Zach Wilson: Scouting Report Summary

Now that you read through all of those game film breakdowns, let’s get down to the scouting report.  Once again, just reminding folks, this is my opinion, and there is no guarantee that I’m right.  Also, when mentioning the Jets offense, it is based on the presumption it will be run similar to the Shanahan offense.

Positive Traits:

Eye Manipulation:  Once Wilson decides on a route (we will get to that part later), he shows numerous examples of eye manipulation is regards to the defenders in the vicinity.  You will see plenty of examples of him holding the safety or linebackers to make sure they don’t interfere with his intended passing lane.  This ability shows up in both 2019 and 2020 games, and in terms of his mental processing capabilities, would be his biggest asset. 

The Jets offense would fit in really well because eye manipulation causes confusion for down field defenders, and a good part of the offense relies on misdirection or disguised diversity.  The offense tends to run vastly different plays from the same offensive formation (if we go more towards the McVay offense) or misdirection to move defenders.  Wilson’s ability to manipulate defenses with his eyes, his ability to understand that X defender is key to a route fits in extremely well because it adds another layer of deception. 

Although I do want to add, it’s really helmet manipulation, a safety 20 yards down the field isn’t really looking at the QB’s eyes.  However, helmet manipulation seems nefarious, so let’s stick with eye manipulation as it conveys the message better. 

Arm Strength:  Wilson’s pure arm talent is probably the best in this class because he has relatively easy velocity without needing a full windup.  It might be easier to think of it as a third basemen in baseball, Wilson can make the throw across the diamond while being off-balance.  Other QBs may need to correct their stance to make the throw across the diamond with velocity.  This is helpful on short drop sets where Wilson needs to throw a fade or slant without the time to set up.  However, I do want to add, this is not Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes level strength, they are a notch better. 

While watching the college tape, you will see a ton of field side outside throws, which is basically from one end of the hash mark to a target on the other far side of the field (in terms of width).  This is usually seen as a good measure of arm strength because that pass is dangerous if your arm is weak, since defenders can undercut that pass.  Wilson shows good ability to make those quick outside throws, that will catch defenders off-guard.  However, the hash marks in the NFL are not nearly as wide, so don’t expect to see those type of throws consistently working because there isn’t as much space.  In college, most defenses play a bit further back because most college QBs don’t have arm strength like Wilson. 

In terms of the Jets offense, the arm strength fits in two different methods.  One, quick passing arm strength means the defense has to play a step closer to the line of scrimmage, which is advantageous for setting up longer passes, especially go routes.  It depends heavily on route running, but for receivers, one of their goals is to have the defender commit their hips one way or another as quickly as possible, and then play off that.  The closer they are to the receiver, the quicker they have to reach that point.  You will see this often with guys like Robert Woods or Aamari Cooper where they get bigger cushions at the line of scrimmage because they are so adept at manipulating hips once they get close to the defender.  In this case, Wilson’s quick arm strength allows the receivers to reach that point slightly earlier if teams respect arm strength.  If they don’t, Wilson has the arm to hit quick passes until they change their game.  

The second aspect of arm strength deals with the misdirection we already talked, because the system is designed to make you think the offense is doing X again, when Y is being employed.  Arm strength is key in this aspect because you need someone that can make a laser throw when the defense is confused.  This isn’t like the defense sees something and completely forgets their assignment, it’s momentary confusion that will be corrected quickly, at which point you need a QB that has arm strength to take advantage. 

Hypothetically, think of a linebacker that bites on play action, with a back side jet sweep.  He takes one step in for the play action, and one step in either direction for the jet sweep.  By design, that defender is now two steps away from his ideal positioning for a passing play, so it’s not a large window that can’t be erased.  Having a strong arm helps you have more wiggle room because you have the ability to take advantage before the defender can recover. 

Theoretically, this is true for every single offense.  Having a strong arm is obviously better than a weak arm, and would benefit every single offense.  However, Shanahan’s system relies more on setting up the pass with the outside zone run (and rushing in general, even inside zone), and that works better if you have a strong arm (with other factors).   The additional arm strength when the defense is deciphering the play adds another element to the game. 

The arm strength comes through in both years, although it does look like his arm got better in 2020 in terms of sheer strength. 

Ball Placement:  Wilson is probably the best in class in terms of ball placement as well, especially in contested situations.  Wilson has a knack for placing the ball exactly where his receiver can make a play on it, while putting it out of the reach of a defender.  

There are numerous examples where the play was well covered, but Wilson placed the ball so perfectly that the defender just didn’t have a chance to do anything.  Part of the credit should go to the receivers, but Wilson’s ball placement is elite for this class.  I highlighted a few of them where he makes NFL style throws with excellent ball placement in some of the previous articles. 

While ball placement is universally a positive trait across any system, I think it’ll fit well with Corey Davis and Denzel Mims because they have the size to box out defenders, even if they are covered.  If Wilson can consistently throw balls allowing his receivers to make those catches, it fits the personnel. 

Scrambling Ability: Wilson isn’t going to set the world on fire with his feet, but he does have the ability to scramble given space.  He fits into the Sam Darnold mode of scrambling where it’s probably not a good idea to call QB rushes specifically, but if the defense allows for some free space, he’ll chew up more yards than you expect. 

This is a very important skill in the modern NFL (ideally you would want an elite runner if you could) because offenses are leaning more and more towards college football’s affinity to incorporate a running QB as a weapon.  We’ve seen Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray come into the league recently, and succeed, because defenses can’t ignore their ability to run.  If a QB has great arm skill, then the requirement for scrambling ability decreases while still maintaining effectiveness.  It’s probably why Josh Allen will most likely be a perennial MVP candidate as long as he’s healthy because he has running ability (above scrambling) while having arm talent in spades. 

Wilson’s ability actually falls short of Allen or Jackson, but the ideal hope is to have Mahomes level scrambling ability.  The idea that your arm is good enough to keep defenses in check, that you can buy time by scrambling or picking up easy first downs.  

In terms of fit, it’s once again universal. 

Off-Platform Throwing Ability: Wilson has the ability to make off-platform throws that is once again, best in this class.  He seems to generate an insane amount of torque from his hips, as I’ve seen him throw fastballs without even planting his lead foot.  He’s essentially throwing fastballs at times on jump throws because his hip rotation generates so much torque. 

There’s this particular throw where Wilson has the ability to roll to his left, then make a throw without planting his foot, to an out route which is absolutely amazing in ability.  I know he did something similar at his pro-day, where he rolled to his left and then threw an off-balance deep pass, although that’s more to demonstrate his ability than in-game performance. 

This is the particular skill that I believe is generating the Mahomes/Rodgers comparisons because those two do an excellent job with off-platform throws.  It’s a rare talent because most people generate torque by rotating your hips with your lead foot planted.  Think of a baseball pitcher and how they land their lead foot, and then the hips rotate on that foot.  In Wilson’s case (and Mahomes), the lead foot isn’t necessary to create enough torque to make throws down the field.  In terms of baseball, think of the pitcher hopping off the mound as he throws, rather than planting his foot.  It doesn’t mean that he’s right to use it consistently, but the availability of that tool is great. 

In terms of fit, again pretty much universal.  The one thing it would add to the offense is the ability to roll out to either side (rather than just a QB’s strong side) without compromising much in terms of route combinations. 

Negatives:

Off-Platform Throwing Tendency:  I know this goes against everything I wrote in the last paragraph, but Wilson doesn’t use his abilities correctly consistently.  On tape, there’s far too many examples of him throwing off balance when he has enough space to plant his lead foot.  You’ll see unnecessary jump throws, which will work against his 2020 competition, but doesn’t translate over to the NFL. 

The tool in the toolbox is great, but Wilson struggles with off-balance throws when he’s under pressure, which is the exact situation for which off-balance throws are the most beneficial.  It’s like being a great driver, but not on a winding road.  Due to his usage preferences, I think his off-platform throwing ability gets overrated.  

Progression Reads:  This is probably the biggest worry in terms of Wilson’s transition to the NFL because he doesn’t seem to do all that well with progression reads.  He has a tendency to lock in on receivers or pre-determine targets without going through his progressions. 

Numerous times you’ll see Wilson locked in on the longest developing route, ignoring first reads and easy progressions because he has his mind made up at the line of scrimmage.  Far too often, Wilson is pre-occupied with eye manipulation (again a great trait in itself) to read progressions, which place him in tough spots because if his desired route isn’t open, it’s already too late for the other routes.  I don’t think he goes through progressions as much, because there are examples of him staring in the vicinity of open receivers, only to choose a more difficult (and sometimes less beneficial) target. 

This also becomes a major issue with backside defenders, because Wilson’s interceptions or intercept able passes seem to have an issue with backside defenders. 

Hero-Ball: This one pertains more towards the 2020 film than 2019, but Wilson has a tendency to play hero ball, where he takes chances down the field when the receiver is covered at the point of decision.  The aggressiveness is a great trait, but it makes you wonder the source of this aggression.  In 2019, he played more within the system, which didn’t yield the best results.  In 2020, he played outside the system more, and got great results, but was it because the competition wasn’t good?  Did he take those 50/50 shots because the talent disparity made them 90/10 shots? 

The situation is hard to decipher because the loss of confidence can be devastating to a QB, as the Jets have witnessed for years now.  Will Wilson maintain this level of confidence in the NFL when his supporting cast would be lucky to match up even with the defense?  If he loses this confidence to push the ball down the field, what happens to his potential? 

Pocket Integrity: Wilson has a tendency to float back in the pocket often, which creates problems for the offensive line.  End rushers can speed rush the outside and turn at an angle to where Wilson floats back towards, which force the tackles to move up quickly up the field, leaving them on an island.  This in turn creates more problems for the guards as well, because now they are on islands as well. 

On an offensive line that would once again be happy to be rated average, this will be a problem.  This doesn’t show up much in the 2020 tape, but in 2019 it is a consistent issue with rushers isolating the tackles. 

2020 Competition: Wilson’s best year comes against mediocre to worse competition, that just couldn’t handle a QB of his talent.  I provided numerous examples of the defense failing to communicate with late movement, lack of ability cover certain parts of the field, and fundamental issues with covering their assignments as well. 

I tried my best to point out the difference in the competition from 2020 to 2019, and how it’s not all just athletic ability.  You can see plenty of examples in 2019 where the defense reacts correctly to late movement or tricks pulled by BYU, yet in 2020, it’s utter chaos at times. 

The competition aspect reminds me of the last rap battle in 8 mile where Eminem addresses it early, and thus it’s somehow unmentionable now.  I see statistics that state the competition level faced by Wilson was far worse than the other QBs while having a better supporting cast (relative to the competition) yet it’s waived off.  There is a big difference from 2020 to 2019 for Wilson, and at some points, he doesn’t even look like the same QB. 

Injury History: Any QB can get hurt on the next play, so this is more about odds.  His shoulder injury is a concerning factor, given his play style.  There is an element of “fighting for the last yard” in his scrambling ability, that lends itself to possible injuries.  I have the same concern for Trevor Lawrence, who tries to be a power rusher, and could backfire in the NFL with injuries. 

A shoulder injury to a QB is always concerning, as the Jets found out with Chad Pennington.  Now Wilson isn’t as injury prone as Pennington, but if the arm talent reduces by even 10%, Wilson’s potential takes a tumble.  For someone who’s main calling card is his right arm and shoulder, Wilson runs into defenders without much of a second thought.  

Offensive Line: This isn’t a direct weakness of Wilson, but he had some of the cleanest pockets in all of college football last year.  A decent amount of his pressure numbers seemed to come from waiting around for plays to develop down the field, rather than surprise pressures.  He faced more surprise pressure in 2019 and struggled in the films that I watched.  A transition from an immaculately clean pocket to the Jets is going to be a major transition. 

Unanswered Questions:

How much of his improvement in 2020 is due to competition?  This is probably the biggest question hounding anyone that is scouting Wilson.  How much did he improve?  Is this a Joe Burrow level breakout? Or is this because the defenses just couldn’t handle BYU?  I think the answer is somewhere in the middle, but no one can answer with definition. 

Between 2020 and 2019, there are vast differences with Wilson.  He’s much more aggressive in 2020 than 2019, which begets the question if he derived that confidence from his level of skill or his level of competition?  2019 Wilson is not a first round prospect, but he plays within the system much better.  He makes mistakes but has enough talent to overcome it.  2020 Wilson plays like the easy setting on Madden, knowing the defenders aren’t going to make you pay. 

The big question for the Jets (or anyone else drafting him) should be if Wilson’s improvements are because he understands the system better while simultaneously improving his physical ability, or if the lack of competition factors in. 

Comparison(s):

Jordan Love mixed with Ryan Fitzpatrick:

Much like Love, if you look at pure arm talent and throws, Wilson will absolutely wow you.  There are throws that Wilson can make that seem like bad ideas until the receiver catches it.  Now this also relies on my theory that Wilson’s 2020 season should be a moderate improvement on his 2019 season with regular competition, rather than the amazing stat sheet he put together.  Much like Love, Wilson will wow you with throws, but then make bad decisions that derail a drive. 

I added Fitzpatrick, because he tends to do half field read at times (at least in his days with the Jets).  Chan Gailey used to run a lot of mirror concepts where Fitzpatrick picked one side of the field at the snap and just focused on the route combinations there.  Wilson tends to fixate on routes pre-snap and tends to manipulate the defense around that route.  When things are clicking in terms of pre-snap routes, this works great.  If pre-snap reads are off, then this ends in disaster. 

Love and Fitzpatrick display the ability to scramble (Love might be a better runner), and that is true for Wilson as well.  Wilson tends to have Fitzpatrick’s tenacity with runs, refusing to go down easily, which can get your teammates to rally around you. 

Upside:  Zach Wilson has the upside to be a Mahomes/Rodgers level QB, because the tools are there.  The arm is very good, with excellent ball placement as well.  He has the ability to scramble, as well as throw on the run.  His eye manipulation is already advanced for the college game.  

To reach his upside, the Jets have to make some drastic changes.  A lot of folks bring up Mahomes as the best case scenario, while omitting the environment in which Mahomes thrives.  He has an elite line, which means defenses aren’t getting to him without blitzing.  He has an elite playmaker in Hill that forces two deep safety looks, with complimentary speed all around him.  He has an elite tight end that is a match up nightmare in the intermediate area.  He also has an offensive genius as a head coach.   They’ve even added a dynamic running back to the rotation to make that offense even better. 

In terms of the system, Kansas City is perfect for a QB of Mahomes skill.  If you have an elite tight end, defenses can’t afford to leave the intermediate area open.  If you have an elite deep threat weapon like Hill, defenses can’t afford to go with single high safeties.  In this situation, the defense is constantly choosing between intermediate and deep coverage, but a guy like Mahomes can make the throw to any part of the field.  If the defense even thinks for a split second to cover the intermediate, Mahomes can hit the deep pass across the field.  Having an elite offensive line means that if the defense is committed to both the intermediate and deep passing game, he can sit there for much longer until a play opens up.  That whole system is based on elite level offensive line, which is why they traded for Orlando Brown today.  I wrote the other articles earlier, in which I mentioned the Chiefs would be very active in trying to add an offensive lineman in the draft. 

The Jets would need to add a deep threat to have that two deep safety requirement, plus additional offensive line help to help them at least be average. 

In terms of development, Wilson’s stardom doesn’t necessarily just depend on Wilson’s skills, but surrounding him with talent that matches his playing style.  They would have to get him to play within the system. 

Downside:  This is the tricky part, because I think there is some considerable downside to his playing style as well, because he tends to take way too much risk at times.  The injuries could catch up to him, and a shoulder injury is always worrisome. 

I’m not sure the roster fits Wilson as well, because he needs the deep threat to exist for his game to be top notch.  The Jets have Davis/Mims but they are not established deep threats that would require two deep safety looks.  The offensive line is a mess, which worries me in the same fashion as Darnold, where Wilson has the chance to lose confidence when facing constant pressure.  Ideally, a QB that is mobile fits the roster better to alleviate some of the pressure on the offensive line.  

The progression reads are also a concern, because NFL defenses tend to have much better communication on late movement, and Wilson’s tendency to lock in on receivers can get him in some major trouble.

Conclusion:

I would not draft Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick, because there is just too much risk involved.  His shoulder injury, his progression reads, and his 2020 competition are all major concerns.  I do think he improved from 2019 to 2020 but the overall numbers for 2020 are inflated because some teams just could not handle the talent displayed at BYU.   

I think Justin Fields is a better option for the Jets, fits the offense better and has much less questions marks.  If we go by pure arm talent, Wilson is better, but the overall package is better with Fields.  I wish I had the time to break down Justin Fields in-depth but since this isn’t my livelihood, I don’t have the time to do so. 

This isn’t to say I’m not a Zach Wilson fan, because he certainly has upside, and the moment the Jets draft him, I’m a fan of his.  However, there is some considerable risk involved with the pick, and isn’t this slam dunk choice that many make it out to be, at least in my opinion.  I think Wilson poses too much risk for the No. 2 pick.  There is also the caveat that I, nor you, know much about the behind-the-scenes approach to these team meetings.  I don’t know if Justin Fields is horrible at the whiteboard or if Zach Wilson is knocking them out of the park, so that aspect is unknown.  I’m just basing my opinion on the film review scouting and known information. 

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