New York Jets QB Zach Wilson is lighting it up in the deep range
There is a vast array of things that New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson must improve on before he can reach his full potential.
With that being said, there is one thing that Wilson is already doing at an elite level: launch the deep ball.
Wilson has completed 11 passes that traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. That ranks as the third-most in the NFL through four weeks, trailing only Kyler Murray (13) and Derek Carr (13). He sits one spot ahead of Tom Brady (10).
It’s not as if Wilson ranks that highly just because he is chucking up a ton of attempts. His accuracy on deep passes has been elite, too.
Wilson’s adjusted completion percentage (which accounts for drops) on deep throws is a sterling 57.9% (11 for 19), ranking third-best out of the 26 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 10 deep passes. Justin Herbert (61.5%) and Kyler Murray (72.2%) are the mere two signal-callers who have been more accurate on throws for at least 20 air yards.
In total, Wilson has racked up 361 passing yards off of deep passes. That ranks fourth-best, trailing Matthew Stafford (376), Derek Carr (422), and Kyler Murray (424).
Wilson’s 115.6 passer rating on deep throws is also fourth-best, checking in behind Justin Herbert (118.3), Joe Burrow (128.5), and Russell Wilson (130.2).
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Thanks largely to his prowess as a deep passer, Wilson has been one of the league’s best explosive-play quarterbacks thus far. His total of 10 completions for a gain of 25+ yards is tied with Joe Burrow for seventh-most.
Wilson was a deep-ball menace against the Tennessee Titans in Week 4. He completed four of his five deep attempts for 165 yards – the most yards gained off of deep passes among any quarterback in the league that week.
One interesting aspect of Wilson’s deep production is how much time he is taking to make those plays. Wilson has averaged 4.17 seconds from snap to release on his deep attempts, which is the highest mark in the league.
Why is that? There are two primary reasons.
One, his deep throws have been really deep, so a lot of his shots have taken a long time to develop. Wilson’s average deep attempt has traveled 32.2 yards downfield, ranking seventh-highest among qualifiers. Wilson and Patrick Mahomes (32.8 average target depth) are the only quarterbacks who have an adjusted completion percentage of over 50% on deep throws while also averaging over 30.0 attempted yards through the air per deep pass.
This is a testament to the quality of Wilson’s deep completions – they’re not just barely scraping the 20-yard mark.
Two, an enormous chunk of Wilson’s deep production has been self-created on improvised plays. Wilson’s meteoric strikes to Corey Davis and Keelan Cole against the Titans come to mind, as does his first touchdown pass to Davis in Week 1. Improvised plays featuring a scramble outside of the pocket obviously take a lot longer than on-schedule shots off of a five-step drop.
That is yet another indicator of the quality of Wilson’s deep plays. Not only is he chucking the ball extremely deep, but he is often creating the time to do so by himself through his elusiveness and play-making ability.
Altogether, Wilson has been a legitimately elite deep passer through four weeks. He has been consistent and efficient with his accuracy and is doing so with an explosive amount of air yardage while creating much of the production himself on off-schedule plays. That is the making of a quarterback with franchise-changing talent.
Zach Wilson’s short and intermediate passing must improve
Wilson is a top-five deep passer but still one of the least effective quarterbacks in the league overall. That tells us he is struggling with everything besides launching bombs.
It is in the short and intermediate ranges where Wilson has a long way to go.
On intermediate throws (10 to 19 yards downfield), Wilson ranks 31st out of 32 qualifiers with a 29.7 passer rating, beating out only fellow rookie Davis Mills (27.9). He has completed 12 of 33 intermediate passes for 212 yards, one touchdown, and seven interceptions.
Wilson ranks 29th in adjusted completion percentage on intermediate throws with a 51.5% mark, which is actually worse than his accuracy on deep passes.
On short throws (0 to 9 yards downfield), Wilson currently sits 29th out of 32 quarterbacks with an 86.2 passer rating. He has completed 43 of 62 short passes for 315 yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions.
Wilson’s adjusted completion percentage of 80.6% on short throws ranks fourth-worst.
Zach Wilson’s deep passing is a strong foundation
The Jets should be thrilled that Wilson is already showcasing star-caliber potential in one particular area. They can use his success in that area as a foundation to build off of.
While Wilson works on sharpening his decision-making and accuracy in the shallow game, he can continue to rely upon the deep game as his bread-and-butter for short-term success. As he progresses with his short and intermediate proficiency, Mike LaFleur and the Jets can begin to balance out the playbook and run a more stabilized attack that does not count entirely on game-breaking plays for success.
Wilson’s set of strengths and weaknesses is what you would prefer to see out of a quarterback who was chosen second overall to become a great quarterback – not a good one.
Timing and decision-making in the quick game can be developed over time as a young player acclimates into the league. Conversely, the arm strength, deep touch, and knack for improvisational play-making that Wilson has showcased are abilities that cannot be taught or developed nearly as easily. That stuff mostly comes down to natural ability.
It would certainly be nice to see Wilson come right into the league and immediately be proficient at fluidly leading the offense and hitting the easy throws underneath, similar to division rival Mac Jones, but what is Jones’ ceiling? He might be more NFL-ready than the other rookies, but can he ever add more tools to his arsenal than what he currently has?
Wilson is already showing that he is capable of doing things that many other quarterbacks simply cannot. And he hasn’t even been merely “flashing” – he is legitimately one of the most consistently effective deep passers in football right now, and much of his deep production was self-created on improvisational plays, which is a testament to the uniqueness of his talent in the position’s most explosive facet.
Of course, Wilson needs to get better at the boring and methodical aspects of quarterbacking to fulfill his potential. But that can come in time. What cannot be done in time is learning how to make the plays Wilson is making right now – at best, it’s extremely difficult.
Zach Wilson is showcasing a jaw-dropping ceiling. Once he masters the little things – which probably will not happen until his second season at the earliest, so stay patient – his potential is limitless.
You didn’t even mention the 30 yard throw outside the numbers to Mims that was a 40 yard pass play. Wilson stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike as he was hit. Mack Jones is a good QB in the best possible position for a rookie starter, unlike Wilson or Trevor Lawrence or even Justin Fields, all of whom have much higher ceilings. That said Wilson and Jones have the same record as starters and only Wilson has won vs a team with a veteran QB and a winning record.