Zach Wilson did exactly what the NY Jets asked of him in his preseason debut
When a young, talented quarterback enters the National Football League, he’s usually peppered with many questions about his ability to shine on the big stage.
Things have been no different for New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson. The BYU product – who started to gain national notability with his highlight reel type-throws (off-platform, sidearm, outside-the-pocket lasers) – has had many doubters show up in the last few weeks, with some already questioning the Jets’ decision to select him number two overall in the 2021 NFL draft.
Everyone has the right to speak, I guess.
When analyzing Zach as a prospect, one of the main questions echoed by many is whether Wilson could replicate his jaw-dropping throws in the NFL. The game speed is different, the windows are tighter, and quarterbacks who think they can fit the ball anywhere usually struggle.
That question is valid, but it shouldn’t be considered the most critical point in Wilson’s evaluation.
Instead, the most critical question is this: Can Wilson manage to operate within the system so that his flashes of improvisation are, in fact, improvisation and not the norm of his game?
When improvisation becomes the norm for young quarterbacks, it is a big problem. Even Patrick Mahomes performs inside the structure prior to pouring out his genius after the first fact.
In the NFL game, none of the flashy throws matter if the passer can’t work within the system that’s in place. Making routine throws, playing on time, and making the proper reads within the pocket need to happen first. Then, the space for the highlight-reel moments will come naturally.
Take Buffalo’s Josh Allen, for example. He could always do the flashy stuff, but he only became a top quarterback in the league once he mastered his routine throws.
Saturday’s performance shows that Wilson is ready to execute within Mike LaFleur‘s offensive structure. Wilson was willing to play the game as the system commanded, and he did so while looking extremely comfortable in the pocket and delivering all of his throws on time and with rhythm.
And that’s what really matters. All of Wilson’s completions were inside the pocket (or on designed bootlegs/rollouts) with good placement.
Comparing Wilson’s outing to that of third overall pick Trey Lance demonstrates the difference between a performance that features these important traits and one that largely did not.
Lance made a big-time throw that was all over the internet, as it was a gorgeous deep ball that resulted in an 80-yard touchdown.
The social media hype of that play was enough to get everyone all-in on Lance as the San Francisco 49ers’ starter – only for the rookie to finish 5-for-14 with 128 yards, one touchdown, two dropped interceptions and four sacks.
Lance showcased his big-play ability, which nobody questions; but he didn’t show the capability to operate within the offense’s structure.
There was no highlight-reel stuff, but Jets fans know he’s got that in his bag. Instead, we saw a quarterback whose incompletions proved to feature the right reads. That’s the first step for Wilson, who will only move forward from here on out.
Below, I break down every single one of Wilson’s attempts from the broadcast angle. Timing, good decision-making and velocity on his throws were the common themes.
Checkdown on the boot (completed)
On Wilson’s first pass attempt as a Jet, he hit Corey Davis on the whip route. The Jets called a variation to the flood concept, with Davis attacking the flat, Keelan Cole crossing all the way to the curl zone, and Ryan Griffin running a deep corner to the deep third.
Wilson is smooth out of the boot and reads the hanging cornerback, hitting Davis quickly. Good throw, good placement, good yardage on first down.
Out to Davis (incomplete)
It’s an incomplete pass, but Wilson makes the right call here.
The Giants defense is playing man across the board and Wilson picks the right matchup: his go-to guy, in the slot, against the cornerback.
The timing is right, too, as Wilson releases the moment Davis’ left foot starts to break outside. Davis got troubled by the CB’s hands and ended up looking back to the ball a little bit late.
Deep out to Davis (complete)
It’s easy to see that Wilson trusts Davis. He’s his go-to guy in man-to-man situations and the read is right here.
It looks like the Giants are playing 2-man with a linebacker in the hook zone. Jamison Crowder’s route to the inside is not an option with help over the middle.
On the outside, Davis’ man is not playing outside leverage, so Wilson trusts Davis to win on the out route. It’s a difficult throw, but Wilson gets it there on time and with great velocity to convert the third down. Great throw.
Slant to Davis (incomplete)
Wilson makes another good decision on an incomplete pass. The Jets fail to execute the rub, so Zach has nowhere to go with the ball.
He could have attempted it low, but the ball is far from being in harm’s way here. Three points to the offense.
Flat to Kroft (incomplete)
Wilson’s last incomplete pass was a check-down to Tyler Kroft in the flat. The pressure hit home and the moment he went back to the check-down Kroft was on the ground.
It’s a good rep overall, but Zach could have come back a bit quicker here.
Post to Cole (complete)
This is probably my favorite throw of the night by Wilson. The Jets deploy a stack alignment with a double slot post combo for Cole and Crowder.
The Giants are in 2-deep man, so the first post will get cut off by the safety. Zach knows that pre-snap, so he smoothly moves through his progressions until he finds an open Cole.
Slant to Smith (complete)
This was another great rhythm throw by Zach. The defense is in quarters coverage and he reads the double slant (slant/lookie) on the two-man side.
Everything is quick and smooth: the drop and the release. Ball placement is there. Vyncint Smith snags a first down.
Out to Crowder (complete)
The second completion on the boot by Wilson, who now hits Crowder on the out route.
Zach reads the high-low and checks it down to No. 82 who is open and picks up solid yardage on second down.
Hook to Kroft (complete)
This is an impressive completion by Wilson even though it didn’t end up in a first down. Zach goes through his verticals (Smith, Crowder) and quickly got back to Kroft’s hook as soon as pressure arrived.
His velocity is impressive here, especially with a guy in his face.
Overall, Zach’s debut was the one that you would hope to get from a rookie quarterback: he executed the vanilla concepts that were at play on this particular night.
Most importantly, Mike LaFleur didn’t ask much of the kid. There are only two ways to answer such a game plan: stay within the expectations or go rogue. Wilson decided to remain within expectations, understanding that it’s just one of the first steps of the overall process.
The BYU product will build upon his preseason debut as he sets out on his journey to becoming the New York Jets franchise quarterback.