clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2021 NFL Draft Prospect QB Zach Wilson

Technical skill with accuracy and a strong arm

BYU v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

This is my first article (of many) on the prospects of the 2021 NFL Draft. Some will be players with high ceilings while others are role players with very defined skill sets. I will try to bring you a wide variety of players who encompass many positions. Many I select will present possibilities for the Jets organization.

First up Zach Wilson QB BYU 6’ 3” 215 lbs

Looks can be deceiving in many things in life. What looks to be a great deal really isn’t, or that person you thought had the perfect life really doesn’t. On a football field looks mean little to nothing. What counts is on the scoreboard for all to see. Yet you might think it odd that a top flight NFL QB prospect looks like he is 16 and should be featured on Teen Vogue rather than Pro Football Weekly.

That adolescent looking player is Zach Wilson from BYU who has a howitzer for an arm that is deadly accurate, a competitive streak that rivals Michael Jordan, and a confidence in himself akin to James Bond. He comes from a football family. His favorite thing to do when he is not playing football is studying football and it’s top players.

He told KSL Sports, “I catch myself watching football, studying football 24/7. We’re here lifting all the time, and then, I go home, and every night before bed, I’m watching some in-depth analysis of a random quarterback of the day, whether it’s Matt Stafford or Josh Allen, I love to see their transition from high school to college to the NFL. Really just anything I can get my hands on that I feel like is gonna help me be a better player.”

He doesn’t think about studying football but, “It’s not necessarily something I look for either. It naturally comes. I feel like I just love the game so much. I get home, and it just happens. I just want to watch football, and I want to learn as much as I can. I really take a lot of pride in how much I study the game.”

Wilson was recruited by some 20 schools. He actually committed to Boise State before switching to BYU, but he felt snubbed by receiving zero recruiting letters from the Power 5 conferences. It bothered him so much that he made and wears a wristband that says “prove them wrong.” He wore it so much that he wore out his original wristband so he had about a dozen new ones made.

Wilson was born and raised in Draper, Utah. His father Mike played defensive tackle for the Utes from 1992 to 1995. He was teammates with long time NFL starter Luther Ellis. Zach Wilson, along with his immediate family were die hard Utah Ute fans. They had season tickets for years. Zach was not offered a scholarship to Utah because the team only offers one QB scholarship a year, and that year they offered it to Jack Tuttle, a player who is no longer with the program.

Zach had committed to Boise State but coach Kalani Sitake of BYU brought the family to Provo and treated them like royalty. After a 4 hour talk with family Zach switched his commitment to BYU. Since then he has played in 30 career games with varying degrees of success. He has improved every year through hard work along with finding a personal QB coach to aid his progression.

I personally have not finished my assessment of Zach since I have more game film to watch. I can say he has developed greatly in the past two years with 2020 being the culmination of his hard work. His work with his QB coach John Beck has taught him how to better rotate his hips which increases both accuracy and velocity of the ball. To show you how committed Zach was to his training sessions each session was a 10 hour drive from Provo, Utah, to San Diego, California, to participate in each training.

What I have learned so far about Zach Wilson:

Zach is devoted to developing his skill set the best he can. He is a field rat (as compared to a gym rat) in that he enjoys working on his game. He is also a devoted watcher of game film, both his and players he can learn from. He is a smart kid, an honor roll student in high school. He is still very young. He will turn 22 in in August of 2021, and even though he attends BYU he is not going on a Mormon two year mission.

He is said to be a great leader from his teammates. When ever you people talk about Zach one of the first words you hear is the word “confident” or “driven.” He led his team to a record in 2020 of 11-1 with a bowl game win against UCF. In the UCF game he had 330 passing yards with 3 passing TDs and 2 rushing TDs at halftime.

His game (although still evolving) will remind you of Patrick Mahomes. However, Mahomes was not this far developed at this point in his career. His 2020 stats are (in 12 games) 3,699 yards passing 33 TDs and 3 INTs completing 73.4% of his passes with 254 rushing yards (which includes sacks) and 10 rushing TDs.

Zach Wilson is a very mobile QB, but he is always looking downfield to make a play first and foremost. I have seen him look off defenders only to throw to a receiver on the opposite side of the field. He has an electric arm that gets great velocity on the ball but also uses “touch or feathering” of passes when needed. His mechanics are outstanding. You can see the effort he has put into their development. He is a humble kid who is always looking to get better.

This is a quote of his on his possibility of being an early draft pick.

“It’s awesome, it’s a blessing, and it keeps me grateful for everything I have in my life, It teaches me how to be humble, honestly. I feel like I get excited at the situation, I get excited at what’s going on. Then it really gives me the ability to reflect and say, ‘Okay, well what got me here? Why am I to this point? What can I do better? How can I give back to other people, you know?’ I’ve been given a lot of opportunities in my life, and I just feel like it’s making me a better person and a better player. It’s nice to be getting noticed and stuff, but it’s really gonna keep making me try and work harder to get to the next step.”

Okay so let’s take the next step to looking at some film. Like I said I have not watched all the film I would have liked to at this point, but I have seen enough to make some early judgements on Zach’s talents. Every game I watched from 2020 seemed like a highlight reel tape. The game I chose to show you the majority of the plays is actually one of his poorer games with a 56.3% completion rate.

I will run some plays in sequence (as they happened to show you a better game like feel for the action). This first play is from the second game of his sophomore year. Zach had been harassed all day as his offensive line failed to hold back the Tennessee pass rush. BYU trailed all game and looked lost, but Zach completed a 67 yard pass play with 5 seconds left to set up a field goal that tied the game. This is the first round in overtime.

This was an RPO (run pass option) that was really a pass all the way. The play was a slant pass where the corner bailing just before the snap ensured the pathway to the end zone. The play fake is used to get the ILB to fill the hole and in doing so open up the windowthe pass will be thrown through. He had to hurry the throw because he had a free rusher off the edge who hit him just after the pass is thrown.

I show you this because I want you to watch the lower half of his body on the throw. He is almost throwing against his own body. The hips do not rotate open. This is a heave, not a pass. He is throwing a forward pass yet the upper part of his body (the part that is throwing the pass) never moves forward. His back heel of his plant foot never leaves the ground because he is not using his lower half to throw. This type of technique over time can lead to arm/shoulder problems. Fortunately it needed to travel only a short distance, and it still was a yard or two behind where it needed to be.

Now watch the throw from 2020. He has off man to man coverage at the top of the screen. Zach knows where he is throwing his ball before the snap. He is reading the defense. He just has to go through the fakes to make it so.

This is 12 personnel with two TEs, two WRs and a single back aligned directly behind the QB. This screams “power running formation” to the defense. The fake is to the offense’s left because it is set up for the receiver at the top of the screen. At the snap there are 8 defenders in the box (within 5 yards of the ball) so when the play fake is made they all come charging to make the tackle.

Wilson drops back, gives a cursory look down the center of the field, and throws to the right with great anticipation. His receiver is yet to make his break when the ball leaves Wilson’s hand. This is a 28 yard throw from the left hash to the numbers on the opposite side of the field. This is a dime that many NFL QBs would struggle to throw on a rope. This also not in the rhythm of the game. This is the first play of the game yet he makes the throw like he has been lathered up after a number of shorter throws.

Look as Wilson gets to his drop. He looks down the center of the field to hold the safety then quickly resets to his right, opens his hips, and throws a dart to his receiver almost effortlessly. It all has to be done like clockwork, like dominos falling. Step and rotate the hips followed by the arm coming through as he pushes off with his plant leg. This is that extra work. Those 10 hour drives paid off on the field.

The next play after this was a run by the back for only two yards leaving it 2nd and 8.

For the third play of the game the Cougars are in 11 personnel with 3 WRs, 1 TE and 1 RB which starts as a one back set behind the QB but then switches to the pistol before the snap. If you notice the slot receiver closest to the TE, his defender is playing almost 11 yards off of him. Wilson notices this too.

Wilson goes through with the RPO by faking the handoff, going left, and quickly zipping the ball to his uncovered receiver for an easy 7 yard gain. Wilson is falling back on the throw, but it still has major zip and gets to the receiver in a heartbeat. This pass is like a MLB pitcher making a quick snap throw to first to try and catch a baserunner leaning.

Wilson is a huge game film watcher. He understands many of the defensive formations and how to best take advantage of them. This is not a big play, but it is another sample of the depth of Wilson’s knowledge of the game. He will make a defense pay for a lax play, getting easy yards when possible. Plus the throw was released quickly, got to the receiver in an instant, and was super accurate. It would have hit the receiver’s facemask if he didn’t catch the ball.

This next play we are able to see how Wilson does on the move. This is 12 personnel again with the 2nd TE on the right side set up in the slot and not on the line of scrimmage. Many times you can make a defense substitute a beefier personnel package when they believe you have a running formation then throw out of that formation. This is the case here as you can see the entire line slants left (the same direction as the RB) as Wilson reverse pivots back to the right.

Back in the day this was called a waggle bootleg with the reverse action. As Wilson moves to his right he is reading the patterns from deep first then moving back to him. He sees the deepest receiver is well covered, but the left side TE who is running a drag route across the field has a small window but a window none the less.

Wilson is able to push off with his left leg while twisting his body as he throws. By doing so he gets great velocity on the pass that hits his TE in the breadbasket. If the TE hadn’t caught the ball it would have knocked the wind out of him. Watch as Wilson is running, looking all the time with his arm cocked like a rifle. Once he decides to let it rip the ball is gone in an instant and gets to its target in under a second. This is all around impressive stuff from a just turned 21 year old.

A few plays later with the offense in the pistol using 11 personnel and the TE in a slot position BYU is looking to strike. At the snap the RB goes through with the play fake then heads out into the right flat. Wilson is looking for his favorite receiver Dax Milne who started out wide then used a nice diamond release to escape the press coverage and cross the face of his defender into the middle of the field.

Wilson gives a cursory look to the right to hold the safety to that side of the field then comes back ready to launch a bullet to Milne. When he cocks his arm Milne has not yet cleared his defender who makes a valiant effort to get back into the play. Wilson quickly resets then fires a laser shot that hits Milne in stride, leading ever so slightly with the ball at eye level. One Wilson decides to throw his release is lightning quick without the need to take a huge windup despite the nice velocity.

Also look at Wilson’s setup. His stance is wide and stable with the ball close to his body being held by two hands. This vastly reduces the chance of a rusher getting a hand on the ball, forcing a fumble. He also stands tall in the pocket for better vision, ready to throw in a split second if he needs to. His delivery is over the top (not 3/4s ) to use all of his height to his advantage. This lessens a chance at a batted ball.

Wilson is an excellent athlete with around average speed for a player his size. He is not immobile with over 600 rushing yards and 15 TDs in his 30 games played at BYU. Remember that sacks in college football count against your rushing stats so the numbers are often skewed. This is not to say Wilson is a rushing QB akin to say a Jalen Hurts. He is not. Wilson is a pocket passer who has good (not great) movements skills to avoid sacks, escape a rush, and run for a first down or take advantage of an opening.

Here Wilson is looking to hit his favorite target Dax Milne in the flat but the seas kind of parted in front of him so he took the option that contained more yards for his team. In the NFL he will definitely need to learn to slide rather than take an unnecessary hit by a defender. You can see he is not the runner that Michael Vick was, but he is surely better than Sam Darnold or Jimmy Garoppolo. Wilson played soccer and baseball and ran track in high school along with playing football. He had a well-rounded athletic skill set.

Wilson can run, but what he most likes to do is use his cannon to move the sticks. This is no more than a 10 yard out, but Wilson makes an impressive throw to the wide side of the field.

This ball travels only 18-19 yards as recorded by the stat man, but it traveled a lot further than that. This is a single step throw that Wilson just turns and fires from the hash on one side of the field to the boundary on the other. He hits his favorite target again who is being shadowed with off coverage. The ball wastes no time getting there. In a man coverage situation there is little to no time to make a move for the interception because by the time the defender realizes the throw is coming, it has already been completed.

I mentioned earlier that some of Wilson’s playing style is similar (or stolen from) Patrick Mahomes. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and maybe he was talking about football because there are a lot of teams running plays that some guy from another team devised. Here Wilson looks more like a MLB second baseman giving a double play feed to his shortstop than an NFL QB. Yet the throw is super quick and deadly accurate.

Wilson didn’t have a famous father who pitched in the major leagues, but he was a very good high school baseball player. The ability to make this throw and make it accurately just adds to the arsenal of Wilson’s playmaking ability. The more ways you have to make a play, the better.

This next play shows some of the competitive juices Wilson has. His team is up by 25 points with half a minute to go in the first half, and Wilson has driven his team to the 4 yard line looking for more.

Wilson is rolling to his left which is the more difficult direction to use for a right handed QB, but he is able to square up his body and make a perfect throw to a covered receiver. The receiver (for whatever reason) decides to jump for a pass that is perfectly chest high then try to catch the ball by cradling it to his chest rather than using his hands. The result was a predictable dropped pass, and Wilson does not hide his displeasure with his receiver.

Some will say that Wilson needs to be more careful with his disgust, but other would say it shows how much he cares about making plays. As a leader it is important that your players know how important every play is. As long as you hold yourself accountable for mistakes most teammates would not see the problem with that. Just make the play.

Many star players have that same fire, even more so. Tom Brady was often seen screaming at his teammates when things didn’t go his way. Aaron Rodgers is said to hold players accountable when they drop balls in practice. If you dropped one in a game you would get the eye roll and the shaking of the head. Good luck getting another pass thrown you way. You need to earn that right again in Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood.

I see nothing wrong with a team captain (Wilson was a team captain) expressing displeasure when a play that should have been made is not. To hold everyone to a high standard (even yourself) can be the difference between players putting in the extra work to improve or not. Besides it’s not like he threw a tantrum. He showed his displeasure than moved on quickly.

It’s not a major issue, but it is part of his makeup (He could outgrow it in years to come.) right now so I wanted to make it available to those who may feel that it is pertinent information. The way to overcome the drop is to (after a broken up pass on 2nd down) is to split your big TE out wide so he can be covered by a smaller defender and throw a pass where the CB can’t reach.

This is a perfect pass, too high for the defender and not too much zip so it is very catchable and in a perfect location. You line up three WRs to the left so it looks like some kind of rub (pick) play. The defense then puts 4 defenders over there. Throw back to the right to the situation you deemed most advantageous in the first place. It’s like stealing except it’s totally legal, and puts you up by 32 going into halftime.

This next clip is of Wilson in the bowl game against UCF where UCF’s idea was to pressure Wilson. This gives us a good idea of how Zach handles a pressure situation. This first clip is of a good offensive play that had the worst defense called for the play.

If you watch the two receivers to the left they both run quick drag routes across the field which brings their defenders with them. The reason you do this is so the linebacker covering the RB can get caught up in the mass of running players so he is late in the coverage on the back. Fortunately for the offense this is a wheel route into the flat, but unfortunately for the defense the ILB who is supposed to cover the back is blitzing on the play. The safety who is covering for the ILB has busted his coverage and is nowhere to be found. The back is supposed to drive his route down the sideline but smartly turns around when he realizes he is uncovered.

Wilson just calmly waits for the RB to look back to him then lays a soft pass to the wide open player for a big gain. This is a nice play design with the TE in the slot on the right side of the field coming across the formation to act as a “rub” to one of the wideouts if the wheel route is covered.

The very next play Wilson goes for the jugular with a seam pass to the TE down the center of the field. The timing of the play is thrown off as Wilson’s foot is stepped on by the center so Wilson must regain his balance then find his receiver.

The TE easily beats the ILB coverage down the field, but the slight delay caused by the foot being stepped on ruins the timing of the play. This pass should have been caught over the shoulder for an easy score, but he fact that Wilson had to reset then find his receiver made that throw impossible.

Watch the super quick release when Wilson finally spies his TE wide open. He also (in an instant) realizes he has to adjust his throw, so with the defender’s back turned a high soft throw will do the trick. The pass is laid in perfectly, but the TE leaves his arms extended after the catch which the defender accidentally knocks away with the crown of his helmet. This was not his intention since he could not see the play and was the fault of the TE who must learn to “catch and tuck” especially in contested situations. That pass must be pulled into the body once caught because he is probably going to end up flying to the ground so you don’t want the ball to pop out do to the violent collision with the ground.

The very next play is another nice offensive call by the Cougars. Since UCF was almost burned by the pass the last play the OC calls for a QB draw with a mobile (not running) QB because the defense will probably be dropping into deep zones to cover the pass.

Wilson is not a great runner by any means, but he did run track in high school so he has some juice when he turns on the JETS and races to the goal line. It wasn’t all that pretty, and this is something you will see less of in the NFL I assume. Yet the threat of such a play has to be in the mind of the opposing DC when preparing for a game against Wilson. It is not a huge factor, but it is like the “Wildcat.” If a team has to take time to prepare, it takes time away from other preparations.

Wilson has decent speed, but the fact he is far more mobile than even Sam Darnold is a pleasant surprise and an added bonus for his skill set.

Okay enough with the running. Let’s see what he can do with his arm since that is what really separates QB prospects. This next clip is actually two plays from the same drive (with a 5 yard RB run) in between. The first play is a 3 step drop to a quick out route that is nicely covered, but the throw is near perfect. Wilson gets the snap with a smooth drop back then guns a pass right on the money to his receiver near the sideline. Also watch the quick release. Once he decides to throw that ball is out with speed.

The second play is not as impressive because it is a flea flicker, and his TE is wide open down the sideline. Yet look at the catch and throw, all in a nice rhythm. The pass hit the TE in the hands right below the facemask, a spiral and an easy ball to catch.

Together you have a quick pass, thrown perfectly to the outside that hits the receiver in the hands so he can turn up field then another perfect pass that looks effortless but still travels over 40 yards in an instant.

This next pass is one of my favorite clips to watch from any QB prospect.

This is a play action pass that is a laser of a throw to a well covered receiver 40 yards downfield. This is what we used to call a “frozen rope,” but I don’t think it ever gets more than 8-9 feet off the ground.

That corner is in the hip pocket of the receiver, and I would bet he was shocked the throw would come his way. Even if it did he would expect a very contested play for the ball. Instead the ball got there so quickly and in a perfect spot he didn’t have time to make a play on the ball. From another angle....

This is a laser beam dime that basically hits the receiver in the chest from over 40 yards away that he needed to catch or it might have injured him. This is the type of arm talent I want on my team. I have only watched three games which I received at random so there was no nit-picking the games. This is the best play (by far) I have seen this year.

Summary

Zach Wilson is an impressive kid who I have not finished my evaluation of since I have not received all the game film I need. That said, I can say that Wilson is a franchise type QB with “special” written all over him. He has a childlike face right now, and for those who wonder if he can be a team leader; I am sure it will only take one practice for grizzled veterans to marvel at his arm talent.

It reminds me of that Joe Namath guy who showed up his first day with a huge contract and long hair; veterans were wondering, “Who is this guy?” Then they watched a few throws and said, “Okay.. yeah.. he’s alright.”

Wilson is listed at 6’ 3” 215 lbs so he is probably 6’ 2 1/2” 208 lbs so he will need to be on a weight training schedule to get him 10-12 lbs more muscle. He will gain that anyway as he matures and works out, but the extra weight (muscle) helps to pull away from NFL tacklers.

Many have discussed the shoulder surgery that Wilson had a few years back. No one can know the extent of that surgery or the future repercussions of that surgery unless you are a specialized doctor and have read all the medical files. It could have been a minor surgery. We just don’t know but to watch Wilson throw you would imagine it was not to serious.

Drew Brees had major shoulder surgery in early 2006. The injury required arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Later it was learned Brees had also a partially torn his rotator cuff. Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery said his shoulder was 100 percent and not any more likely to be reinjured than it ever was. Nick Saban wanted Brees badly as his Dolphins QB in free agency. It came down to either New Orleans or Miami. The Miami offer was said to be low because of the shoulder, and Brees signed with New Orleans, the rest is history.

Everyone knows that the Jets like all teams will get a full medical report on every prospect, Wilson included. If there is any potential problem they will know about it.

Like I said I have not fully finished my evaluation of Zach Wilson and many other prospects, but I would be shocked to find a better pick for the #2 spot in the NFL draft than Wilson. His arm angles, his velocity on his throws, and the pinpoint accuracy are all part of his technical skill. Also as important is is love of the game along with his desire to work at it. Work on his technical skill. Work on film study not only of the teams he will play but also himself just to get better. This is the key to becoming a great NFL QB. You have to have impressive talent but also the drive to continue to develop your skills.

I watched Peyton Manning when he was at Tennessee working on footwork fundamentals so he could easily maneuver around the pocket. I was amazed to see him doing the same drills in the preseason of his last year in the NFL. The obsession to work on your game is critical to success. Every college player who comes to the NFL, no matter the position must work to develop his game or he is doomed to either failure or mediocrity.

Wilson is light years ahead of Sam Darnold in technical acuity as a QB even at such a young age. I have railed about Darnold’s lack of technical skill since before he was drafted. I had Josh Allen in 2018 rated much higher that year, a player who most others disliked but had a ceiling much higher that Sam Darnold. The reason was that Allen had a much better skill set. He was stronger and a better athlete and had a much stronger arm. Their intelligence was about equal, but Allen grew up working on a farm. He was used to doing work plus he had worked on his game in baseball and basketball as well as football. Allen had mixed results his first two years in the NFL until he got specialized training on his delivery and release of the football. That step, rotate, throw of the QB is essential to his accuracy. It even increases release speed of the ball. Once Allen developed his technical skills of throwing he is became an MVP candidate as well as a Pro Bowl QB.

I am not totally down on Sam Darnold, but at this point he would need some serious training to become an average NFL QB. He has had such poor coaching or/and a total lack of coaching that he is near unfixable. He has been using poor technique for so long that it will take serious work to retrain his skills. Once you fall too far down the rabbit hole you never come back the same.

That being said I think a Sean McVay or a Kyle Shanahan could retrain Sam and become a capable NFL QB in their systems. McVay and Shanahan have very QB friendly offenses. Darnold (once retrained) would be a better QB than any they have right now. The McVay system has a structured component to it so the QB is almost forced to throw to the man they scheme to get open. There is not a lot of reading of defenses. Just let the play run then hit your man. Sam could do that.

So many teams are in need of a new QB, Washington, the 49ers, Patriots, and Colts. You could also add the Panthers, Broncos, Lions, Raiders, Bears, Rams, Saints and Eagles into that mix. These are all teams with QB needs of some sort but little chance to get a to quality prospect in this Draft.

That is why I believe that Sam has some decent trade value. With retraining, a solid coach and a structured system (as in LA or SF) Sam could be of value with his skill set. He is young with a live arm and movement skills that could be very desirable to the right coach.

That’s what I think...

What do you think?