Matt Waldman’s RSP shares his sample scouting report of New York Jets QB Zach Wilson, the No.1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but Waldman’s 6th-ranked passer on his board with a grade on the cusp of a reserve.
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QB Zach Wilson Scouting Profile
RSP Ranking: QB6
Height/Weight: 6-3/210 School: BYU
Comparison Spectrum: Johnny Manziel-Baker Mayfield-Drew Lock-X
Depth of Talent Score: 75.2 = Contributor: Starter execution in a limited role; diminishing returns beyond that scope. Wilson is on the cusp of the Reserve Tier, a contributor with limitations in scope and execution.
RSP Accuracy Charting
Games Tracked (Opponent/Date/Link):
- HOU 10/16/20
- Boise State 11/6/20
- WKU 10/31/20
- Coastal Carolina 12/5/2020
- San Diego State 12/12/20
- UCF 12/22/20 https://youtu.be/Va9yRiTVWws
- Navy 9/7/2020
- Louisiana Tech 10/2/2020
- Washington 9/21/19
- Tennessee 9/7/19
The Elevator Pitch on Wilson: Put Wilson in an offense like Kirk Cousins or Baker Mayfield and he’ll have a fighting chance to deliver upon some of the expectations that have generated first-round buzz—”some” being the operative word. If Cousins or Mayfield continue producing as they did last year, Wilson would be a first-round disappointment if that was his upside.
I can’t give you an elevator pitch in favor of Wilson as a first- or second-round selection on the sole basis of his talent relative to his colleagues. The idea that he’s even in the same ballpark as Patrick Mahomes is as preposterous as the idea two years ago as it was for Drew Lock or three years ago when Mayfield was a combination of the best of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.
However, I can pitch that Wilson, like Justin Fields, has more upside if he earns a favorable scheme. In the right scheme, Wilson has starter potential. Because he’s projected to earn the opportunities that come with a high draft capital, he’ll earn 2-3 years as the window of patience that most teams give its first-round quarterback.
This combined with the likelihood of Wilson landing on a team that will use a Shanahan-Stefanski-McVay variant of a West Coast offense rooted in wide zone and play-action should give him the enhanced potential to develop into a productive starter for his team. This alone will not generate a return on the high-round investment from his team, but if he works at his craft and shows the capacity to correct flaws that will derail him if not addressed, there’s room for growth that could lead to consistent productivity.
Where has the player improved? Wilson has become more efficient with his pocket movement and has limited some of his less efficient flights of improvisation to buy time which led to bad plays. He’s still not cured of the behavior, but the behavior isn’t as outlandish as it was earlier in this career.
Where is the player inconsistent? Wilson doesn’t take the easy plays as often as they are available to him. He’ll have receivers breaking open in the shallow and intermediate-range at the side of the field he’s opened to during his drop and ignore them despite favorable game management scenarios to take the easy opportunity every time.
What is the best scheme fit? Any offense that uses wide zone as the base running play and play-action and/or misdirection concepts off the wide zone would fit well with Wilson. He’s an excellent back-shoulder specialist in the vertical game and an aggressive down-the-field passer who possesses promising details with a variety of play-action fakes despite working a majority of the time from pistol and shotgun.
What is his ceiling scenario? Most people other than pro scouts scoffed at the idea that Johnny Manziel isn’t a player of ability. Scouts recognized Manziel’s gifts, the sticking point was mental health and maturity to do the work and remain a reliable professional. If Wilson can translate his back-shoulder vertical game to the rest of the field and do so with a balance of productive aggression and mature game management, we might see an approximation of what Manziel could have brought to the NFL if he had the stability of environment and outlook.
But if you’re looking for the fully-realized version of Johnny Manziel’s potential with an even stronger arm, watch the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s more likely that Wilson will fall into the spectrum of Mayfield and Lock if he has success with tempering his high-risk decisions and developing a more well-rounded game as a thrower. He has more mechanical issues as a thrower than Mayfield and Lock that he won’t get away with. This is where the Mahomes comparisons for Wilson are an unintentional insult to Mahomes’ unconventional techniques that he actually practices in addition to conventional quarterback methods that he executes well.
What is his floor scenario? If Wilson doesn’t address mechanics that lead to inconsistent accuracy when charting him to an NFL standard for what is accurate instead of basing the projection on completion percentage or charting that underestimates the increased difficulty of the pro game, he could struggle with completing passes at an acceptable level. As a player garnering the buzz of a stylistically-similar option as Mahomes, Wilson’s accuracy on the move, off-platform, and to the opposite field does not match the praise.
If he can’t develop a more complete game, he could be rendered a career backup or out of the league by 2025, if not earlier.
Physical: He’s an aggressive player who doesn’t shy away from collisions if they have to happen. He works to make the play first, and protect himself second when it comes to this choice.
Technical: The lack of pinpoint accuracy in the middle of the field may develop into a concern. He delivers the ball too far into his receivers’ frames against trail coverage, which gives the opponent a shot to defend the target. His accuracy issue stems from his drops. They often end up unbalanced and when this happens it sets the tone for the success-failure of getting a good setup with his feet and generating a timely and smooth release.
Conceptual: Wilson is an example of where the level of competition he faced has some influence and has allowed results to outweigh the process. He got away with more against lesser competition than he did against better talent. He never faced a top college team either. So there’s some variability of the outcome when projecting his talents to the pros. Against better teams, he took risks on and off script that should have led to interceptions and were much closer to being so when they weren’t. The coverage was tighter, the ground that defenders made up was faster, and the execution of coverage was better.
Intuitive: Although many will disagree, I think Wilson has an intuitive grasp of certain pocket management skills that will work as preemptive maneuvers against pressure that hasn’t become an immediate concern but would have if he waited for 1-2 beats longer to make the move. And by the time he waited, the maneuver wouldn’t have been as effective.
He has a good mental picture of where his receivers are going, including backside routes. This is half the battle for winning unscripted situations. If he can adjust to the obstacles to these routes that he can’t anticipate until he sees them late in his decision-making process, he can win more of these plays.
Build: Wilson has the size start in the league. If he can add another 10-15 pounds and maintain his mobility, it would be an ideal development.
Drops: He plays a lot from pistol and shotgun, incorporating one- and two-step drops. He has a three-step drop from pistol when executing play action. The pacing can be quicker with his drops.
The drop plan must also be consistent from game to game. Against WKU, he didn’t use a clear drop plan and his release stances were frequently at baseball pitcher width as he began his arm motion. When he tightens up the stance for his release, the front knee is too straight.
His drop footwork is on the balls of his feet and it gives him a lot of spring when he’s maneuvering from pressure, but it causes him to bounce too much with the initial drop and may impede his ability to read the field at an optimal speed.
His gait is smoother from center when he executes a three-step drop although it can be quicker and he can stick the end of the drop sharper. He has three- and five-step drops that are adequately paced and spaced as part of play-action partial roll/boot drops from pistol as well as from center.
He does a good job of opening up to one side during his drops as well as finishing a drop with a quick open to one side and then pivoting to another. This manipulates coverage that is facing the quarterback.
Ball Security: When he breaks the pocket, he doesn’t tuck the ball to the boundary arm. On a rare exception (once in six games tracked), Wilson will use the boundary arm on a given play despite having the opportunity to do so multiple times earlier in the contest.
He also has to tuck it tighter and earlier while he’s transitioning from the pocket. He caused his own fumble with a low carriage of the ball while flushing to the flat against Coastal Carolina and his thigh knocked the ball loose. This led to a sack late in the first half that cost them time and distance.
Play Fakes: He delivers full-extension play fakes with a quick retraction and drop. He uses a variety of fakes with quick punches before he boots or he’ll drop the head and shoulders into the interaction on a deeper drop. He’ll even use a play fake where he extends the ball toward the ground before he reaches an exchange point to simulate a fumble.
His play fakes from pistol have variety. He alternates between extending the ball and hiding the ball while extending the hand without the ball.
He’ll hold the extension of his arms with the ball to simulate a pitch-fake and then boot to the backside as a runner.
Pump Fakes: Wilson has a shoulder fake that he’ll use to manipulate one side of the defense. He also has a pump fake with full motion and moderate violence as well as a small pump fake with both hands on the ball and minimal motion.
Release: Wilson can throw the ball over the shoulder from a straight drop. He can deliver a three-quarter release from a designed roll and sidearm from a parallel position against pressure in his face on a screen pass. In addition to these platforms, Wilson has an accurate underhand pitch that he’ll throw while rolling outside as a no-look shovel pass to the back in the middle of the field.
Wilson’s throwing motion while on the move is a quick flick over the shoulder that gets the ball out in a hurry.
With deep targets, Wilson’s release includes a hop with the front foot. When he follows through with targets at all levels, he often finishes with his feet parallel or the front foot wide of his shoulder and off balance. He displays accuracy in the short zones of the middle of the field and near-side flats when his feet are parallel to each other during his release.
His stride frequently gets wider than shoulder width when stepping through his release motion and the ball can sail on him in the short range and die on him in the deeper zones, especially when his front leg locks at the knee. Even when the stride isn’t wide, the front leg locks up.
Accuracy (No Pressure)
On-Platform Accuracy: He delivers trust-throws up the boundary with a range of 46 yards and general accuracy and 43 yards with pinpoint accuracy. He has good velocity and pinpoint placement of the skinny post at 25 yards from the pitch point. The lack of pinpoint accuracy in the middle of the field may develop into a concern. He delivers the ball a little too far into his receivers’ frames against trail coverage, which gives the opponent a shot to defend the target. A lot of this stems from his drops that often end unbalanced and set the tone for setting up his back foot in the accurate spot and his release being timely and smooth.
Off-Platform Accuracy: He has some no-look passes in his arsenal and likes to use them when executing shovel passes. However, he takes too many risks in situations that he shouldn’t. See more in the decision-making section.
Opposite-Hash Accuracy: Wilson has the arm strength to complete opposite sideline throws in the short and intermediate ranges of the field against man coverage. He has the arm to deliver vertical routes in stride between 35-50 yards.
He must deliver the ball with much greater anticipation when throwing routes breaking backing back to the quarterback or he’s delivering into a contested situation where the defender has leverage to cut off the target. He got away with these throws in his conference but his process won’t generate the same results in the NFL if he continues targeting this range of the field in this way once he gets into the NFL.
This isn’t as much of an issue with his out-routes. In these situations, the defender is often trailing too far to undercut the ball.
Wilson’s opposite-field throws to the flat are more accurate but the anticipation still isn’t there, it’s just that the distance covered isn’t as great. He still isn’t throwing the ball to the receiver in stride. Even when his receivers are open, he’s consistently forcing them to wait on the ball at a stand-still. He’s throwing the ball as the receiver is making his break rather than at the top of the stem.
The one throw he makes opposite field with strong anticipation is the back-shoulder fade. He can hit this route at 26 yards with anticipation to the opposite boundary.
He has to do a better job of reading zone drops from the line of scrimmage that can cut off his targets.
Mobile Accuracy: He delivers the ball with short and intermediate accuracy when executing the boot-action game. He has confidence delivering the ball into tight high-low coverage on a receiver crossing the intermediate zone. He’s skilled with back-shoulder targets against tight coverage in the vertical game while rolling to his right.
Decision-Making: He has an aggressive, downfield mentality. When he spots Cover 1 or Cover 0, he looks to the vertical route all the way and gets the ball out early, and places it in a position for the receiver to win the target.
However, he eschews or doesn’t see routes breaking open in the short zones over the middle or in the flats—routes on the side of the field where he’s looking. It appears he’s looking at the route and doesn’t either see it, trust it, or desire to dump it and give the receiver the opportunity to earn yards after the catch.
He is capable of reading the field left to right or left then right and then back to the middle.
He has shown the ability to look to the outside route on one side, work back to the inside route, and draw the safety and linebacker inside before going back to the outside and delivering into a narrow window in stride to the first receiver. Good manipulation from him there.
He’ll also look off the shallow flat route by opening to it as he drops and then finishes with a deeper target.
He’ll also manipulate the safety on a receiver’s double move, looking to the receiver with the initial move, turning to the opposite field as if it was one read in the progression, and then coming back to the receiver after the move and hitting him deep. He’ll also look off one side of the field with designed misdirection plays where he’s delivering a throwback as the primary option.
He must show more awareness and/or respect to zone coverage in the adjacent quadrant of the field to his targets because he will deliver targets that these defenders jump and have a shot of cutting off. Unlike Patrick Mahomes, his winning targets aren’t as daring as they are risky because projecting to the NFL, his placement in these areas isn’t showing the awareness of the ancillary defender.
At the same time, he has some promise with targeting zone receivers away from the leverage of the primary defender in coverage.
He has some issues seeing open receivers against two-deep safety coverage. On one play against Boise State with 0:48 in the half, he took a sack after missing a wide-open corner route based on the early leverage with the receiver’s stem and then a wide-open deep post that he pump-faked towards but should have thrown.
Wilson will also buy time in a pocket and know when to exit that pocket before pressure so he can work off-script to a receiver working behind the zone. When working on script, he displays patience with shallow zone routes.
Although he’s technically accurate with certain opposite-hash targets to the boundary and zone targets breaking over the middle, he’s letting the ball go a beat late and forcing receivers to make plays against coverage that has the advantage. He must read and anticipate the leverage faster and either make the throw earlier or go elsewhere to avoid putting his receiver at risk for big hits.
He reads the field well against single-high looks, going through 2-3 progressions across the field or at various depths. He often finds his third read in these situations when he goes deep-to-short at one side and then finds the option crossing from the opposite side of the field over the middle in the intermediate range below the deep safety.
He must display better judgment when he spots the leverage of a safety facing the slant route in the red zone and refrains from leading the receiver into a big hit, especially up 35 points in the early fourth quarter.
He’s a skilled off-script player who will use pump fakes and look-offs to one side, direct a receiver to the opposite side of the field to adjust his route that’s working through a pair of coverage defenders, and fire the ball with anticipation 52 yards to the opposite sideline on a dime.
Although he has some no-look passes in his portfolio of work, he must display better judgment when using them, especially shovel passes. When deep in his own territory, a no-look shovel passes into the line of scrimmage with an unblocked defender in position to cut off the throw is a bad idea.
Working through 2-3 reads is a common enough behavior in this offense to check the box that he has the fundamental tools to learn to read an NFL field.
Sense Pressure: Wilson senses pressure up the middle as well from the edge. He identifies blitzes pre-snap. Post-snap, he will take preemptive measures to avoid pressure or wait until the pressure is close enough to maximize the space he gains with a late move.
Maneuvering From Pressure: Wilson feels pressure and will preemptively slide a step to afford room to fire the ball from a clean pocket. He’s good at using the preemptive sidestep during the late phase of his drop or early post-drop. He’ll also climb the pocket away from edge pressure and open late to a side of the field. His climbs can range from efficient, 1-2 small steps to running through the crease when necessary.
When necessary, he can spin from edge pressure, reset fast and fire to his backside route deep and deliver a pinpoint target against tight coverage. His 22-yard throw after doing this against Louisiana Tech was an impressive display of command of pressure and placement although some will argue that he turned his back to pressure and his measures were too dramatic for the given play.
Wilson has displayed some of this inefficiency with his pocket game. However, there are enough plays where the decisions have logical explanations and productive outcomes. It’s a matter of projecting whether Wilson will deliver with more on the side of logic or recklessness when he’s on an NFL field.
He’s accurate at all ranges of the field when he slides 1-2 steps to his left from pressure at his right. He’ll stand and deliver in the face of pressure when necessary.
On-Platform Accuracy: After some hitches to generate momentum in the pocket, Wilson can deliver the ball with general accuracy against man coverage at a range of 63 yards.
Off-Platform Accuracy: He can deliver short-range targets with pressure in his face.
Opposite-Hash Accuracy: With unblocked pressure coming downhill for him, Wilson can complete a 39-yard throw in stride to a tightly covered receiver on a go route to the opposite sideline from the far hash. He can open late to the wide side of the field and deliver an accurate intermediate-range throw to the boundary after hitching inside pressure.
Mobile Accuracy: Wilson has the arm to deliver the ball 46 yards on the move to his right with general accuracy to a receiver working the back-shoulder fade as Wilson is rolling from pressure. He can throw the ball with pinpoint accuracy at 55 yards while running towards the line of scrimmage, splitting inside/outside coverage of a DB and safety on a go, seam, or post route.
Decision-Making: Wilson must avoid questionable decisions under heavy pressure. He carries the ball too wide from his frame while navigating the pocket and he’ll attempt off-platform targets against tight coverage where a defender is hanging off him and can alter the course of the target. This places Wilson at a high risk of delivering inaccurate throws that can get picked off.
Wilson also has lapses with judgment after he has avoided pressure and he’s closing in on the boundary. He feels a sense of urgency to squeeze the ball into places that he shouldn’t.
He’s calm enough to feel edge pressure while looking to a shallower route that’s covered, slide left or right, reset, and fire a vertical route with enough accuracy to force a contested situation with the receiver having the advantage.
If the pressure is heavy enough early or after he rolls out, he’ll throw the ball away. He must work on throwing the ball away more often, especially after the second read isn’t open and he has already retreated from pressure in the pocket.
Scrambling: Just as there’s a negative side to his ability to buy time, there’s also the positive that Wilson can create space and time to deliver to an open receiver. He does this with his movement as well as his skill to throw from three-quarter, and sidearm platforms.
Running: Wilson has the acceleration and speed to work past a linebacker pursuing from over the top in the flat and reach the sideline to pull away. He has enough skill with footwork to set up a defender in space and work away. He’ll either alter his stride, use a stutter move, or a pressure cut.
He knows when to slide to avoid hits, and he shows the awareness to do so even after gaining 30 yards and at the boundary but knowing that he won’t be able to exit the boundary and avoid a hit if he remained upright.
He has just enough speed and acceleration to get the long corner or short corner for a short gain against a chasing linebacker. He can’t consistently beat an unblocked edge defender around the short corner.
Durability: Wilson sustained a thumb injury in 2019 and had surgery that cost him the month of October. He had off-season shoulder surgery after his freshman year while playing with the ailment.
Boiler/Film Room Material (Links to plays):
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