Zach Wilson: Improvisation

When looking at prospects, a good measure of abilities is focusing in on situations where they are under pressure, and they improvise.  Today, we are going to look at some of the good characteristics from Wilson in terms of improvising on the field. 

Improvisation in general is not all equal, because the risk and results dictate the judgement.  Geno Smith trying to exchange the ball behind his back, only to fumble would be on the bad side of improvisation.  Brett Farve shoving the ball with his left hand to get a completion would be on the good side.  It’s important to see the risk involved with each case, and the final outcome to show that it’s good improvisation, rather than recklessness. 


On the outset, this is a good example of Wilson’s weakness within the pocket.  Once again, Wilson is floating backwards in the pocket, which creates pressure out of thin air.  He floats back about 10 yards, and at his apex, is about 14 yards away from the line of scrimmage.  Notice the RT on this play, and the edge defender.  If Wilson stays in the pocket, he’s perfectly protected, and the right tackle could wall off the defender.  Wilson floats back in the pocket, thus the defender can just push up the field, leading right to Wilson.  This is a situation where Wilson’s tendency to float created pressure from a 3-man rush, when pretty much all of his options are covered down the field. 

I added this play in improvisation because, once we remove the reason for the pressure, this is a wonderful form of improvisation.  Forget everything that happened up to the point of him rolling out, and just focus on the point of Wilson escaping the pocket.  He has a crossing route coming across the field, but there is a defender trailing, with the risk of him jumping the pass.  In terms of throws, it would be a risky proposition.  There is a running back outlet that turns into a wheel route, that is very well covered, even after the running back breaks off the route.  Then there is a deep out route, where the receiver turns up the field into a go route once the play broke down, and that is the one we’re going to look at. 

When Zach Wilson is out of the pocket, he may or may not fully see that the first two options we mentioned, are not open.  However, he does notice the receiver now running the go route down the sideline, with a defender one step behind him, and the safety is too far away, thus he can probably assume this is man coverage.  He throws a magnificent back shoulder pass that is placed perfectly, allowing for his receiver to make a play on the ball.  This play could not have been defended any better by the CB, yet Wilson throws his receiver open.  This is the type of arm talent that should excite anyone picking Wilson because that is not a throw many QBs can make. 


At this point, you should all be noticing the first problem with this play, and Wilson floating backwards.  The line of scrimmage is at the 30-yard line, and Wilson floats back a good 10 yards, before reaching an apex of 14 yards, prior to scrambling.  Floating backwards to avoid pressure can work at BYU because he had one of the best offensive lines in college.  In this case, he did not create the pressure by floating backwards, so there is some positive. 

The play breaks down because the primary receiver stumbles.  It is somewhat hard to see in this angle, but Wilson actually starts out by looking at the linebacker/safety combination in the middle, because he wants to hold them.   The idea being that the boundary side outside receiver would be the target as soon as he breaks in.  The timing of the play is thrown off when the receiver stumbles (or gets pushed by the defender) because the crossing route is bringing the safety into the passing lane.  The whole idea was to have the initial read occur before the middle linebacker crossed into the passing lane.  Therefore, while this play looks to have indecisiveness from Wilson, it is a great post snap read from him to not throw the pass to the initial read.

The improvisation comes from when Wilson looks to escape the pocket and finding open space.  Once he has space to see down the field, he sees his receiver split defenders, and throws a nice touch pass.  The risk on this throw was fairly low because it split between the defenders.  The first defender (further up the field and towards the sideline) is negated because the ball is thrown behind him, thus he would have to spin 180 degrees to make a play on the ball away from him.  The second defender is trailing the receiver, and this pass is leading the receiver away from him, thus that defender does not have a chance at this ball.  This is a very good pass under the circumstances, as he kept his eyes down the field while scrambling.   This is the type of mobility that Wilson thrives in, which is to buy enough time to make plays down the field. 


This one is not a bad snap, it hits Wilson right in the hands, yet he drops it.  However, he recovers in time to make a very good read and throw down the field.  One thing Wilson does exceptionally well is throw on the run, because he seems to generate a large amount of torque without planting his feet.  In fact, he loves to do this jump throw when running to his right, rather than planting his foot. 

Wilson keeps his eyes down the field on this play, and does take a risky cross body throw.  However, some of the risk was negated by the fact that the only defender that could have possibly made a play on the ball was moving in the wrong direction.  It was a clear path to the receiver, so while the throw in general was risky, it is a good choice here. 

The one thing that I do not understand, is the middle field safety and the angle he takes at the end of this play.  As Wilson is rolling out, the safety is converging on the receiver that eventually catches this pass.  However, as Wilson starts his throwing motion, the safety adjusts his angle to move up the field, allowing the receiver ample time to catch the ball.  Why did the safety adjust?  His lone target is right in front of him, so why move away from him?  He is too far to be relevant if the pass is going towards the receiver on the sideline.  This is part of the issue when evaluating Wilson because there is a distinct lack of quality for some of these defenses.  I have another article that highlights some of these issues, but there are small things that make you wonder how much the competition played a part in the gaudy stats. 


Yes, I extended the gif so you can watch the hurdle.  There are a few things to note on this play, the primary being Wilson escaping the pocket to his left and making a good read.  The play is blown up by the defensive tackle, who gets by the guard and gets in Wilson’s face before the play fully develops. 

Wilson does a great job of escaping the pressure by moving to his left, and finding some open space.  Once again, this is the type of mobility that Wilson displays on tape, in which he can scramble to open space if needed, under pressure.  He is not going to juke defenders out of their shoes, but he can buy some extra time, which is crucial in today’s NFL.  I know it sounds negative as it is constantly compared negatively to the athleticism of a Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray, but I do think it’s positive that he possesses at least some semblance of mobility.  The ability to avoid the pass rush at times does have a lot of value in the NFL, so it needs to be pointed out as a positive trait.  It is not a weapon like the other guys, but it can be helpful in the right situation. 

Wilson makes a simple throw to the receiver, who makes the catch and runs down the field.  It needs to be pointed out that Wilson’s initial read at the far hash mark is once again, field side outside receiver.  He does not get through the reads, because of the pressure, but it’s definitely a pattern.  On this play, the tight end (and eventual receiver) and running back both perform chip releases, which seems to be a staple of the BYU offense, a form of delayed release.  In this case, the delayed release confuses the middle linebacker, who tries to go towards the QB instead of chasing down the tight end. 

Now, can someone explain what the field side safety is doing on this play?  There is an out and up route on the sideline, and a post route in the middle, and he’s running away from both of them.  What exactly is this guy defending as the safety?  He has downfield responsibilities, but he cannot defend either of those receivers if Wilson had the chance to throw to them.  In the end, he gets hurdled on the play as well to rub salt in the wound. 

Overall, Wilson does a good job at improvising when things break down, albeit part of those breakdowns are caused by him.  He’s mobile enough to scramble away from defensive ends, and find some open space to operate.  He shows good ability to keep his eyes down the field when scrambling and seems to have an innate ability to make jump throws while running to his right side.  He’s not going to set the world on fire with his speed, but he has enough mobility to fit in with the current generation of NFL QBs. 

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