It’s okay to be excited about Zach Wilson’s impressive start to the preseason
New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has looked like a seasoned veteran throughout the first two exhibition games of his NFL career. Wilson’s 137.7 passer rating leads all quarterbacks with at least 20 passing attempts through two weeks of the preseason.
Of course, optimism about Wilson’s start should be tempered to an extent considering that he has only played six offensive series and none of them were against a first-team defense.
With that being said, it is still acceptable for Jets fans to have a good deal of excitement about Wilson’s start because of how he has gone about putting it together. The traits that have led to his early success are not fluky – he has shown some of the most crucial abilities that are necessary to achieve sustained long-term success in the league.
Wilson’s excellent decision-making is undoubtedly the biggest reason to believe that his hot start is legitimate.
Fans and media often fixate on the eye candy of the quarterback position – arm strength, athleticism, mobility, size – but none of those things are the primary driving force behind what dictates a quarterback’s success. Decision-making is easily the most important skill.
Wilson has only dropped back 20 times, but as you comb through his film and analyze his thought process on each play, it is difficult to find problems with the decisions he has made. It can be argued that he made the correct decision on all but one or two of his 20 dropbacks.
That’s not an exaggeration – check out Vitor Paiva’s film breakdowns of every one of Wilson’s pass attempts against the Giants and Packers and you will see the remarkable consistency at which Wilson has been choosing the best available option.
Wilson has been reading the field fluidly and decisively, never hesitating to continue going through his reads until he finds the most open receiver. Additionally, he has made good pre-snap reads to identify favorable post-snap matchups; this includes frequent identifications of one-on-one coverage against Corey Davis.
What separates the great quarterbacks from the mediocre ones is their ability to make the correct decision at a much higher frequency. Wilson is off to a good start in this area, and it’s a real reason to be excited.
Throwing under pressure
One of Wilson’s biggest concerns coming out of BYU was how he would handle pressure. Wilson played behind a stellar offensive line at BYU that routinely gave him enormous pockets to throw from and plenty of time to read the field.
The sample size is small, but Wilson has looked poised in the few situations he has faced pressure thus far. He has completed 4-of-6 pressured pass attempts for 53 yards. Wilson has also been effective at getting the football out and protecting himself, as he has taken zero sacks.
Wilson’s average of 8.8 yards per pressured dropback ranks second-best among qualified quarterbacks through two weeks of the preseason.
Put the stats aside for a moment. It’s the fearlessness that Wilson has shown that really stands out.
There are two plays in particular that showed Wilson’s potential to deliver from a congested pocket while accepting an incoming hit – a throw to Tyler Kroft against the Giants and a throw to Corey Davis against the Packers. On both plays, Wilson hung tight in the pocket and threw with proper mechanics to deliver an accurate ball, knowing that doing so would likely result in him taking a hit.
That right there is the key to inside-the-pocket success in the NFL. Quarterbacks must be tough enough to stand in the pocket and take on a hit so that they can deliver the ball normally. Under-pressure inaccuracy stems from the awkward mechanics that come as a result of trying to avoid contact while throwing the ball.
Wilson needs to keep his under-pressure success going for far more than just six pass attempts to prove that he can be good at it in the NFL. Regardless, the early returns are positive.
Small-sample stats are often misleading because of how easily they can be bloated. Over the course of a measly 20 pass attempts, one 90-yard touchdown can make a quarterback look amazing even if he played terribly across the other 19 passes.
There is also the danger of illegitimate production. Quarterbacks can easily rack up yards they did not earn through screen passes, wide-open schemed-up completions, ridiculous catches on bad throws, and crazy after-the-catch plays by their receivers among other things.
The beauty of Wilson’s production to this point is that it is completely earned. Wilson has not been bailed out by amazing catches or free yardage, nor has he made one or two big plays that pump up his numbers.
Wilson’s longest completion thus far went for 27 yards. That is puny for a quarterback’s longest completion – 41 quarterbacks have thrown a longer completion.
Yet, even without a single bomb to boost his stats, Wilson ranks third among qualified quarterbacks with 9.6 yards per pass attempt.
That is an incredible sign of consistency.
The Jets have picked up a first down on all six of Wilson’s drives. He has yet to lead a three-and-out.
Wilson’s statistics overcome the dangers of small sample sizes because of just how incredibly efficient he has been on a play-to-play basis. You could remove any one or two of his plays from the picture and his overall body of work would still be fantastic.
Cool Your Jets Podcast Episode
On the latest episode of the Cool Your Jets podcast, Ben Blessington and Michael Nania explain why Zach Wilson’s preseason performance is legitimately promising. Plus, they delve into all of the positives and negatives that came out of the Jets’ trip to Green Bay while delving into the possibility of the team adding a Carl Lawson replacement.
Audio Version available to members only. Learn more here.