Zach Wilson Scouting: USC (2019) Part 3

This is Part 3, please check out Part 1 and 2.


This article is already getting too long, so I’m going to try to keep this short. 

He just yanks this ball; this is a terrible pass.  Wilson does stare down this pass from the start, but this looks like a half field read as the stems break around the same time over the field, so Wilson is instructed to just read half the field.  He seems to be attempting a back shoulder pass, but basically throws this into the ground. 


There is a previous play where I thought Wilson did a lot of things wrong, and was lucky to have the ball tipped.  On this play, he did a lot of things right, and was unlucky to have the ball tipped. 

Wilson goes through his progressions here, which set up this pass.  Once again, this is a half field read, but Wilson is really reading the right side of the formation, even though he starts out looking at the left side.  Notice how Wilson looks at the left side, but moves on before the routes reach their stem.  This is one of Wilson’s best qualities because he’s really just trying to manipulate the middle linebacker on this play.  He wants the linebacker crew in the middle to stay towards the middle, so he has the deep in breaking route and the quick outlet route to the running back available. 

Wilson’s plan works like a charm, as the outside linebacker follows the tight end towards to the middle for a split second, opening up a wide area for the receiver to sit in.  This is a pretty good example of manipulating the defense to open up routes, and Wilson has very advanced control of this aspect of the game.  Like the best laid plans, this one is derailed by bad luck as a defensive lineman gets his hands on the ball and tips it for an incompletion.  Even though the end result of this play is negative, the functions of this play is very positive as far as scouting Wilson is concerned. 


This might as well be a stare down, but a great play none the less.

Wilson catches USC late to line up on this play, and then rolls out to the right.  Once he rolls out, given the route structure of the play call, this is a one route play.  The only feasible play here is the deep curl/back shoulder route. 

Wilson makes a very good throw, and the receiver makes an even better catch, even though the defender was called for pass interference on the play.  This is a very good throw on the run, and pretty much the only realistic play here because all the routes are really well covered for a defense that was late to set up.

The only downside I want to point out here is that this is the return of Wilson not planting his lead foot on this throw.  He throws this pass off his back foot, which is a great skill.  However, he has ample space to plant his foot on this play, as he’s not under pressure at all.  That is probably one of the bigger issues I have with Wilson’s off-platform throws because he can make these great off-platform throws when there isn’t much need.  However, under heavy pressure he struggles with these throws. 

However, I don’t want to rain too much on this play, because this is a great throw and a great catch.  The ball placement on this is also perfect.  


This is a good throw from Wilson, showing patience.

Wilson seems to be ready to throw the ball quicker on this play, but pulled it back because the defender might have been in the way.  However, the defender gets confused on the play, and decides to release his assignment and double team the outlet route for some unforeseen reason, making this an easy pass. 

There’s a slight chance that Wilson was looking at the seam tight end on this play, and moved on from the progression, but I can’t really seem to confirm it.  He seems to be looking towards the sideline tight end on the play when he executes his pump fake.  Nevertheless, I do like the ability to restrain himself on throwing this ball and early and waiting for the opening. 

On a side note, I want to discuss how pre-snap movement created this open pass.  Notice at the start of the play, there is a receiver lined up outside, a tight end in a wingback position, and then an in-line tight end.  The wingback and receiver both have a defender lined up with them at different depths, but in what looks like man-to-man coverage, they both have clearly assigned defenders.  When the receiver goes in motion, the defense switches, at which point the linebacker in charge of taking the in-line tight end moves one step over towards the middle of the field.  When the defense switched, his responsibility changed, because in man-to-man coverage, there isn’t a third receiver there to worry about.  You can see the linebacker rush towards the line of scrimmage before realizing the problem.  This motion is targeted towards that linebacker.  If he’s covering the in-line tight end, the linebacker is going to be rushing the line of scrimmage while the tight end runs right by him on the seam route, easy pass.  If the cornerback picks up the linebacker (as is the case here), then that linebacker is now having a possible one of two assignments, the wingback or the receiver coming back in motion.  Both of those routes are much further out than the linebacker, making them easier throws.  If the second defensive back picks up the wingback, then the outlet pass to the receiver and see if he can beat the linebacker down the field.  If the second defensive back picks up the receiver, as was his assignment before, then the wingback is curving away from the linebacker, offering a passing lane.  On the outset, this looks like the motion is designed to confuse the defensive backs, but it’s really targeting the linebacker on the play.  I think Wilson intended to put touch on this pass over the linebacker’s head at first, but realized he had a clear lane and readjusted the throw. 


This is great play by Wilson 

The defense comes with a slot blitz on this play, but they add a wrinkle to it, in which they drop the defensive end into the passing lane.  However, Wilson goes through his progressions correctly here, reading the tight end first, and then moving onto the slot curl route.  It’s very impressive to see Wilson move up in the pocket when the speed rusher was bending the corner from the other side, and hit this target perfectly.  I’ve shown plenty of examples where Wilson doesn’t seem to go through his progressions, but this is a case where he did it correctly.  In this case, Wilson looking at the tight end caused the defensive end to read his eyes and move.  Notice how the defensive end is directly in the eventual passing lane, but looking at the tight end causes him to move out of that lane. 

All around, this is a just a great play by Wilson, as he goes through his progressions, steps up in the pocket, and makes a great throw.  


This play has some good and bad for Wilson. 

The bad aspect of this play is that Wilson is locked in on the go route to his left, and stares it down for too long.  This plays into the pre-determined routes aspect of his game, because he misses an open receiver cutting across the middle.  The read seems to be go route and then outlet route, when he had the chance to look at the crossing route as well. 

The good part of this play is that Wilson actually takes the safe throw here.  This was a major problem for him in 2020 when he kept bypassing easy conversions on outlet passes for hero ball deep passes down the field.  While I don’t like the progression quite so much, I do like that Wilson didn’t just lock in on the go route, and realized that he had the outlet pass open.  The receiver makes a great run after the catch and almost breaks it down the field. 


This play is a very good example of the issue I have with Wilson’s off-platform throws.

The first part of this play is great, because this is unexpected pressure as the defensive tackle basically just throws the guard to the ground.  Wilson didn’t have much time to go through his progressions as most of the routes were deeper developing ones down the field.  Wilson does a magnificent job of escaping pressure here, albeit there is some luck involved with the second defender being pushed in the back, but that’s very good vision while scrambling in the pocket.  As far as escaping pressure, Wilson does really well here, taking advantage of his change of direction skills against slower defensive linemen. 

This throw is absolutely terrible and the big reason why I think the off-platform throws are a detriment to him.  He’s free and clear of the defenders on this play, he has every bit of time to step into this throw properly.  He doesn’t need to slow to a crawl and tap the ball 5 times, but he can easily throw this pass with proper mechanics.  Instead, Wilson does his back foot throw without planting his lead foot.  This is as easy of a touchdown as you will get, his receiver has almost 10 yards separation horizontally from the closest defender, and about 20 yards vertically from another defender.  If Wilson throws this pass with any semblance of proper mechanics, this is a touchdown.  Instead, because Wilson throws this off his back foot, the ball sails to the right like a 2-seam fastball.  The receiver must not only wait but turn around and leap for the pass.  This was a receiver that was wide open, who had to make a leaping catch while being tackled.  This looks great on the highlight film, but this is a terrible play from Wilson. 

The off-platform throws are great tool to have when you need them, but Wilson has a tendency to use them liberally.  There are plenty of examples where he’s free to step into throws properly, where he makes off-balance throws unnecessarily.


I don’t think this is a designed run play, but Wilson shows off his athleticism.

Wilson does show an ability to scramble with the ball, if given the chance.  He reminds me a good amount of Sam Darnold’s ability to run with the ball, where if you give him enough space, he will gain some yards.  I don’t think he’s mobile in the level of running QBs, but he can catch a defense by surprise. 

On this play, the middle of the line just opens right up, and Wilson runs it in for a touchdown.  I don’t think this is a designed run play because the receivers all ran their routes as if it was a passing play.  Wilson shows off his quickness here and gets touchdown as this put them in the lead.  I think this was one of those instances where he recognized the opening and took advantage, which fits in with his scrambling skills.


Great escape but he doesn’t look down the field. 

The first part of this play is great, as Wilson escapes the pocket once again, although I don’t like scrambling backwards like this.  It’s especially bad considering this is 3rd down with about a minute left in a tied game.  However, Wilson does make it work and he escapes free to some green space. 

Look down the field in the middle, there is a tight end behind the defense with his hands up, and about 10 yards of space vertically and horizontally.  If we’re going to compare Wilson to Mahomes/Rodgers. he has to make that throw, even if it’s off-platform in this situation.   Instead, Wilson is telling another receiver to run down the field to create running space, which lands him just short of the first, which forces them to punt the ball.  This is a big play that could have possibly ended the game, but Wilson just didn’t see it while he was scrambling. 

He made a great play to get away from the pressure, and he almost gets a first down, but USC handed this pass to him on a platter and he just didn’t see it. 


This is going to be another example of Wilson’s predetermined throws that may not look obvious. 

This is a play in overtime, and Wilson starts off looking towards his left, the field side.  This is the correct read here because the outside receivers on both ends are running go routes.  However, Wilson pulls off the slot in route before he even reaches his stem, because Wilson seems intent on throwing the go route to the boundary side.  Notice how Wilson looks to the field side, but breaks away before the slot receiver reaches his stem to be open for this pass, and whips around to the boundary side ready to make the pass.  This seems like Wilson predetermined the passing option, and the only reason he was looking at the slot was to hold the safety. 

As we’ve discussed so many times before, his ability to hold the safety is a great talent.  He does eye manipulation as good as anyone in this class.  However, he doesn’t go through his progressions correctly, but rather has already made up his mind at the line of scrimmage.  The progression here is set up so Wilson can read the slot and then pick which go route he wants to target, but he doesn’t wait for it to develop. 


Overall, Zach Wilson performed well in this game, but the scouting on him remains the same.  He made some great throws, especially the back shoulder passes, but also made his usual mistakes with progressions and pre-determined throws.  He left a lot of plays on the field, especially late in the game, which brings back the question from the 2020 film, “How much of his confidence is derived from the inferior opponents?” Wilson shows good scrambling ability, and his pocket integrity in this game was better than any 2020 game that I’ve watched.  As usual, he had his highs and lows, which fits his scouting profile. 

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