thus it’s probably safe to assume he’s looking at essentially the seam route from the start.  Wilson decides not to pass, even though the receiver does have inside position, so there is an opening for the QB to lead him towards the end zone.  Otherwise on this play, Wilson has the tight end and running back open for easy checkdowns, the aforementioned out route wide open, a slight opening on the seam route, and an initial opening for the outside route to his right (it gets bracketed at the end), yet this ends up being a sack.  In this instance, Wilson doesn’t display quick processing speeds, but rather is indecisive with the target, and eventually gets chased down for a sack.  Even the All-22 camera guy thought he was going to throw the ball. 

This is unrelated to the issues on this play, but this chip block release by the tight end and running back should become more popular.  BYU called this play quite often, and it certainly was effective.  Essentially the offense is based off power run formations, and they use a full back regularly.  The full back (or tight end in this case) will block up the middle, with the running back following them, as per most power inside schemes.  The wrinkle that is added with the RPO deals with the QB pulling the ball, and checking his receiving options.  While the QB makes the initial read, both the full back (or tight end) and running back act as extra blockers up the middle, theoretically creating 7 blockers.  Once enough time has passed for the initial read, they release in opposite directions, which create issues for linebackers because they are out of position for defending the passing angle.  Just on this particular play, notice the linebacker to the right side of the offensive formation, because he has outside contain on a running play here.  When it looks like there might be a run, he moves towards the line of scrimmage.  The running back cuts back inside, and the linebacker turns his hips towards the running back.  Once the running back isn’t blocking anymore, and cuts to the outside, that linebacker is facing the wrong way, and out of position now to defend an outlet pass.  From what I’ve read, BYU runs an offense that thrives on power spread, and this is a great example of how they use power running techniques to open up easy passing lanes.  The OC was hired at Baylor recently, so it’ll be interesting to see if their offense incorporates these aspects. 

3)

This is a first down play against Houston, and was in consideration to be added to the Stare Down article as well.  The first issue to be pointed again is how he floats in the back in the pocketing, reaching a depth of 9 yards.  Aside from elongating any type of pass with unnecessary yardage, it’s an issue for blocking schemes.  On this play, watch the left tackle and the defensive end.  The left tackle opens up more up the field because Wilson tends to float back, which leaves him wide open for a cutback to the inside.  The defensive end takes advantage with the cutback, and eventually chases down Wilson for a sack.  Hypothetically, if Wilson maintained pocket integrity more often, the left tackle wouldn’t have to move up the field quite as much, and the QB can be protected within the pocket.  This is an issue that would need to be corrected because NFL defensive ends will rush up the field with better efficiency, causing major problems. 

On this play, Wilson stares down the easy out route to his tight end, and doesn’t make the pass.  He might have been tempted by the seam route of the running back, which is going to be wide open with a bit more time.  However, he has to pull the trigger here because the play call and his initial read both are correct in getting the out route open, but he doesn’t make the pass.  This habit has its ups and downs, but Wilson tends to be a gunslinger at times, refusing the easy yardage.  He has a tendency to push it down the field, but it’s not going to translate nearly as well, because those throws tend to be riskier. 

Finally, once again, Wilson can scramble when there is open field ahead of him, or even when it’s a called running play.  However, he’s not very adept at creating running lanes on his own and getting away from the clutches of the first defender.  The NFL seems to be progressing more and more towards QB mobility, and Wilson isn’t a Josh Rosen statue in the pocket.  He fits more into the Sam Darnold school of mobility, which is useful in emergencies, but can’t be utilized as a weapon. 

4)

As usual, we have a few things to discuss on the play, which is a first and goal play.  The first issue is once again, Wilson bailing out of a perfectly fine pocket, thus limiting his progressions.  We already talked about his penchant for drifting backwards, and at the height of his drop back, he’s about 9 yards away from the line of scrimmage.  He would be in a much better position to throw if he drifted towards the field side, rather than spinning around and throwing off-balance.  I don’t quite understand the line of thinking here for the path of this rollout, especially given the WR route.  It would make sense if this was a play action to the QB’s right side, but it seems like a predetermined roll out.  If he stays in the pocket, he’d be absolutely protected, while keeping all of the passing options open

The bigger issue on the play is that, once again, Wilson locks in on the field side outside receiver from the other hash.  The moment Wilson takes the roundabout path to this rollout, he’s limited himself to that outside receiver being the only viable option, aside from running down the field himself.  He takes advantage of this quite often in college, which speaks to his confidence over the mediocre defenses that he faced this year. 

The throw is terrible, and mostly caused by being off-balance.  However, I do like the anticipation of this pass, as you can see Wilson release the ball before his receiver makes a break.  This is an aspect that is hard to scout, because throwing with anticipation requires confidence in oneself, trust in your receivers, and most of all a superiority complex over your opponents.  Essentially you are saying “I’m going to throw it to this vacated area right here, and I’m confident only my guy can go get it, because we’re just that much better than you”.  The fashion in which you arrive at that trio of confidence can be vastly different.  The great unknown here is, does Wilson keep this level of confidence in the NFL?  As Jets fans, you’ve seen first hand the lack of confidence from someone like Darnold, who had a good amount of moxie in college to make anticipatory throws.  Nowadays in the NFL, without confidence, Darnold seems reluctant to throw it with anticipation, rather waiting for confirmation.  The sheer lack of competition that Wilson faced this year, makes me worried about this confidence translating. 

5)

This is really not an RPO, essentially a read option because all of the receivers are blocking down the field.  The concept behind an RPO or read option is about matching up numbers, which normally favors the defense.  An RPO (or read option) in spread works by leaving one player completely unblocked (usually a defensive end) and then using the read option as the key deciding factor.  If the defender goes too far towards the running back, then the QB keeps the ball.  If the defender stays with the QB, then the RB keeps the ball, but that edge defender is basically out of the play now.  Therefore, without wasting a valuable offensive blocker, you have taken out a defender, thus you can match numbers.  Side note, if you go on YouTube, there are a bunch of videos from Urban Meyer talking about the spread RPO and the basics.  

In this case, all we are watching is the defensive end (or linebacker) lined up to Wilson’s right side.  He doesn’t get blocked, so now we are fully in the read option area.  The defensive player stays right there with Wilson, yet the QB keeps the ball, and tries to run to the edge.  The defender recovers and essentially chases down Wilson by the time he gets to the edge.  I don’t understand the point of this read aspect of the read option, because it’s clearly a case where the RB needs to keep the ball.

This play was added to this article because there are plays where the play action/RPO aspect seems off with Wilson and BYU.  You’ll see some bad plays actions which include turning to the wrong side or RPOs where there aren’t any real reads.  This aspect is hard to determine because an RPO might act as a possible play action from the shotgun, but it is concerning at times to see the miscues.  This play was a good microcosm of the play being called within the structure of the offense, but Wilson freelancing a bit to their detriment. 

Overall, the intention of highlighting these plays is to focus on some of the more baffling tendencies that Zach Wilson displays on tape.  He has a lot of good qualities (especially the arm), but the level of competition and processing issues are definitely concerning.  There are too many red flags that show on film for Wilson be locked in at the #2 pick for the Jets.    

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