Zach Wilson: Elite NFL Throws – Part 2

This is Part 2 of the article on Elite Throws from Zach Wilson.


This is just a beautiful play all around, and Wilson absolutely looks like a stud QB on the play.   The most impressive aspect of the play is the eye manipulation towards the middle field safety, until his receiver gets behind him.  The safety is in a precarious spot because there are two deep routes, and Wilson holds him until his primary route clears.   This form of manipulation is great to see in a QB at the college level because it’s not a passive read of the defense, but rather an active read where he’s changing the defense while the play develops.  Far too many times in simple offenses, you have a “If defender does X, do Y, if defender does Z, do W” reads where the play design functions as the active read.  In this case, Wilson elevates the play design with his eye manipulation.  

The throw is great, and once again showing off his excellent arm.  He leads it past the safety and to the inside, so the defender cannot undercut it.  You do have to give some props to the wide receiver for making this leaping catch as well.  


This is a 1st and 10 throw against Northern Alabama, and BYU is blowing them out at this point by 28.  This is a simple read, the offense sets up the look for a WR run or quick screen, as the field side receivers pretend to set up blocking down the field. 

The first part of this is going to be more talking about the play design, because it is set up to create communication issues.  Northern Alabama does a horrible job at switching here, when the receiver goes in motion, which is going to cause confusion for the slot defender.  The boundary side receiver starts off with a defensive back over him, and then goes in motion.  There should be instant switch because the motion comes in late, but the field side safety does not react until the boundary side safety points it out.  By the time he reacts, this play is dead as far as the defense is concerned.  The WR screen is wide open, but more importantly the slot defender is not sure of his assignment now.  Instead of attacking his receiver, he is looking at the QB to make sure the WR screen isn’t being thrown here.  This is a great play design, but it begets the question of the competition.  You can clearly see the delay in communication here, and how it opens up a wide-open pass for easy yards.  Wilson does tend to play hero ball at times, because he passes up easy yards here for the shot at the end zone, but I cannot blame him, given that they are absolutely blowing the doors off Northern Alabama. 

The positive on the play is the throw, the touch and ball placement.  I think one of the hardest aspects to learn as a QB is knowing the angle to which you can attack a defense.  If you see guys like Paxton Lynch struggle in the NFL, it is because they are used to sending in the fastball at every chance.  You have to learn that the ball might need to arrive over the defender, rather than through the defender.  A good testament to this would be fade throws, where the QB has to place the ball over the defender but get it down before the pylon.  Considering the far hash mark, this is a long fade route to the side of the end zone, and Wilson places this ball perfectly.  By the end of this play, the defender is in good position to defend every other type of pass here.  Notice the ball placement here, because it does not even matter if the defensive back has eyes on the back of his head, because there isn’t anything he can do at this point.  The ball is placed perfectly, and this is one of the best throws from Wilson, because it relies more on ball placement than anything else.  I do not think you could hand this ball off in a better place than this ball placement.  We can go back and forth about hero ball, or the fact that he bypassed an easy option, but the throw here is just special. 


This is a great throw, albeit not the reason this one needs to be highlighted, it is the pocket movement.  All throughout this series, I’ve harped on Wilson’s tendency to float back in the pocket, leading to concerns about pocket integrity.  I wanted to highlight this play, because it’s not all that often that he does step up in the pocket and make throws with defenders by him, or behind him.  In the NFL, Wilson needs to be comfortable with defenders behind him, where he can step up and make the throw, as he does here.  As much as I lament about him floating back in the pocket, he corrects the issue on this play, steps up in the pocket, and makes a great throw.  The pass might be a tad overthrown, as the receiver needs to stretch, and thereby lose his balance, to catch the ball.  However, since this is a 58-yard throw in the air, people will forgive Wilson here. 

There was a part of me that wanted to put this clip in the article questioning competition, because you can make an argument that every single route is open.  Who exactly did Northern Alabama cover on this one?  We can also talk about far harsh mark, targeting field side outside receiver again as well.  However, this is clearly a blowout at this point, so I can see why the team is basically just flexing now.  Although the point of this one was to highlight Wilson stepping up in the pocket more than anything else, hence why it is here.  


As you might be sensing a theme here at this point, the prime importance of the play here is not the throw, it’s the set up.  This is one of the rare examples of a game in 2020 where BYU is trailing in the game in the 3rd quarter. 

I extended the clip to show the end zone clip, because the most impressive part of this play is Wilson checking off the safety before pulling the trigger on this deep pass.  Watch the timing of this pump fake because it’s designed to get the slot defender to bite into thinking this is a slant route.  The secondary aspect of the pump fake is to get the safety to step in thinking this pass is going to be over the middle.  In this case, the second aspect does not work because the safety isn’t looking at Wilson, thus the QB needed to check the safety’s positioning before pulling the trigger.  This shows great awareness of his responsibilities while reading the defense.  

Once the safety is confirmed to be far away from the passing lane, Wilson makes a great throw to the receiver.  You can make an argument about the throw being slightly underthrown because the receiver had to slow down to catch it, but it is of minor importance.  The wide receiver is wide open in this case, so Wilson has some leeway to be careful to make sure of the completion. 


This throw is great as well, but the biggest reason this is here is just the clutch nature of this throw.  The situation is 3rd and 15, with BYU is up by 3 late in the 4th quarter.  This throw is basically a dagger shot and shows some of his mentality to be aggressive.   

Once again, we can notice far hash mark and the field side outside receiver being the target.  The throw is simply great, as Wilson holds the safety and then just connects on a perfect throw in the end zone.  This type of throw can be made by a good amount of QBs because it’s a one-on-one matchup with the defender having his back turned to the play.  However, it takes some extreme confidence to pull it off with a game possibly hanging in the balance.  In essence, I appreciate the mental aspect of this throw in regard to his mindset, more than the actual throw.   This one reminds me of a Baker Mayfield/Ryan Fitzpatrick type play where they are just going for that dagger. 


This breakdown is going to be a short one because I just wanted to highlight a common criticism of Wilson, which is that he does not throw with anticipation as much.  This ball is thrown before the receiver makes his break, showing good anticipation.  I believe the biggest issue with Wilson is not anticipation, but rather his ability to read defenses that are actually good.  On this play, the defensive back is giving up 10 yards on the play to the receiver, and yet somehow trying to maintain that 10-yard cushion down the field.  This is the type of play where there really is not a need to read the defense because they are giving up free yards.  

The other things to notice as usual, far hash mark, targeting the field side outside receiver.  He locks in on the receiver from the start, and the defender is trying to maintain a safe distance for Covid.  Overall, this play does not alleviate the main concerns with Wilson, but it’s in there to show that he can actually throw with anticipation.  You are not going to see too many throws with anticipation in college because it isn’t necessary, thus looking for situations where they do flash the ability is key.   Wilson can make throws with anticipation, it’s more of a worry if he can do it while defenses are closer to the defender. 


Unlike the main theme of this article, this is going to be a bit more negative, and it doesn’t have much to do with Wilson.  After the play action, Wilson spots a wide-open post route down the field and makes a perfect throw for what should be a touchdown (I believe they ruled it down at the 1 or 2 yard line).  The throw is great, to a wide-open receiver, and there isn’t much else you can say about it.  He leads him away from his primary defender, thus leaving no chance of a pass breakup. 

However, there are some issues with this play that I think should be addressed.  The first one as usual deals with far hash mark, targeting field side outside receiver.  This has been hammered on and on, because the defenses at this level just aren’t able to deal with QBs that have strong but accurate arms.  Notice the defensive back on this play because I think it gives insight to the issue.  He does not have safety help over the middle so he’s playing with extra cushion on this play.  He turns his hips to the inside, essentially meaning there is no way he is defending an out route.  If the receiver runs an out route, the defense can do absolutely nothing about it because the defensive back is completely out of position to make a play.   This is a major indication that defenses just are not used to seeing a QB make that field side outside throw, because they consistently leave it open. If you watch high end draft defensive backs, they are more likely to backpedal in this situation so both sides of the field are open to be defended.  Since the defensive back has his hips turned, this now causes a need to react faster at the stem of the receiver’s route.  Notice how the defender takes a step backwards before the receiver breaks inside, with about 5 yards of space, because the defender is caught in no man’s land.  He essentially gave up the in route he was positioned to defend here because he gave away his intentions too early.   While the throw is great, it’s the competition allowing for easy throws (impressive throws nonetheless) that should concern teams. 

The other aspect to check out here is that Wilson bypasses the easy WR screen for the deep throw down the field.  It is not a bad read, because the deep post is as open as you can expect on this play, but also plays into the level of competition.  The defense rushed 4 pass rushers, and effectively covered one receiver well on this play.  The WR screen and deep post is wide open, while 5 defenders run around aimlessly in the middle. 


The same positives and negatives that show up consistently come up here as well.  The positive is once again the trajectory of this throw, which is just excellent.  I believe it is ruled incomplete, but that’s inconsequential for our purposes.  Wilson takes a throw from the far hash mark, and places it perfectly over the shoulder on the field side about 45 yards down the field.  As much as I harp on the defense in these clips, the defensive back could not have played this much better.  He has inside leverage so any in cutting routes give him an advantage, and he’s a step behind which should discourage a back shoulder pass and still allows him to be within range on a long pass.  However, Wilson places this ball perfectly, especially with the trajectory.  This pass is far more impressive than the last pass, even if it might be a shorter distance because he throws the guy open.  You can argue that he had a step and maybe Wilson should have led him further up the field, but with 45 yards down the field, this should have been a major completion.  While I love the strong arm, my biggest checkbox for a QB’s arm is his ability to place a ball where only his guy has a shot at it.  The ability to see a defender’s position and make it useless because he can deliver it at an angle that puts it out of reach.  This is a prime example of that type of play, one of those “Oh wow, he made that throw” moments. 

The negative as usual, far hash mark, targeting the field side outside receiver, and floating back more into the pocket.  He’s making this throw longer than it needs to be because he moves so far back in the pocket, but he has the arm strength to make it up against these defenses.  However, I do not want to rain on this party too much, because this throw is just special. 


This one is a very interesting play, that goes all over the place. 

The main positive aspect here is Wilson moving up in the pocket, and then throwing on the run.  On this play watch the defender attacking the right tackle, because that is going to be a play that is repeated often in the NFL.  The defensive end charges further up the field and tries to bend around the corner as Wilson floats back a bit in the pocket.  This is the type of speed rush to the outside that Wilson is vulnerable to because he won’t have the BYU offensive line advantage against NFL caliber defenders.  Wilson does a good job of realizing the situation, and correctly moves up in the pocket.  He keeps his head up and down the field, and finds a deep crossing/post route for a large gain.  The throw can be made by many QBs, but demonstrating the ability to step up in the pocket and fire the ball down the field. 

The first one as usual, far hash mark, targets the field side outside receiver.  However, in this case the initial target was not the outside receiver, so it’s not quite as blatant.  Wilson does however eschew easier options with screens to both sides and opts for the down field throw. 

The bigger issue here is the defense, and this defense is one of the worst in all of the Wilson tapes.  The first issue is miscommunication with the late movement.  Once the receiver goes in motion, the defense needs to shift responsibilities to the other side.  Instead, three different players move to that side and at point or another are only guarding that receiver in motion.  If and when the receiver does go in motion, there should be a protocol as to which defender moves or switches responsibility, which rarely seems to exist.  In this case, the linebacker charges that route, while the safety needs to fall back into coverage.  Instead, two linebackers and the safety charge the route and get hung out to dry.  The second aspect is to look at the linebacker to the top of the screen, once the receiver goes in motion.  At this point, he seems to have outside contain on a run, and therefore also a screen responsibility towards the running back.  However, he just runs by the running back without regard, thus leaving the running back wide open for an easy screen.  I’m not even sure they account for the rushing possibility at the initial set on this play because there doesn’t seem to be anyone with contain responsibilities. 

The final issue is the defensive back that gets toasted on this play, because they make repeat appearances on the questionable competition article.  This exact issue shows up so many times on tape that I find it baffling that UTSA did not try a different approach.  The defensive back is running with his hips open to the field, which is not all that unusual because they want to be able to drive on in breaking routes.  The unusual aspect is that he’s running to the inside of the defender, which means an out breaking route is in his blind spot.  If a runner breaks to the outside, this defender is completely left in the dark.  Usually on these routes, the defender takes outside leverage thus the route is in front of them, so they can always see the receiver.  They have outside leverage, and hip position to drive on anything inside.  Instead, this defender is running with inside leverage, straining his neck backwards to look at the receiver, thus slowing himself down.  Once the receiver eats up the cushion, the defender has to abandon his positioning because the receiver is now in his blind spot.  Notice how the receiver is just running straight, yet the defender needs to completely turn around because he can no longer see him well.  The timing works out poorly, and he’s left in the dust for this crossing/post route.  This exact issue happens numerous times in this game.  This is another testament to the big issue with competition.  They are not used to playing QBs that can make the field side throw from the far hash mark.  They can get away with this if it’s a normal average armed QB because the throw is long enough that it allows time to recover.  Therefore I keep harping on the tendency to throw to the field side outside receiver so often from the hash, because most of these defenses just can’t handle it.  They are hedging their bets that 25% width of the field is off-limits because most QBs at that level can’t make them pay. 


The final play we’re going to look at in this article.  This is another anticipation throw from Wilson, as he reaches the decision point right before the receiver breaks his stride.  This play is highlighted because this is what arm strength gives you as an advantage, an easy play.  The defense for the most part played this perfectly, yet this is a downfield completed pass.  The single high safety means the defender has to guard against the go route in this situation, which makes this pass basically impossible to defend if the receivers are talented around you.  Watch the receiver here make a great cut on the curl route, and then come back for the ball.  With a receiver that can come back for a pass, and the arm strength of Wilson, this play is basically perfect.  The big takeaway form this is that arm strength down the field allows you for these types of passes because the defense just has to defend against the go route.  The only way this play would fail is if Revis is back there, or if the receiver makes his cut and stands there for the ball, allowing the defender to recover. 

The concerning parts of this play is once again, far hash mark to the field side outside receiver, plus how far back Wilson floats in the pocket. 

Overall, Wilson’s arm talent is the best in this class, and it’s not just fastballs.  He shows exceptional touch on the ball and his downfield accuracy is the best in the draft class.  Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, or Mac Jones can’t match his down the field accuracy combined with arm strength, and if we are judging by pure arm talent, he should be the first pick in the draft.  He makes all kinds of throws, and he can hit every part of the field.  The big issue arises from the fact that opposing defenses just aren’t prepared for this level of talent, at which point how much do you attribute success and confidence to the level of competition? 

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