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Grading every Zach Wilson throw vs. New Orleans Saints

Zach Wilson, PFF Grade, Saints, NY Jets, Stats
Zach Wilson, New York Jets, Getty Images

How well did Zach Wilson perform against the New Orleans Saints?

Throughout the 2021 season, I will be running a weekly series of breakdowns in which I analyze the performance of the New York Jets’ quarterback(s) by grading every single one of their plays on a 0-to-10 scale.

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.

After re-watching each play on the All-22 film, I grade them 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 just a handful of the primary 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 or did he leave a better play on the field?)
  • Throw difficulty (Clean pocket or pressured? Wide open or tight window? Stationary or on the move? More difficult throws are more valuable.)
  • 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 complete a 5-yard out on third-and-10 while a 15-yard dig is open, but a 5-yard out on third-and-2 is good.)

Ultimately, it’s all about context. Not all 40-yard completions are created equal. Not all interceptions are created equal. You need to watch a play to understand whether the quarterback did a good or bad job. The raw result of a play cannot give you that answer.

When we 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 and are not gospel. Feel free to let me know your takes on my grades for these performances.

Let’s dig into everything that went into my 0-to-100 grade for Zach Wilson‘s performance against the New Orleans Saints.


For each performance, I include a few metrics that help explain how Wilson 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: plays that are not noticeably good or bad. These are typically lost plays or plays in which the QB can hardly be evaluated: screens, batted passes, miscommunications, and unavoidable sacks are commonly graded as a 5.0.

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 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 outstanding 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.

Zach Wilson vs. New Orleans Saints

  • Actual stats: 19/42 for 202 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (4.8 Y/A, 59.8 QB rating). 3 sacks for 24 yards. 4 rushes for 33 yards.
  • Overall grade: 28.8 – (Average: 50, Great: 60+, Elite: 70+, Poor: <40, Bad: <30)
  • Plays graded: 51
  • Neutral plays: 4
  • Positive plays: 27  (52.9%) – (Average: 50%, Phenomenal: >60%, Poor: <40%)
  • Negative plays: 20 (39.2%) – (Average: 30%, Phenomenal: <20%, Poor: >40%)
  • Positive-negative ratio: 1.35 –  (Average: 1.70, Phenomenal: 3.00+, Poor: <1.00)
  • Average positive: 5.57 – (Average: 5.90, Phenomenal: 6.00+, Poor: <5.80)
  • Average negative: 3.54 – (Average: 3.80, Phenomenal: 4.00+, Poor: <3.60)
  • Wow factor: 9.11 – (Average: 9.70, Phenomenal: 10.00+, Poor: <9.40)
  • 7+ plays: 2 (3.9%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: >12%, Poor: <4%)
  • ≤3 plays: 6 (11.8%) – (Average: 8%, Phenomenal: <4%, Poor: >12%)

I scored Wilson with an awful grade of 28.8 for his performance against New Orleans. It is his third-worst grade of the season, only beating out his games against New England (Week 2) and Atlanta.

Wilson’s season-long grade drops from 45.2 to 42.7 with the rough outing.

Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy

I was a big fan of Wilson’s first two games after coming back from injury. While he did continue to struggle with accuracy across both games, I thought he did enough good things to overcome those woes in each contest.

Against Houston, Wilson’s processing and decision-making were solid, and there were a lot of throws that appeared inaccurate upon the first viewing but were actually the fault of a teammate, making his performance on film look far more competent than his performance upon the first broadcast viewing. Overall, I thought he was decent even though he missed some easy ones. He made the right decision at a high level of consistency.

Against Philadelphia, Wilson still missed some easy ones and even had imperfect placement on some of his completions, but he operated the offense with excellent consistency in the first half and then made a plethora of big-time throws when entering catch-up mode in the second half, many of which were dropped. Altogether, it was his best display of accuracy this season, and I thought it was a legitimately great all-around performance.

This time around, Wilson’s accuracy stooped to all-new lows, and there was nothing he could do to make up for it.

Wilson posted season-lows of a 45.2% completion percentage and a 57.9% adjusted completion percentage (accounts for drops, throwaways, etc.). These numbers were posted despite Wilson attempting a fairly conservative diet of passes – his average throw traveled only 7.5 yards downfield, his second-lowest mark out of eight fully-played starts this season.

Every type of miss was on Wilson’s tape. Too high, too low, too out in front, too far behind. He missed from perfectly clean pockets, on designed rollouts, and on improvised scrambles. He missed screen passes, deep shots, and intermediate throws. There is no consistent theme to his accuracy woes right now.

Decision-making also declined

Over the previous two weeks, Wilson’s head was in the right place even if his accuracy was not always the sharpest. This week, Wilson made a lot of baffling decisions.

Many of these decisions were over-conservative. I saw quite a few plays in which a receiver was open deep but Wilson took the safer option, whether it be taking a sack, checking the ball down, or scrambling.

Wilson’s increased willingness to take safe plays was one of the best aspects of his first two post-injury games. He sped up his release times and started hitting short throws on-time when they were the right play to make.

But in this game, he took that a little too far. Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole, and even Denzel Mims on one play (although it was just a botched coverage and not a good route) were victims of Wilson failing to hit them when open on intermediate or deep routes.

Perhaps Wilson lost trust in his receivers with Corey Davis and Elijah Moore out. For the most part, the receivers did a terrible job of creating separation in this game. There were a lot of plays in which Wilson had no good options. I even gave him a handful of positive grades just for recognizing that he had nowhere to go with the ball and throwing it away before he was sacked or did something reckless.

So, the poor play of the receivers was definitely a factor in this one. Wilson had a heavy load on his shoulders due to the receivers failing to win on their routes and give him the chance to consistently execute the offense in an on-schedule manner.

With that being said, when plays were there to be made, Wilson usually botched the opportunity, whether it be through bad accuracy or an over-conservative decision.

Due largely to his worsened decision-making, Wilson’s overall consistency dipped significantly compared to his previous two games. After I scored him with season-best ratios of positive plays to negative plays in back-to-back games (2.25 vs. Houston and 2.45 vs. Philadelphia), Wilson dropped down to 1.35-to-1 against New Orleans, which is below his less-than-ideal season average (1.40-to-1).

Lack of flashes

One of the primary reasons I loved Wilson’s performance against Philadelphia was the impressive number of big-time plays he made. There are a lot of elite throws on that tape.

Against New Orleans, though, there is not much to speak of. Two plays earned grades of 7-plus from me (good enough to be considered “elite) – a fourth-down laser to Braxton Berrios to beat a slot blitz and a deep back-shoulder ball to Keelan Cole.

Out of 51 plays, though, that was about it. I didn’t see anything else from Wilson that was remarkably great. He had a good drive to close the first half in which he made some very nice throws on the move to get the Jets into field goal range, but aside from that drive and the other two aforementioned plays, it was a stagnant performance with little to write home about.

The average positive score that I awarded Wilson in this game (the average grade of every positively-graded play, exemplifying how high his peaks were) turned out to be a minuscule 5.57, a season-low.

What that number tells us is that the majority of Wilson’s “good” plays were lackluster (typically just checking the ball down) and that his performance lacked flair, which is a crucial aspect of why this was a poor outing. When you are as inconsistent as Wilson was, you need to produce high-impact plays to make up for it. He did not.

Overall grade: 28.8

This was a discouraging game to evaluate. It felt like all of the progress that Wilson made had flown out the window.

I am more disappointed in the decision-making aspect of Wilson’s performance than his accuracy. I’ve accepted that Wilson’s accuracy woes are something that can probably not be fixed until he gets an entire offseason to work on it, so I am prepared to see him continue to struggle with that over the rest of his rookie season. What bothers me is the step back he took when it came to making the right plays. He was far less consistent at making the best possible decision than he was in the previous two games.

Over the remainder of his rookie season, I am much more invested in Wilson’s progress as a decision-maker than a thrower. The accuracy progression will have to wait until next year. But there is nothing stopping Wilson from sharpening his timing, improving his ability to read the defense pre and post-snap, and mastering the balance between an aggressive mentality and a conservative mentality.

Wilson showed noticeable progress in those areas against Houston and Philadelphia. He was on the right track. Ideally, he uses the next four games to prove that the New Orleans game was just a bump in the road.

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2 years ago

Michael, have you thought about doing this for other QBs to give us a baseline of how great QBs would score in your system? Maybe in the off-season as an idea?