Zach Wilson‘s strengths and weaknesses on film make it clear why he could be a great fit for Mike LaFleur’s New York Jets offense.
Back in 2018, no one could have thought that only three years after drafting Sam Darnold the New York Jets would be – once again – in the quarterback market. In fact, if you asked any Jets fan three years ago who the team’s quarterback would be for the next five years, they would probably tell you to go visit a doctor, because, unquestionably, the guy was Darnold. It was an objective truth.
Now, three years later, there is a new truth, a hurtful one: Sam Darnold is more likely to start for another team in 2021 than for the Jets.
After a substantially below-average 2020 campaign (league-worst 72.7 passer rating), we can finally affirm that the former third-overall pick has not lived up to his draft hype. Aside from some amazing flashes, he has not proved he can be an NFL starter. (Based on his film, I believe Darnold hasn’t proved he can start in the league.)
When you pair Sam’s poor play with the fact that the Jets have the second-overall pick in a draft that features a worthy quarterback class – plus the salary cap situation – you realize that Joe Douglas using his top pick on a new signal-caller is a no-brainer decision. The Jets general manager will restart his own winning clock, let Robert Saleh/Mike LaFleur groom their own guy, and build a new window to win with the franchise quarterback playing for pennies. It’s too rational to bypass.
Having the second overall pick is key here. The second choice of the draft puts the Jets in a prime position to select a great quarterback prospect. You do not pass it up when the most important position of the game is not solved. I believe Zach Wilson, Justin Fields and Trey Lance are all worthy of being the second player taken off the board, but as of now, I would give Wilson the edge – and I am going to explain why through the film.
Wilson, reportedly standing at six-foot-three and 210 pounds, is an exciting prospect. The guy exhales swagger, which the Jets have missed since the good old Rex Ryan days. His release is quick, he has a “cocky arm,” and the tape shows his teammates rally around him.
In this article, I am going to analyze Wilson based on his in-game traits – because that’s what usually translates to the NFL. There are fair concerns about his frame and his true size (no way he’s 6-foot-3), but that won’t be discussed here. I am going to talk about Zach’s arm strength, anticipation, accuracy, touch and mobility, while also discussing some things I believe he has to work on (beat-blitz type throws and mechanics, mostly). In addition, I will explain why I believe Zach is a good fit for the incoming Mike LaFleur offense.
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Off we go.
A player with elite traits: exploring Zach Wilson’s strengths
The traits are there: Zach Wilson is an accurate passer with a strong arm. He is poised in the pocket most of the time, has great second reaction ability and is a great thrower on the move while having a natural knack for the big play.
Let’s analyze those skills separately:
Arm strength: Despite having a below-average frame, Wilson can make every throw. Deep outs on a rope, deep posts, Cover 2 zone beaters down the sideline: you name the throw, the BYU product has made it.
I will show you two clips below. On the first one, we will see Zach Wilson throw a what’s called “cocky arm” ball to beat the Cover 2 zone that’s being played on the right side. That is a pass we saw Josh Allen make a billion times during the 2020 season. It’s a great demonstration of arm strength because it shows you can drive the ball down the field, on a line, fitting it into tight spots.
On the second one, “just” a deep out from the far hash for a first down. That’s an NFL throw, give or take.
Accuracy and touch: Wilson has that great ability to throw juiced footballs on second-level throws that also have good enough touch to float over the linebackers. It looks easy, but you need to have a good understanding of leverage to do that consistently (one of Sam Darnold‘s main struggles).
In the clip below, Zach throws a beautiful ball on the curl, lofting it over the linebacker and with a lot of rotation. It’s an A+ throw into a tight window.
Mobility and second reaction ability: this may be Zach’s top trait that suits him well for today’s NFL. His mobility makes him a threat on designed boots and rollouts, while also making him a dangerous player on off-schedule plays and off-platform throws. He has a flexible shoulder, which gives him the ability to deliver the football from different angles.
What is most impressive is this: He can make the jaw-dropping throws but also smoothly can read the defense in levels (flood, dino, levels concept itself). The three clips below illustrate that perfectly: on the first one, Wilson rolls out to his left and delivers an accurate ball to his receiver on a simple 10-yard out.
On the second one, he gets to his second read from the boot and throws a wow-throw to his tight end on the move.
The third one is a perfect showing of what to do on second-reaction, off-schedule plays.
Remember: no prospect is perfect.
While the hype nowadays seems to rule over everything, no prospect is perfect – not even Trevor Lawrence. So, when talking about Zach Wilson, you must take into account the fact that he has durability concerns, was not great until the 2020 season and played in an offense that indeed maximized his skillset, since BYU blends in the wide zone offense with some Air Raid concepts.
I don’t really care about the fact that he played against weak opponents, because It’s not like he was throwing to Jerry Rice against Dee Milliner. The competition was even.
Anyway, I must admit it was hard to find bad habits on Zach Wilson’s tape. He goes through his reads, and he usually throws the ball well when pressured. We almost have to nitpick to find something. So, I am going to highlight one thing that I wish I saw more on Zach’s tape: beat-the-blitz type throws.
I would like to see him keep his fundamentals intact while facing the blitz and throwing. Instead, what I saw most of the time was a quarterback that rushed his mechanics or tried to do too much. In the NFL, most of the time it’s better to throw hot and take a three-yard gain than it is to try to play hero ball.
I picked a few plays where I’d like to see Zach respond to pressure differently – be it throwing quicker or just not rushing his mechanics.
No need to overthink It: Zach Wilson is a great fit for the wide zone offense (and the other way around is also true)
I present you an offense that runs the outside zone, puts its quarterback on the move off of it all the time, relies on quick throws to get the quarterback in rhythm early, and relies on leveled concepts on passing downs. I also present you a quarterback that has done all of the above in college and excelled at it while having all the traits to improve his game and become even better.
LaFleur’s Shanahan-inspired wide-zone offense and Zach Wilson are a great marriage, one that should have a quick transition and be good for both parties.
I undoubtedly believe that Zach’s a perfect fit for the offense LaFleur will run in 2021. The clips below break down the first drive run by BYU against Lousiana Tech, and every play has a concept that the Jets will surely use in 2021 (stick, jet sweep, run out of 22 personnel, flood out of the boot action and the zone read).
So, if you don’t feel convinced, just re-watch every clip on this article. I’m sure you will realize that Zach Wilson’s strengths are the Jets’ new offensive strengths, and together, both can be super-powerful.