The Jets selected BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the second pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He was a highly-touted prospect who was known for making incredible throws look easy. In 2020, he threw for 3,692 yards, racked up 43 total touchdowns, and gave up only three interceptions. Scouts fell in love with him after an amazing showing on his pro day. Here were some of his college highlights:
Well, that success has certainly not translated to the NFL. Wilson has already been benched twice by the Jets. In 22 career starts, he has a 15-18 TD-INT ratio, a completion percentage of 55.2%, and an 8-14 record. Long story short, things have not gone as planned for Zach Wilson. That begs the question, why has Zach Wilson floundered in the NFL?
Well, what do you notice about Wilson’s highlights? How many times does he face pressure? How many of the deep dimes that he drops come with a hand in his face? Not many. The 2020 BYU squad had one of the best O-Line units in all of college football. That offensive line allowed just 11 sacks that year. It was anchored by NFL prospects Brady Christensen, Chandon Herring, and Tristen Hoge. As a result, Wilson never faced any real pressure in his college career. In the NFL, he’s looked ugly when under the gun. Wilson’s PFF grade is a solid 84.5 from a clean pocket, but that grade drops to 22.0 when he’s under pressure. Also, according to PFF, Wilson has a passer rating of 9.8 when he leaves the pocket.
The truth is that Wilson had it made in 2020. Not only was BYU’s O-Line loaded, but their offense also featured future NFL players Dax Milne and Tyler Allgeier. BYU is an independent football team, so they schedule their own opponents outside of a typical conference structure. Wilson’s game log looks impressive, but look more closely at the competition he faced:
These teams were nowhere near BYU’s level. Additionally, consider the fact that 2020 was a season ruled by the COVID-19 virus, which kept fans out of the stands, giving offenses quiet, calm environments to play in. All in all, Wilson was basically able to march onto the field every weekend with a god-squad compared to his opponents. He was able to showcase his arm with no pressure from anyone, not even fans. He faced no adversity. Well, there was one game where BYU faltered. BYU’s lone loss came to Coastal Carolina, their tenth game of the year. Coastal was their top-ranked opponent of the season and easily their most worthy opponent. The tape from that game revealed some of his flaws.
Here is his first throw against Coastal:
Wilson faced a blitz on his first throw and made an errant throw.
On his second throw, he faced pressure again and threw a bad ball. On his third throw, he left the pocket and made a turnover-worthy play.
Overall, Wilson looked like a developmental prospect in this game. He showed flashes of high-level arm talent, but they were overshadowed by his general inability to deal with pressure. It was a rough, physical game, and Wilson looked like a third-round prospect in it.
Let’s flash forward to 2022, to the game that Wilson was benched for good. Wilson started this game and was benched after a half, as he put up a stat line of 92 passing yards and an interception. He went 9-18 and he was sacked three times.
Here, Wilson doesn’t even see a safety blitz from Andre Cisco coming, so he takes a big loss on third down.
I also want to highlight this throw, as Wilson underthrows a deep ball to Garrett Wilson. His deep ball was a high point of his scouting report, but he was unable to hit Wilson outside the pocket.
Overall, Wilson looked downright uncomfortable in that game. He was inaccurate and all over the place. He barely looked for his receivers downfield, and when he did, he couldn’t make the throw. It was a clearly correct decision to bench him.
When a young QB has these types of immense struggles, they must at least have the athleticism to bail themselves out. Take Justin Fields for example. Fields isn’t great at handling pressure either, as it takes him a long time to get the ball out. However, he has the size to break sacks and the speed to break off big runs. Wilson has neither of these attributes. At 6’2″, 214 lbs, he’s an average-sized QB. He’s also not fast enough to be a real difference-maker on the ground. When he was playing teams like North Alabama in college, he could run, but the NFL is a different beast that is full of the top athletes in the world. His durability is also a concern, as he has already sustained PCL and meniscus injuries.
Wilson has also shown character concerns and a lack of responsibility for his shortcomings. In an interview, he deflected accountability by blaming the wind for his poor play against the Patriots. Jets fans certainly do not rally behind him, so it is reasonable to assume he is not celebrated in the Jets’ locker room either. Leadership is a key aspect of being an NFL signal-caller, and Wilson seems to have failed in that regard. When you add this type of issue to an already terrible start to an NFL career, things can go downhill very quickly.
So, Zach Wilson was undoubtedly not ready for this stage. He played against mediocre competition in college with perfect conditions for himself, so the NFL is a completely new ballgame for him. It also seems that he has not reached the level of maturity needed to lead a professional team. And, on top of all this, he simply isn’t athletic enough to mask these problems.
Scouts fell in love with his highlight throws and 60-yard heaves in workouts. However, what we all missed was the fact that he just isn’t ready. There was no real substance behind his rise to fame and that is being shown in his play now. Maybe he’ll revive his career somewhere down the road, but he seems to have worn out his welcome in New York.
The lesson to be learned here is that adversity matters. NFL teams should want guys who have faced difficult situations and learned to thrive in them. Pressure from opposing teams, fans, and people within the organizations themselves is inevitable in this league. There are guys who play well in those conditions, and there are guys who fold. Athleticism also matters in today’s NFL. If a QB prospect hasn’t responded well to pressure or hasn’t seen it yet, he better be a physical specimen who can run. Hopefully, the faulty evaluation of Zach Wilson will be a lesson for the Jets and every other NFL franchise.