This would be the cherry on top of a solid preseason for Zach Wilson
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson has received positive reviews for his preseason performance so far, showing a decent amount of progress in many areas that have plagued him in the NFL. He’s been getting the ball out quicker, taking better care of the football, and showing a greater willingness to take what the defense gives him.
The numbers back up Wilson’s improvement in these areas.
Wilson is averaging 2.43 seconds from snap to throw, ranking fifth-fastest out of the 39 quarterbacks with at least 30 dropbacks this preseason. It’s a huge improvement over his 3.07-second average in the 2022 regular season, which ranked third-highest among quarterbacks with at least 250 dropbacks.
Across 42 dropbacks and 38 pass attempts this preseason, Wilson is yet to turn the ball over. He did get knocked for one turnover-worthy throw against Tampa Bay, but even with that included, Wilson’s 2.4% turnover-worthy play rate is 14th-best out of 39 qualifiers this preseason. In the 2022 regular season, Wilson ranked second-worst with a 5.9% turnover-worthy play rate.
Granted, Wilson is doing all of this against preseason-level competition, and we should remember that he played well in his rookie preseason, too. Still, it’s promising to see Wilson making tangible progress in the specific areas where he has struggled in his career so far.
With one preseason game left, now is a great time for Wilson to show one more thing before he takes a seat on the bench: the ability to air it out.
After showing improvement with his game-managing abilities over the past three games, it would be promising to see Wilson build off his progress in those areas by taking more chances against the Giants. He’s been super conservative so far. While that’s a positive thing for his development at the moment, he will eventually need to couple the game management with explosiveness if he wants to fulfill his potential as a starting quarterback.
This is not to say Wilson should come out guns-a-blazin’ by any means necessary. Being too aggressive is rarely a good thing. However, now that he has established a newfound safe-minded approach, Wilson should aim to strike a better balance between playing it safe and taking shots. When a good opportunity for a deep shot presents itself tonight, he should take it.
Wilson has been checking the ball down a lot this preseason. His average pass attempt has traveled only 4.3 yards downfield. It’s the lowest aDOT (average depth of target) among 39 qualified quarterbacks.
Outside of his 57-yard bomb to Malik Taylor in the opener, Wilson has not thrown any other passes that traveled over 20 yards downfield. Even in the 10-19 yard range, he’s only made three attempts.
In total, of his 36 pass attempts that did not get batted down at the line, 21 were thrown 0-9 yards downfield and 11 were thrown behind the line of scrimmage. Just four went at least 10 yards downfield, meaning he’s thrown behind the line of scrimmage nearly three times as often.
To be fair, the Jets’ play calling has played a large role in Wilson’s conservative approach. This is evidenced by the fact that the NFL’s second-lowest aDOT this preseason belongs to Tim Boyle, whose average attempt has traveled only 5.5 yards downfield. Regardless of whether Wilson or Boyle is under center, the Jets have been extremely safe with their play calling.
In tonight’s finale against the Giants, I would like to see Nathaniel Hackett open the playbook up a little bit for Wilson. The goal of doing this would not be to turn Wilson into Brett Favre for a day, but rather, it would be to give Wilson a chance to work on balancing aggressiveness and caution.
The league’s best quarterbacks are masters of knowing when to check it down and when to take a shot. Few of the greats are uber-aggressive or uber-conservative. Look no further than Aaron Rodgers, who is simultaneously one of the league’s most explosive deep passers and one of the league’s most frequent users of the checkdown.
By calling more concepts that include options to throw deep, the Jets can evaluate Wilson’s ability to choose correctly between the aggressive decision and the safe decision.
From Wilson’s perspective, he should eagerly seek out the aggressive shots tonight. I’d like to see Wilson tap into his arm talent and take some high-upside chances when the situation calls for it. In the past few games, I felt there were some reasonably open deep opportunities that Wilson passed on in favor of a checkdown. Those are throws I want him to attempt tonight.
Again, this is not to say he should throw caution to the wind and chuck up those “Screw it, he’s down there somewhere” type of throws. I simply want him to dial up his aggressiveness meter to 5/10 compared to the 2/10 it’s been at over the last three games. Balance is the key to becoming a great quarterback.
While Wilson has looked solid lately, he’s been playing a very safe brand of football. And that mentality is perfectly fine – perhaps even ideal – for this stage of his development. These are his first few appearances since an extremely tumultuous finish to his second season; he’s just trying to recalibrate and get back to the basics. It’s also a new system. So, a safe mentality has made sense to get him back on track.
But I think he’s ready for the next step.
Wilson’s electric arm is what got him drafted second overall. It’s time for him to flaunt it with confidence. As Rodgers told the kid in Canton, “Let those sleeves down, bro!”