Zach Wilson should not be making it look this easy
Forget the stats. Forget the highlights. What truly matters at this stage of the game are the nuanced moments that allow a certain story to unfold.
What matters is the stuff that proves Zach Wilson is ahead of the NFL rookie curve. What’s important is that the kid is fearlessly making it look too easy.
Before New York Jets fans collectively lose their minds, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
First and foremost, he hasn’t taken on full first-team units yet. Obviously, he also hasn’t had the services of some of his own guys either, such as Elijah Moore and Alijah Vera-Tucker, but the Green Bay Packers didn’t exactly play a phenomenal brand of football in preseason Week 2.
Wilson had a lot of easy throws at his disposal. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur also set him up incredibly well—despite the Jets’ unwillingness to expand the playbook (as vanilla concepts have ruled the roost).
Nonetheless, the positives are so genuine that it’s safe to say Wilson is already ahead of the curve.
The kid quarterback displayed the following in the Jets’ 23-14 victory over the Green Bay Packers Saturday afternoon:
- Veteran progression savvy
- Incredible poise in the pocket
- An uncanny (for a rookie) understanding of leverage
Considering the Packers game accounts for just his second preseason experience, the overall comfort level and veteran savvy on display is forcing a lot of talent evaluators to scratch their heads.
Better yet, Zach Wilson has done it in such a casual manner. Two games in and there hasn’t been much (if any) decisiveness, boneheaded decisions or rookie moments—all of which are sure to come at some point this season.
For now, breaking down the spots that make it hard for some folks to believe he’s actually still a rookie is a warranted exercise.
The full Sabo’s Sessions Zach Wilson breakdown is available at the top of this article, whereas the three plays are broken down further below.
Zach Wilson’s poise in the pocket, on-the-run ability
The highlight-reel play of the day isn’t too much of a highlight at all … from a physical standpoint at least.
Many quarterbacks can pull this one off from a physical-trait standpoint. Wilson executes the play-action that features a split-zone action in front and a mesh-point that’s curiously drifting left.
Remember what the LaFleur offense truly is: an east-west illusion show. It’s meant to deceive defenses into moving east-west while the passing game takes chunks downfield in a hopeful vertical fashion.
This play only becomes elite when thinking about the execution’s mental makeup.
Understanding Green Bay rushes a conventional four is the first step. A max protect look in a three-weapon pattern means Wilson should theoretically have enough time.
Tyler Kroft, who sifts/flashes (kick out), and the running back take the naked edge while the offensive line zones it to the right. Understanding that Chris Herndon is the primary read here is what also highlights this play.
A lot of rookies will look to force this ball into Herndon. If done, the placement must be low, far out of danger. Instead of forcing it, Wilson understands the four-deep nature of the coverage, as the boundary-side cornerback and boundary-side safety will both basically be locking in on Herndon as the primary read.
So, the Jets quarterback drifts to the middle—an oftentimes dangerous proposition. But it’s OK in this situation if everything is still in structure, and Wilson (we assume) sees that it is.
From there, as long as the field-side box defender who walked out on the slot doesn’t trail Corey Davis‘s slot wheel, Wilson has a two-on-two situation down the right sideline.
Davis’s slot wheel sneaks behind the outside receiver’s post and it pops thanks to a rough-looking coverage rep by the Packers.
In the end, it’s a bad job by Green Bay’s defense, yet the Wilson positives are still very much worth calling out. He understood his protection, the highly-trafficked Herndon situation, and what could be available if he looked backside.
Zach Wilson’s quick check-down ability
The difference between inches in terms of placement and milliseconds in terms of release is enormous in the NFL. Watch a Tom Brady game and focus on the placement of his short throws. Watch how quickly he translates from deep to short when rolling through his progressions. And watch how fast the ball is gone when he does so.
Zach Wilson is far ahead of the game when moving from deep to check-down.
The Jets quarterback didn’t settle on the Trevon Wesco leak out of this play-action call until he absolutely had to. He maintained his eyes downfield until the right time arrived.
Not only did he not give it up until the last moment but the transfer from the decision to placement is rather quick. He gets it done thanks to an innate ability to not overthink things coupled with a variety of releases at his disposal.
Here, he doesn’t drive off the back foot in the least and pulls off an Aaron Rodgers-type delivery.
Zach Wilson’s progression and reading leverage ability
The most impressive throw of Wilson’s outing serves as his first-ever NFL (preseason) score.
Facing a second-and-12 situation, LaFleur goes empty (3×2 with an inline Y). Yet again, Green Bay’s defense doesn’t look to be all together. The box player is late in getting out to Ty Johnson who’s split out wide right.
Despite pre-snap confusion, the Packers get into their coverage: A Cover 1-type (with two mid-hook zones and a single-high safety) that leaves Tyler Kroft as the only weapon without a man-to-man lock.
Wilson could have easily thrown it in the dirt on the Jeff Smith slot in or Jamison Crowder on the slot out, but he kept his composure.
He first read it to the right (Smith) but saw the extra hook-zone linebacker. Then, his eyes moved to the left for Corey Davis on the vertical against an off-coverage cornerback and/or Crowder on the out. Kroft represented Wilson’s third read in the progression, and he didn’t hesitate once making the decision.
Better yet, the placement of the ball is veteran-worthy.
Many quarterbacks would have looked to lead Kroft to the inside—between the two linebacker mid-hook zones and underneath the single-high safety. Wilson instead put touch on the ball and targeted the back-shoulder.
The idea that he decided placement at the last moment after he looked off his first two progressions is the key here. It’s something a rookie quarterback should have a much more difficult time pulling off—even against the Packers’ second-team defense.
Final thoughts on Zach Wilson’s preseason Week 2 output
Listen, there will be incredible hardship this season. There will be weeks Jets fans think Wilson is a complete bust. He’ll find himself stuck in funks that seemingly have no way out at times.
While that sounds bad on the surface, it’s normal. All rookie quarterbacks struggle in the early going.
What’s needed right now is attention and dedication to the process—something Wilson has fully bought into. Just don’t start buying into the silliness that’ll have you drunk on social media dopamine.
Do not start replicating Zach Wilson Pro Football Hall of Fame busts. Do not start planning your February vacation around a New York Jets Super Bowl appearance.
Don’t you dare do it.
At the same time, don’t you dare wave away this performance as a non-story, either. It would be equally as foolish as the Hall of Fame and Super Bowl dopamine dreams in August.
What Zach Wilson is doing right now has placed him far ahead of the NFL rookie quarterback curve. It shouldn’t look this easy when rolling through progressions, understanding leverage and cutting down on wasted movement via the release.
And for that, be excited, be grateful, and take it week to week in this crazy up-and-down landscape Jerry Glanvine once dubbed “Not For Long.”