How well did Zach Wilson perform in the preseason independent of his surroundings?
Throughout the 2020 season, I ran a weekly series of breakdowns in which I analyzed the performance of the New York Jets starting quarterback (Sam Darnold or Joe Flacco) by grading every single one of his plays on a 0-to-10 scale.
I’m looking forward to continuing the series in 2021 with Zach Wilson.
My goal with this grading system is to capture the true quality of the quarterback’s performance. Box score statistics can be misleading, as they do not account for a variety of factors that determine whether a quarterback performed well or poorly on a given play.
By rewatching every play on the All-22 film, I grade every play on a 0-to-10 scale and then take the average of all plays to form a 0-to-100 overall score with 50 being approximately league-average (based on my studying of numerous other quarterback performances across the league).
Here are some of the factors that are taken into account in the grading of each play, and a basic description of what I’m looking for:
- Decision-making (Did the QB choose the best available option?)
- Throw difficulty (Clean pocket or pressured? Wide open or tight window? Stationary or on the move?)
- Accuracy/placement (Even if the pass is completed, was the ball placed in the best possible spot or did the receiver have to make an extra effort to catch it?)
- Game situation – score, time, field position, down and distance (Good decisions based on the clock/situation are crucial. Playing the sticks is also important – it is not a good play to throw a 5-yard out on third-and-10 while a 15-yard dig is open)
Ultimately, it’s all about context. Not all 40-yard completions are created equal. Not all interceptions are created equal.
When you analyze every play on film multiple times and grade the quarterback’s individual effort independent of his surroundings or the on-paper outcome of the play, we get a much better estimation of how well he actually played.
Of course, keep in mind that these grades are subjective. They are but one man’s opinion. Feel free to let me know your takes on my grades for Wilson’s performances.
Let’s dig into Wilson’s excellent preseason outings against the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers.
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For each performance, I include a few metrics that help explain how the quarterback arrived at his final grade.
These are some of the metrics I will break down for every Wilson outing.
Overall grade: 0-to-100 grade based on the average score of all plays analyzed. An estimation of individual performance quality.
Positive plays: Number of plays graded above 5.0: above-average efforts.
Negative plays: Number of plays graded below 5.0: below-average efforts.
Neutral plays: Number of plays graded as a 5.0: usually screen passes or miscommunications in which it is difficult to identify the player at fault. These plays are not noticeably good or bad.
Positive/negative ratio: Ratio of positive plays to negative plays. Defines the quarterback’s consistency level.
Average positive score: The average score of all positive plays. An indicator of how high the quarterback’s peaks were — a higher score indicates his best plays were typically highlight-reel-worthy while a lower score indicates that his best plays got the job done, but were typically unspectacular.
Average negative score: The average score of all negative plays. An indicator of how low the quarterback’s valleys were — a higher score indicates his mistakes were typically minor while a lower score indicates that his mistakes were typically brutal.
Wow Factor: Combination of average positive and average negative. An indicator of the combined ability to avoid big mistakes and produce jaw-dropping moments.
7+ plays: Number of plays graded 7.0 or better: elite moments.
≤3 plays: Number of plays graded 3.0 or worse: brutal moments.
Enough gab. Time to hop in.
Zach Wilson vs. New York Giants
- Actual stats: 6/9 for 63 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks (6.7 Y/A, 87.0 QB rating)
- Overall grade: 69.8 – (Average: 50, Great: 60+, Elite: 70+, Poor: <40, Bad: <30)
- Total plays: 10
- Neutral plays: 1
- Positive plays: 8 (80.0%) – (Average: 50%, Phenomenal: >60%, Poor: <40%)
- Negative plays: 1 (10.0%) – (Average: 30%, Phenomenal: <20%, Poor: >40%)
- Positive-negative ratio: 8.00 – (Average: 1.67, Phenomenal: 3.00+, Poor: <1.00)
- Average positive: 5.55 – (Average: 5.90, Phenomenal: 6.00+, Poor: <5.80)
- Average negative: 4.50 – (Average: 3.80, Phenomenal: 4.00+, Poor: <3.60)
- Wow factor: 10.05 – (Average: 9.70, Phenomenal: 10.00+, Poor: <9.40)
- 7+ plays: 0 (0.0%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: >12%, Poor: <4%)
- ≤3 plays: 0 (0.0%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: <4%, Poor: >12%)
Consistency was the hallmark of Zach Wilson’s two-drive, 10-play outing against the Giants. His 8.0-to-1 ratio of positive plays to negative plays is sublime.
Including a play that was called back due to a penalty, Wilson completed 7-of-10 passes for a shiny 70.0% completion rate, but he was actually even better than that. One of his incompletions was a well-placed checkdown to Tyler Kroft in the flat that only hit the ground due to Kroft stumbling out of his route. That was a positive play for me. Another incompletion was a miscommunication with Corey Davis, which I marked down with a neutral score of 5.0.
Wilson’s pre and post-snap decision-making helped him achieve great consistency over his short stint in this game. Pre-snap, he identified a couple of favorable matchups that he took advantage of post-snap, including an out route to Corey Davis against one-on-one coverage along the left sideline.
Post-snap, Wilson was consistently sharp. On one play, Keelan Cole and Jamison Crowder each ran in-breaking routes from the left side. Crowder was the innermost receiver and Wilson’s first read. Prior to the snap, it looked like Crowder may have been free to break open against a Cover-2, but one safety dropped and cut off Crowder’s route post-snap. So Wilson moved to his next read and found Cole in a tight one-on-one window.
No big plays, but no bad mistakes either
Wilson was locked in, not making a single mistake that was even remotely egregious.
I only scored one play negatively, which was an incomplete third-down pass to Corey Davis over the middle in which I thought Wilson could have gotten the ball out a tad earlier and placed the ball further outside.
However, considering that Davis was the only good option available and that he had not run the best route (getting jammed and being held from crossing the first-down marker), it was hardly a bad play by Wilson. He chose the best option and slightly missed on a pass that was thrown off by a less-than-stellar route and would not have moved the chains anyway.
Wilson posted an average positive score of only 5.55, which is a very low number. This is because he did not make any particularly special plays in the game. He made good plays galore, but this was not a take-over-the-game type of outing.
Wilson’s lack of pomp was not a problem in this particular game, though. When a quarterback is as incredibly consistent as Wilson was over his short time in this game, it is perfectly fine that he is not making highlight-reel plays. The flash and flare are traded for stability and the minimization of lowlight plays.
Drew Brees made a living off of this brand of football. Highlight plays weren’t his bread-and-butter. He shredded teams thanks to the all-time-great consistency at which he made the right decision, protected the football, and threw with perfect accuracy on the routine throws that he relied upon.
Wilson probably isn’t going to be that type of quarterback, but he is capable of playing that style of ball when need be, as we saw against the Giants.
Overall grade: 69.8
This was a strong debut for Wilson. Overreacting to 10 passes is silly, so we’re not going to do that. Let’s just put it like it is – Wilson had two great drives to kick off his NFL career. Smart decision-making (particularly post-snap) was the best attribute of his first performance.
Read More Jet X Content:
Zach Wilson vs. Green Bay Packers
- Actual stats: 9/11 for 128 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks (11.6 Y/A, 154.7 QB rating)
- Overall grade: 61.9 – (Average: 50, Great: 60+, Elite: 70+, Poor: <40, Bad: <30)
- Total plays: 12
- Neutral plays: 1
- Positive plays: 7 (58.3%) – (Average: 50%, Phenomenal: >60%, Poor: <40%)
- Negative plays: 4 (33.3%) – (Average: 30%, Phenomenal: <20%, Poor: >40%)
- Postive-negative ratio: 1.75 – (Average: 1.67, Phenomenal: 3.00+, Poor: <1.00)
- Average positive: 5.96 – (Average: 5.90, Phenomenal: 6.00+, Poor: <5.80)
- Average negative: 4.09 – (Average: 3.80, Phenomenal: 4.00+, Poor: <3.60)
- Wow factor: 10.05 – (Average: 9.70, Phenomenal: 10.0+, Poor: <9.40)
- 7+ plays: 2 (16.7%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: >12%, Poor: <4%)
- ≤3 plays: 1 (8.3%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: <4%, Poor: >12%)
A significantly different performance
Wilson played a much different type of game against the Packers than he did against the Giants. His accuracy was more erratic, leading to a far less consistent outing, but he also made two huge plays that dwarfed any of the throws he made in his debut.
Accuracy was a small problem
With seven positive plays and four negative plays, Wilson posted a fairly average positive-negative ratio of 1.75.
Accuracy was the reason for three of Wilson’s four negative plays.
Wilson placed the ball too far inside on a comeback route to Davis, leading to a deflection. Later, he missed badly on an easy throw to Davis in the flat as he threw the ball in the dirt on a rollout while under no pressure. Wilson also made Jeff Smith have to fully extend to catch a screen pass, an extremely minor mishap that I graded just barely below a 5.0.
The fourth negative play involved Wilson hesitating to hit Smith on a quick hitch route over the middle that could have gained the Jets four or five yards on second-and-7. Wilson ended up checking the ball down to Tevin Coleman for a 1-yard loss.
Huge plays save the day
Each of my four negatively-graded plays for Wilson occurred within his first seven plays of the game. He got off to a somewhat shaky start.
Wilson finished on fire after the rough beginning, delivering a duo of highlight-reel plays. His under-pressure rollout and deep sideline bomb to Corey Davis was a delight. Later, his second-read seam route to Tyler Kroft with outside placement to protect him from the pursuing safety was veteran quarterback stuff.
Decision-making continued to be strong
Wilson’s decision-making against the Packers was just as great as it was against the Giants. As I mentioned earlier, three of Wilson’s four negatively-graded plays were due to accuracy while only one was due to decision-making.
Against the Giants, Wilson’s lone negatively-graded play was due to accuracy. That gives Wilson one bad play due to his decision-making over his 22 plays in the preseason.
Read More Jet X Content:
Overall grade: 61.9
The sample sizes of these two games were far too small to definitively call Wilson’s Giants performance better than his Packers performance even though I gave him a better grade against Big Blue. Both outings were great.
With that being said, I think the discrepancy in these grades exemplifies what play-by-play grading is all about.
I’m pretty sure that any Jets fan would tell you that the Packers game was easily Wilson’s better performance. But when you go through every single play and grade them one by one, you get a different conclusion.
That’s because observers define past events by the most notable things that they remember from those events – they can’t store everything that they saw.
The most notable memories from the Packers game were better than the most notable memories from the Giants game, so people will tend to think Wilson was definitively better against Green Bay.
What people forget is that Wilson botched a few plays against the Packers while he only made one minor mistake against the Giants. Every play has the same value – it’s not just about the highlights.
Wilson was outstanding in both of his preseason performances. I will not choose one game over the other based on a very limited number of throws.
With that being said, I think my grading discrepancy between these two games beautifully encapsulates why it is important to analyze everything a quarterback does if you want to truly understand how well he is playing.
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