Zach Wilson: Good Read – Bad Throw

We talked about some of the processing issues with Zach Wilson, so in this article, the focus is going to be on situations where he does make the right read, but a bad throw accompanies it.  I have my doubts about Wilson’s transition to the NFL and how he will adjust to the competition, but his arm is absolutely one of (if not the) best weapons in the draft.  However, that does not mean he’s immune to bad throws, so we’ll examine what went wrong in a few of these situations. 

1)

This is a 2nd and goal play against Northern Alabama, that goes as an incomplete pass.  BYU runs a series of motions to decipher the defense and catch them in a communication breakdown.  The series of shifts are designed to create confusion for the defense in adjusting or show a major weakness (at which point audible to run).  In this case, Wilson sees the linebacker (or safety, I cannot tell the position) is adjusting the play call, leaving him just enough time to make this quick pass. 

The whole concept of the play is a 3 step drop and throw, as every route is designed to be at stem by then.  Wilson sees the tight end open cutting to the outside, and all he needs to do is put this ball on the outside shoulder.  It is a good pre-snap read because it is based on the distance of the linebacker (or safety) to the receiver.  The best way to defend this pass would be if the defense could switch assignments, where the linebacker would take over the slot receiver, and the slot defender would move to the receiver in motion.  However, the timing of the movement does not allow for this form of communication, thus they catch them in a situation for the easy TD. 

There can’t be much said about the pass, he just yanks it to the inside.  It’s a terrible throw, and I’m not even sure I see the reason why.  He is a bit under pressure and Wilson does seem to struggle in those situations.  However, this is about as easy a throw that you can make for someone of his caliber.  This is a Hackenberg level throw, albeit my point is not to color his arm as questionable.  His arm is one of the best in the draft, but recent hype (especially after his pro day) seems to have elevated it into the Mahomes/Rodgers stratosphere, which is premature.  He still makes mistakes with his throws, and this article is more to serve as a reminder that he can be fallible. 

2)

This is a fairly simple play to break down, with Wilson throwing an incomplete pass against Houston.  The positive aspect of this throw is definitely the read, as Wilson rolls out to this right side and throws on the run.  Notice the positioning of the defensive back in this play, as he’s right beside (if not a step ahead) of the receiver, which makes it the ideal situation for a back shoulder pass.  Wilson reads the situation correctly, and attempts the back shoulder pass.  As far as recognizing the situation, Wilson does everything correctly here. 

The throw is just simply off, as Wilson sends it out of bounds.  It just looks like a bad throw, as the accuracy seems off here.  The more concerning parts of the play is Wilson floating backwards in the pocket once again, and throwing this pass without really planting his foot.  He has a tendency to throw jump passes while in motion, which might impact his velocity on such throws.  The line of scrimmage on this play is 10 yards ahead of where Wilson releases this pass, albeit it would have been a lot better if he could plant his foot and put more velocity behind the throw. 

3)

This is another simple play, where the breakdown is simple, as this is just a bad throw.  The read on this play is not overly complicated, which is surprising given that it is 3rd and 10, with BYU only up by 3 points late in the game. 

There is no progression to read here, this is a WR screen and Wilson quickly gets the pass out there.  There is an issue I have with the design of this play, which is the RPO built into it.  I do not understand the point of an RPO here because Wilson doesn’t read it at all.  Ideally, the RPO is designed to read a defensive player who is unblocked, and based on their reaction, choose your action.  In this case, the defensive end (or linebacker) is unblocked, thus would most likely be the focal point of the RPO.  However, the defensive end does not bite fully on the run, but rather is hesitant to fully commit.  Wilson reads him, and then throws the ball.  Nevertheless, the timing of this throw should make the RPO a moot point, because if Wilson catches this ball and releases it immediately, it does not matter what the defensive end is doing on this play.  The quick nature of this throw negates the defensive end, thus the RPO is redundant, and probably throws off the timing. 

The throw itself is just yanked and terrible.  There is not much else I can write about it.  I only put this play in because I wanted to delve into the offensive scheme a bit, where they seemed to run a lot of RPO/play action when some of them worked to their detriment. 

4)

The play is a good read, but it is a singular read, as Wilson hits the crossing route.  The play is essentially designed to only go to the shallow cross, because every single receiver down the field moves towards blocking.  The other receivers do not even look back for the ball down the field, and just engage in blocks.  Therefore, from the onset, there is only one read here, which is the shallow crossing route.  The reason why I put it in good reads is because Wilson does not stare at the shallow cross from the start, even though we know that is his only option.  He looks at the linebacker and to his right (as the shallow cross starts to his left) so the defense can move backwards.  This is a great job of manipulating the defense, knowing it will help his only read run free.  The whole idea was to set up enough free space for the receiver to turn up field, and gain some yards. 

Unfortunately, Wilson makes a bad throw to the wrong shoulder, which forces the receiver to reach behind him to make the catch.  This maneuver robs the receiver of momentum, and by the time he fully recovers, the defender is right on top of him.  Wilson needs to lead the receiver here and allow him to run freely, so there is a chance of turning the corner.

The positive aspect of this play is the mental acumen of Wilson on this play, which is hard to dissect on film, without knowing the called progressions.  It’s simple in this case, because there is only one progression, and it takes time to develop.  The fact that Wilson starts out looking at the linebackers to his right is exceptional, showing great ability to control the defense with his eyes.  The end result of this play is bad because of the throw, but the overall takeaway from it should be much more positive.  This display is just as good as seeing one of those long throws down the field go for a touchdown, because this can absolutely translate to the NFL. 

5)

This is essentially the exact same concept as last time, and pretty much the exact same process and result.  There is a good chance this should have been called a penalty because the receivers started blocking well prior to the pass being thrown. 

The good read aspect once again comes with the knowledge that he only has one read on the play, which is the shallow crossing route.  However, much like the last play, Wilson starts off looking away from the origin of the crossing route to clear as much space as possible for the receiver to turn the corner.  The linebacker that eventually switches to cover the crossing route isn’t a concern, because by nature of the route combination (pick route), the receiver will be open for the crossing route.  The whole idea is to clear out the right side by having defenders run further down the field, so the crossing route receiver has ample space to turn the corner.  Wilson executes that aspect perfectly, as he starts off gazing to the right side, before picking up on the crossing route.  

The downside of this play of course is that the throw is just too high.  This is an exceptional catch by the receiver with one hand, but a terrible throw.  Wilson played this about as perfect as you could up until the throwing point.  It turns a beautiful set up into a minimal gain. 

Once again, it should be reiterated that the eye manipulation on this play would absolutely transfer over to the NFL.  Overall this is a positive play because the eye manipulation is of greater importance than the occasional missed throw. 

Overall, the point of this article is to show that Wilson does possess good processing skills at times, albeit you probably wouldn’t get that impression from the series of articles at first.  It’s certainly not the best out there and needs improvement in certain areas to transition into the NFL.  This article was to flip the axis on my own scouting report for Wilson, showing that while I have my doubts about his processing power (and little doubt about his arm), there are instances where his arm fails him even when his processing capability is exceptional. 

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