Building An NFL Resume: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
By UK Draft Scout
Throughout the entirety of the offseason people speculated on who was going to be this year’s Joe Burrow. The reality is we’re exceedingly unlikely to ever see progression to the extent Joe Burrow exhibited in 2019. But that’s not to say there aren’t QBs who I’ve been impressed by this season. Kyle Trask is the most conspicuous example of this, yet I still have my reservations with regards to him that I will address one day. But Zach Wilson has been the most exciting of all the QBs who have risen through the first 9 games of the season.
One Season Wonder, Or The Real Deal?
As is the case with players who take an exponential leap at seemingly arbitrary times, I tend to be hesitant in anointing them due to a perception of volatility inherent to such a player. Yet I find myself running out of reservations to hold against Wilson. That is not to say Wilson is perfect, far from it in fact. However, I think I’m ready to declare that his play this season is not a ‘phase’ of sorts.
The Mormon Manziel?
Wilson’s 2019 season was marred with injury, but it still illuminated the talent he possesses with the occasional flashes of absurdity he was able to exhibit. Although Wilson’s injury history is not the subject of this article, I would be lying if I said that it isn’t a concern of mine.
Wilson’s 2020 season so far has harnessed the splash plays of 2019 and parlayed them into a season in which Heisman Trophy considerations aren’t completely illogical. The physical talent Wilson has shown in 2020 has been evident throughout the 27 college football games he’s played, and I think it’s a good place to start.
Many people often misappropriate the term ‘dual-threat’ to describe a QB with a moderate capacity to escape the pocket; however Wilson is a legitimate dual threat insofar as his legs necessitate attention that is to necessarily detract from the attention given to his throwing ability. To this end, Wilson is a QB whose legs aren’t just a contingency plan, but a regular component of any offense he is placed in. Wilson’s running ability is more commonly utilised in the passing game, be it a designed rollout or escaping the pocket out of necessity. But Wilson’s open field elusiveness and vision is a legitimate component of his game that can not be ignored.
Wilson's Arm 'Meets The Criteria'
Wilson’s arm talent is one of his most desirable qualities: he has an ability to expedite his release when necessary that very few QBs possess. Aaron Rodgers, Kyler Murray, and Patrick Mahomes are comparable to him in this sense (but, importantly not in the broader sense). This is where we see him sling the ball from a side-arm position to accommodate the positioning of the throwing lane; this should not be underestimated as a tool by which Wilson is able to make plays ad hoc.
Of course, arm talent is not exclusively characterised by flexibility of release, it is a term to encapsulate a disputed conglomerate of traits that I seek to best list as: flexibility of release, pass velocity, off-platform throws, throws under duress, touch, deep passes, and possibly a few others. As far as I can tell, Wilson meets this criteria more than sufficiently. This talent is most commonly shown through his accuracy of his passes outside of the numbers and deep down the field. But it is also a useful tool to hit intermediate passes with velocity.
This huge touchdown pass is a classic example of the arm strength that Wilson possesses:
Flawless? Not Quite...
I do have issues with Wilson, these issues should not go unaddressed. However, we are seeing flawed QBs succeed more often than we ever have before in the NFL. I can only venture to infer that this is a product of offenses becoming more malleable to its QB’s skillset—a convention I’m astounded it took this long to gain such prominence. The talent Wilson has shown indicates that an offense can be constructed around him to accentuate his strengths and mitigate his flaws. But let’s explore those flaws in more detail.
It is almost expected of a relatively inexperienced QB, such as Wilson, to experience mechanical and mental lapses in the early stages of his career. Wilson is no different in this respect. Wilson’s pocket management is something I think he needs to improve upon as he gains more experience. Too often does he fade away from pressure when there’s an opportunity to step up in the pocket, other times he will bail out of the pocket too soon.
He will also have an overly-heightened response to pressure which often leads to him making unnecessarily steep moves in the pocket. I know this isn’t a ubiquitous issue within his game; there are times in which he navigates the pocket very well, it’s more of a consistency issue with him. This is emblematic of my broader issues with Wilson: I don’t see any fundamental and debilitating issues with him, I just see minor inconsistencies in his game. He can get reckless on the move, attempting throws that are almost destined to, at least, fall incomplete.
I don’t have much grievance with Wilson’s mechanics, his footwork is very solid; his stride lengths are consistent; his throwing motion is snappy and efficient; and he creates a good amount of torque from his hips. Perhaps sometimes he could bring his back foot through more in the throw, but it hasn’t presented itself as much of an issue yet.
I’m very excited to watch Wilson continue to progress and perplex the defenses of college football. From an NFL Draft perspective, I see Wilson as a mid-late first round QB who might benefit from a short amount of time to observe how an NFL QB operates. There is, of course, some inherent risk to a gunslinging QB who wins more often outside of structure than inside, but I think Wilson’s talent is sufficient to carve an effective offense around.