The series of articles might present a negative light towards Zach Wilson, mainly because the hype on him is insane right now. One of the main purposes of this series is to point out that Zach Wilson is not a perfect prospect, and he has many concerning flaws. It’s not to say that he doesn’t have potential, and couldn’t be a star one day, but there are far too many concerns if you are the Jets. However, one thing that can’t be denied is that his arm is truly elite. In this article, we are going to look at the numerous examples of NFL caliber arm strength and break down the film.
The first one we are looking at is against Boise State on first down. Wilson has a tendency to make jump throws, which I think impacts his ability to drive the ball down the field. This is especially true when he rolls to the right at times, but he still generates exceptional velocity on those passes. The upside is that he’s very good at off-platform throws (as we saw at his pro-day) which should translate well into the NFL, because Wilson seems to generate a high amount of torque from his hips. This translates exceptionally well when Wilson rolls out to the left, because this is a weak spot for many right-handed QBs.
If we are talking about traditional sets and starting with a set base, a right-handed QB needs to plant his left foot towards the receiver, and then rotate his hips based on that leverage to create torque. If he plants his foot too wide, his hips open too much, leading to off-target throws (a main issue with Hackenberg). If he plants his foot too far inside, he will be throwing across his body, which also leads to off-target throws. In Wilson’s case, he has the exceptional ability to generate torque in the air, without losing much velocity or accuracy. If you watch closely on this play, Wilson is actually starting his throwing motion from the back foot, and his lead foot isn’t even touching the ground when he releases the ball.
This throw does not look great on the outset, it’s an out route that Wilson hits well after the receiver makes the cut and slightly pushes off the defender. If Wilson does this from the pocket, this play would not even be included. However, this is an exceptional play because of the way Wilson torques his hips to create velocity on the play. The sheer ability to make this type of throw with velocity and accuracy is extremely impressive. We can argue about the need for this type of throw because he has plenty of space to actually put his foot down and throw correctly here. However, if we are talking about projection this is extremely useful is a defensive end or linebacker chasing him, and he doesn’t have the time to make a planted throw. It’s not going to happen every time, but the ability to do so is rare.
This play against Boise highlights both good and bad about Wilson.
The good part about this play is just the throw, and when you look at college scouting tape, this is the type of throws that you are looking for. The hash marks are wider in the college game, so throwing to the field side from the far hash mark is a sign of good arm strength. You cannot lob the ball there all the time because it gives the defense a chance to drive on the pass, so it’s a fastball call in most cases. Wilson sees the free rusher and takes the quick throw across the field for the quick slant route. This isn’t a major gain by any means, but it’s the velocity and quick release that is impressive. He does this throw better than anyone in this class, bar none.
The bad part about this play really stems from something we have talked about extensively in this series. Wilson tends to favor the field side outside receiver far too often when he is on one side of the hashmark. He has a tendency to rely on these passes, which might be a problem, because he won’t have that easy advantage in the NFL. The other possible disadvantage is the defensive line formation, because the defensive end is spread out wide. They essentially get a free runner at the QB because the end is split out wide, and the tackles run a stunt to confuse the right tackle. Wilson’s tendency to float back in the pocket might cause a rise in spread out formations so defenses can attack at an angle up the field in the NFL. It is not a concern on this play, but it is a tendency that can be taken advantage of.
If you want to draw up a great college film on throwing the back shoulder pass, this should be one of the clips. This throw is about as perfect as you can get for throwing a back shoulder pass. The defender is even with the receiver, as Wilson releases this ball, and it lands perfectly. Part of the credit does need to go to the receiver as well, because he doesn’t slow down his stride until the ball is halfway down the field. Far too many times inexperienced receivers may slow down prematurely because they want to be lined up for the pass, but this receiver pushes down the field, then comes back for the last yard. As with the previous throw, the ability to throw from the far hash mark is a great testament to arm strength, and accuracy.
The downside of this play is two-fold. One, we have that pattern again of being on the far hash mark and targeting the field side outside receiver. The other downside on the play is that he floats back in the pocket again, instead of staying near the line of scrimmage. This changes the protection capabilities of the offensive line, and gives them added challenges. It can work if you have a great offensive line, such as the one Wilson has at BYU, or Mahomes in KC, but it’s going to be trouble with the Jets.
This throw reminds me a lot of the deep touchdown pass from Justin Fields to Chis Olave against Clemson, with a deep post route. This pass is not quite as far, but it’s still a great throw. The best thing about this pass is actually the post snap eye manipulation, because Wilson starts out looking off the safety. Once he confirms the safety has been held long enough, he looks for the deep post route and makes a great throw. Much like the Field’s throw, the ball hangs up a touch, allowing for the defender to get closer to the receiver. I praised the Fields throw, and I have the same reaction to this one as well, this is an absolute dime. The eye manipulation, the distance, and ball placement are all great here.
The negative aspect once again deals with far hash mark and field side outside receiver being the primary target. You can make an argument for the ball being slightly underthrown, but this far down the field, it is nitpicking.
This is just a great improvised throw, the kind that should remind people of Mahomes/Rodgers. Initially, it might seem like far hash mark, field side outside receiver again, but he is not the first read. The first read is deep curl route, but the Boise State defense played it well, so Wilson moves on from that read. He directs the receiver to turn outside and puts a very good throw to the sideline for a large gain.
At first, this looks like the pass didn’t make it quite far enough, but I think it’s on purpose. In a way, I see this almost as a front shoulder type back shoulder pass. I will explain a bit more in detail. If Wilson puts this ball on level with the receiver in the end zone, the defender has a chance to undercut the pass based on the angle of origination. The only real way for Wilson to complete this pass is if he can control it over the defender into the arms of the receiver. If Wilson throws the ball short and towards the sideline, the receiver has more area to track back to the ball, leaving no space for the defender to undercut the ball. I think the throw being up the field is likely by design.
There really is not anything negative with the play, BYU is up big at this point, late in the game so Wilson may have been more likely to take risks down the field. It is interesting to see that Wilson could probably stand in that pocket for a good 10 seconds before anyone could even get close to him.
I’m 95% sure, this play was scripted because it’s the first play on offense for them, and Wilson doesn’t even look anywhere else. There are positives and negatives to this play, however.
The positive on this play is the throw, which shows great accuracy down the field. At first it looks like the throw is a bit to the inside because the receiver has to work back towards it, but it’s the result of the defensive back pushing the receiver towards the sideline. When Wilson throws the ball, the receiver is running right on the numbers, but gets pushed further outside, which makes him reach inside to attempt the catch. The ball hits him right in the stomach, thus this should have been a catch. It’s hard to tell if the defender tipped it at the end from this angle, so I’m not 100% sure. However, the pure throw is great, shows great anticipation and accuracy.
This is one of those plays where the negatives outweigh the positives though. The first one is that Wilson is locked in on the go route from the start, especially when he has 3 easier avenues for sure fire gains on first down. He does not even go through his progressions, but rather locks in on the receiver. The only reservation here is if the play call just wants to establish the deep passing threat to start the game, and the rest of the routes on this play didn’t matter. As we noted several times, far side of the hash mark, Wilson locks in on the field side outside receiver once more.
At the point of release for Wilson, the defender is at least 2 yards ahead of the receiver, which should be a concern in terms of reading the play. The defender is in a very good position to defend this exact pass call, yet Wilson pulls the trigger anyway. Once again, this brings back the question of the competition, and if his aggressiveness stems from the fact that his receivers are just more talented than the defenders here. Usually on go routes with similar talent matchups, you look for the receiver to be even with the assumption that he will widen the gap as they run down the field. On this play, Wilson is assuming not only a widening gap, but negating the negative gap that exists at the point of decision.
The throw is great, and this should have been a catch (unless it was tipped at the last second). However, everything that led up to the point of decision for this throw is worrisome.
This isn’t going to be a big breakdown, mostly just an example of good touch and read. This essentially just works as a Sail concept, and Wilson is making the high low read on the out cutting routes. Once the tight end starts his route after a chip release, this is just waiting out the flat defender. If the flat defender floats back, check down to the tight end. If the flat defender drives on the tight end (as was the case here), throw it over the top. I just wanted to show an example of Wilson showing touch, combined with a good read, and accuracy. Too many times, when discussing good NFL throws, we look at fastball throws, hash mark throws, or go routes. It’s important to look at instances where Wilson made a good read, and then showed off an accurate arm that wasn’t just a fastball.
Please check back for Part 2.