Zach Wilson Scouting: USC (2019) Part 2

This is Part 2, please check out Part 1.


This is the issue with trying to write a scouting report on Wilson, just when you think he’s not great, he makes a perfect throw.   This is probably the best throw I’ve seen Wilson make in the 2019 tape so far. 

It’s 3rd and short, and USC lines up with a single high safety with man cover across the board.  They are essentially selling out for the run here.  Notice Wilson holding the safety at the snap on this ball, which is a great trait.  If the safety holds in the middle, then there is no backside defender to worry about.  Furthermore, this is a great progression read as well, because once he sees the safety, he’s going to read high/low to the field side.  If the receiver on the go route doesn’t have separation, then hit the tight end gaining separation in the slot.  If the receiver on the go route does get separation (as was the case here), take a shot down the field. 

The throw is great here, leading away from the defender.  It’s not completely perfect because the receiver does slow down a bit, but that’s minimal.  The ball location on this pass is absolutely great, the defender has to resort to flailing his hands in hopes of hitting the ball.  One thing I do worry about a bit here is Wilson’s footwork seems a bit off.  If you watch closely, he plants his front foot too early it seems, and then almost throws it off his backfoot.  You usually see this sometimes when you are aiming for a certain target but don’t want to go through the full motion, mostly in baseball.  It doesn’t matter here because this pass is great, but it is a bit concerning. 


This one is a surprising throw, because Wilson usually doesn’t have any problems making this pass. 

The read looks pre-determined because Wilson first looks at the middle of the field for the mesh concept from his left side, which is open, but moves on to the second read.  I can’t really blame him much for pre-determining this throw because based on the defense, this route was likely going to be open.  USC has the defender playing well off the line, and the safety is on the other side of the field, thus no help over the top.  Wilson should be commended for understanding the defensive shell again, and knowing this route has a good shot at being open. 

The downside of this play is just a terrible throw.  The ball just doesn’t get there, and I’m not sure why.  Wilson can make this exact throw all day long as we’ve seen in the film breakdowns.  He has a clean pocket, and his mechanics seemed fine on the play.  He just pulls the ball, and it lands as an incomplete pass.  This would have been in the “Good Read, Bad Throw” article for 2020. 

This play was added mainly to show that he did make the right read here and shouldn’t be penalized for the predetermined route selection. 


I’m not sure how to breakdown this play, so once again, would love to hear some feedback. 

The first issue is the blocking scheme, because watch the right tackle on this play.  The right tackle gets put on an island, which leaves a big cut back lane for the defensive end.  Part of the issue stems from Wilson’s tendency to float back in the pocket, which forces the offensive line to adjust their protections, so the defender doesn’t speed rush and bend around the corner.  The other part of the problem is that this right tackle isn’t that good.  I didn’t see much issues in 2020 (although considering the competition, I’m not surprised) but there’s certainly more than a few plays in 2019 where this guy struggles. 

The second aspect is that Wilson does a great job of avoiding the free runner in the pocket and stepping up.  He doesn’t panic and keeps his eyes down the field.  He steps up in the pocket perfectly, sees the open receiver, but the ball gets tipped at the line.  I believe this was ruled an interception at first but was over-turned.  This wouldn’t be in the interception article because it’s a tipped ball, at which point it’s dependent on luck. 

The issue I have with this play is discerning the trajectory of the pass.  I don’t think Wilson sees the safety moving over to the receiver on the play, because the safety moves right when Wilson is maneuvering in the pocket.   The trajectory of the ball turns towards the field side when tipped, so I can’t tell the intended target.  If the ball is aimed directly at the receiver moving down the field, this might be a bad throw because the safety can probably undercut it.  If the ball is to the back shoulder, then this is a great throw.  Ideally you want Wilson to throw this ball before he takes his last hop, but it’s hard to judge the trajectory of the ball because it was tipped at the line. 

The movement in the pocket is great on this play, and there is a possibility this would have been a great throw.  What do you think?


If not for the earlier touchdown in this game, this might have been the best throw I’ve seen so far in 2019, and very reminiscent of his 2020 tape. 

Wilson does a good job of holding the safety on this play, as he looks at the boundary side receiver first and the safety.  You can see the safety shade towards the boundary side in the end zone angle.  I do think Wilson skipped a progression for the middle of the field with the tight end, because the tight end comes open as Wilson moves from his first read, but that’s nitpicking because the timing is a bit off. 

This throw is just one of those “Wow, can’t believe he made that” throws for a back shoulder pass to the field side outside receiver 30 yards down the field.  I believe the defensive back got called for pass interference on this play, but the ball was caught anyway.  This is just a perfect pass for the back shoulder, and he puts it precisely where it needs to be.  The point of a back shoulder pass is to defeat the perfect coverage because your receiver will look for the ball before the defender, thus has more time to adjust.  In this case, the defender is running stride for stride (if not half a step behind) which means most defensive backs won’t look back for the ball because that will cause their speed to drop and create more separation.  Yes, there are guys like Ramsey or prime Patrick Peterson that may do so without losing separation, but it’s rare.  Wilson makes a very good read, but more importantly a great throw.  Throwing with this form of precision across the field is certainly impressive. 


This is a 2 read play for Wilson, but in a clean pocket he should have moved on. 

The read progression on this play is quite simple, Wilson reads the field side outside receiver for the quick curl route, and then the slot receiver for the deep fade out/fade route.  The problem with the play is that USC is in perfect position to defend this exact play, which should have told Wilson to move on with the progression. 

Notice the slot cornerback on this play, because he has outside leverage on the receiver.  He is willing to funnel the receiver towards the middle with the linebackers or safety.  Wilson knows the route called, and as soon as the defender moves further outside for leverage, this route is covered.  Wilson should have moved onto his third read across the field, especially considering he has a clean pocket.  Instead, Wilson sticks to his second read and makes a bad pass.  The defender is in great position to make a play, and only a perfect pass will suffice here. 

On this play, Wilson needs to understand that the post snap change in leverage kills the likelihood of this play succeeding, and move on because he knows the route that has been called.  Hypothetically if this was a quick in route, then the situation is perfect for Wilson, or even a curl route to the inside. 

This isn’t a big issue because every single QB in this draft class will have this issue about staring down their reads when the leverage has shifted, but it is a point that Wilson doesn’t have this extraordinary processing skill that has been touted. 


This is more of a bad timing play than a bad pass. 

Wilson is going to be staring down his read here, right after checking the safety at the snap.  It’s a fairly quick pass and this is his first read so there isn’t much problem with staring down the receiver.  The progression is set up for this read to be first. 

The issue with this play is the timing, because this ball needs to be thrown when the receiver has reached his route stem.  Wilson needs to be ready to throw this pass right when the receiver crosses the 0 on the 20 yard line.  However, Wilson takes one extra step up before making this pass, which allows the safety to come up on the play.  This was a major issue for Sam Darnold with the Jets where he seemed slightly behind in his timing at times, making open throws morph into tight window throws. 

The throw itself is actually very good because he gets velocity on the ball and places it low where only his receiver could make a play on the ball.  While Wilson was delayed in the timing, he does realize the safety is in play here and tries to protect the ball as much as possible. 


This is just a bad read from Wilson, which makes me wonder about pre-determined throws again.

The read on this play is very simple, it’s a high low read with the 2 receiver route combination to the right side of the field.  Wilson isn’t even concerned about the safety here because this play is supposed to go away from the safety, as both are out routes.  Wilson is reading the two defenders and picking the best option.  If the outside defender goes down the field with the receiver, the pass to the tight end will be open because he has inside leverage on the route.  If the slot defender goes down the field, then the receiver will be open because he has inside leverage on the route. 

However, the problem here is that Wilson is expecting the tight end to be open, when that route is essentially double covered.  USC is defending this play as if there is an in-breaking route, as the slot defender and the safety both take inside leverage.  In this case, the deeper out route is not going to be well covered at all, because the defense is hedging against it.  Wilson already knows the route that is called, so once the defenders release the receiver down the field, this is an easy pass.  Unfortunately, Wilson is completely expecting the tight end to be open, pump fakes towards him, and then doesn’t pull the trigger towards the open out route.  This is an issue because this looks like Wilson predetermined his read before reading the defense, as you can see him turn his shoulders before the receiver breaks past the defenders. 

Once that read is gone, this is just a broken play.  Wilson sticks to the right side, and doesn’t turn his eyes to the left, where he has a decent shot at completing a pass in the middle of the field.  Wilson sticks to the right side, and then correctly throws the ball away when under pressure, the latter of which was the right decision. 

This is just a terrible read from Wilson, as he didn’t wait, which cost him this play.  He needed to read the defenders on this play before making his decision.  If you watch the play again, notice the tight end is releasing slower than the receiver because his stem has to match up with the receiver clearing the defenders.  It’s at that point Wilson needs to read the defense and pick one or the other, and he picks wrong. 


This is a play where Wilson is probably lucky this ball was batted down. 

This is a play that would have gone into the stare down article for the 2020 games, because he’s absolutely locked in on the outside slot receiver to the field side.  The mesh concept is wide open in front of him, but he completely ignores it because once again, this is a predetermined read.  This is another aspect of not going through his progressions correctly, which leads to trouble.  The major issue on this play is that the defensive tackle breaks through the offensive line unexpectedly, leading to pressure when Wilson was expecting to be protected.  If Wilson had gone through his reads correctly at this point, when he faces the pressure, he has a quick option to either of the crossing routes in the mesh concept. 

Wilson stares down the deep in route from the start, which is not a terrible read based on pre-snap look.  If the receiver can get behind the linebacker and then cut back in, he will be open.  However, the pressure comes right before the stem of the route, which means Wilson can’t fire a quick pass, but needs to buy time by side stepping the defender.  In the time it takes Wilson to sidestep the defender, this route is now perilously close to being defended.   The issue on this play would be the backside safety if Wilson is leading the receiver on this play.  If you notice the horizontal trajectory of this ball, it’s going to be very close to the safety, so it’s a matter of if the defender can drive on the ball in time.  There’s a decent chance that the defender can at least get a hand on the ball, which speaks to Wilson’s issues with backside defenders. 

The passing trajectory doesn’t matter because the ball is knocked down anyway.  However, this is another notch in the pre-determined routes theory’s belt.  The more important takeaway here is that because Wilson is locked in on the slower developing route, he doesn’t have a quick option when there is unexpected pressure, leading to a dangerous throw. 


I can pretty much copy and paste the last play description (this is the very next play in the game as well). 

On this play, Wilson once again locks onto the deeper developing route, ignoring the quick outlet route.  This isn’t an advocacy to always hit that short route, but reading that route gives him an outlet in the face of unexpected pressure, such as the case here.  The second aspect is that it actually may help your primary target as well.  On this play, notice the middle linebacker because he’s the one that seems to be covering the quick out route to the field side.  The linebacker moves towards that route, but then reads Wilson and lingers in the middle.  The linebacker lingering in the middle cuts off the passing lane to the tight end on the deeper in route.  On this play, it doesn’t matter because the tight end is well covered anyway. 

Wilson is so focused on the in-breaking route that he’s not ready for the consequence when that route is well covered.  Unfortunately for Wilson, a defensive player breaks through the offensive line, and leaves him extraordinarily little time to make any other read.  This would have been a good time to know the quick out route was wide open, but Wilson didn’tt read that route here. 

To make matters worse, Wilson fumbles on this play, although it isn’t clear who recovered the ball.  These are the types of plays in 2020 where Wilson could stand in the pocket longer, and see where the defense breaks down. 


I cut off the play for the end zone angle because it was already too big of a file. 

The first part of this play is baffling to me because I’m not sure what Wilson is reading.  The timing of this is completely off, as Wilson is moving from one progression to another before the route reaches their stem.  Wilson starts off the play looking at the middle linebacker covering the quick crossing route, which is exactly the right move.  However, Wilson moves to the field side outside receiver on an out route, but doesn’t pull the trigger.  The route is NFL open, but I’m not sure I blame him too much for being reluctant to throw that pass.  However, as Wilson crosses back to the middle of the field, he has a wide open receiver in the middle that Wilson completely misses.  Instead, Wilson bounces around looking back and forth between two covered options, while ignoring this receiver.  I’m baffled as to how he missed the receiver while he was scanning. 

The second part of this play is Wilson escaping from the pocket and showing good athleticism.  He runs down the sideline and gains significant yards, albeit he really needs to learn to slide in these situations. 

The start of this play is fine in terms of reads, as Wilson goes through his progressions well.  However, once the field side out route isn’t appealing enough to him, Wilson completely panics and misses the wide open receiver in front of him for some unknown reason. 

This is the end of Part 2, please check back for Part 3.

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