2022 REWIND: Re-Scouting Zach Wilson’s 2021 Tape/Season (bonus Trevor Lawrence scouting too)
Zach Wilson played 13 games last season. He was hurt early Week 6 vs. NE, and ‘out’ for the game…and out for the following 4 games. So, really Wilson only played 12 games last season. I re-watched/scouted 7 of those games, strategically chosen games to represent a progression of his season and trying to stick to the more pertinent games and some tougher matchups.
I am trying to figure out the best way to convey what I see here, and I think the best way is to go game-by-game but not get too deep in the weeds on each game. I’ll just try and convey my overall notes/reactions…and see/show how those ‘thoughts’ changed (or not) as his season progressed…and with a few specifics sprinkled in.
Before we get to the games, let me do an overview of my mindset going into this study…
I scouted Zach Wilson as the best QB in the 2021 NFL Draft…no one even close, especially Trevor Lawrence (who I will hit on in this when we get to the later 2021 season NYJ v. JAX notes). In my scouting, Wilson had the best quick release arm, mechanics, and instincts of the 2021 group. Lance threw it harder, but Wilson released it quicker, more accurately and has a pretty strong arm to go-with.
I was hopeful that Wilson would hit the ground running and show out right away in 2021…but he did not. Mac Jones looked better (executionally), more polished. Davis Mills showed more ability and grit in a crappy situation in Houston, to my shock. Wilson actually looked bad to me – all the arm talent in the world but made all the rookie mistakes that good rookies don’t constantly make in this era. A bad game or two early on from a rookie QB is understandable…but Wilson was really bad and not learning from his mistakes, so it seemed.
Wilson got hurt midseason and then came back later in the season with better numbers/performance and it made me feel a bit better…but the numbers/output still didn’t seem that good…nowhere near the ‘great’ I thought he might be capable of.
With all that in mind, I wanted to go back through Wilson’s 2021 and see if there was a progression…a reason to get excited for him for Dynasty/Fantasy…and scouting as a bettor for/against the Jets/Wilson. I started with opening day vs. Carolina and watched a total of 7 of his games back, culminating in a Week 15 win over Jacksonville. I’ll start at the beginning (Week 1) and go game-by-game in order up to that Week 15, and then wrap it up with a forecast for the current and long-term future…and talk some Trevor Lawrence too, as a bonus.
Week 1 = Wilson at CAR (19-14 loss)
20-of-37 (54%) for 258 yards, 2 TDs/1 INT, sacked 6 times, 0-0-0 rushing. Pressured 37% of his throws.
Everything mechanically is as I remembered – rapid release/a hair trigger…can make all the throws even with his feet not set. And his feet were not set a lot here – he has some of the worst O-Line protection in the league, perhaps the worst. He was constantly under pressure it seemed. Rarely did he have pocket time uncluttered to just sit back and read the progressions and fire – and when he did all that, he looked good/great. But mostly he looked frazzled and scattered.
I could live with ‘rattled rookie because of bad O-Line’…but Wilson was making everything worse by trying to force a ton of passes into places that would have needed a perfect 1-in-100 throw to get to it…and Wilson wasn’t making the miracles happen, not at all. I said, at the time, and came into this study with the same thinking – Wilson is like a bad, young Brett Favre…trying to make every throw, trying to make plays on a bad team, trying to make up deficits all in one throw. And instead of making miracles, Wilson just looked like a stupid rookie. Forgivable Week 1, but the problem was he didn’t seem to be learning from it as he went (but we’ll see if he did with this rewind).
I did have to note – man, this kid is slippery in evading pressure. He is under constant pressure, but he ducks and dives and dodges his way out of it. He’s a really annoyingly mobile QB for pass rushers to get hold of.
Chalk this dud up as ‘rookie debut’…but I know it’s going to get worse, really worse next week versus NE.
Week 2 = Wilson vs. NE (26-6 loss)
19-of-33 (58%) for 210 yards, 0 TDs/4 INTs, sacked 4 times, 3-19-0 rushing. Pressured on 26% of his throws.
Week 2, Wilson gets a date with rookie QB killer Bill Belichick…and, well, Wilson got killed. To be fair, not all the mass (4) INTs fall on Wilson’s head/to blame – but Wilson was even worse here about trying to win the entire game/close the gap on the lead in just one throw…more 1-in-100 throws, which didn’t land.
Wilson has no protection. He has terrible WRs…especially useless Corey Davis. BUT Wilson is still making ridiculously stupid throws that would be miracles to land. It’s not because he’s panicked or blind to it – it’s worse, he sees an option and thinks he can throw through or past any coverage, and credit to him he has no conscience (like Favre) but that’s leading to him repeating the same daredevil mistakes over and over.
At this point (last year), the media turned on him – which they were just waiting to do. The media is going to hate him forever/until he wins divisions and titles. He’s hate-able (a punch-able face) by the media…a media that loves to hate QBs. He’ll battle that his entire career.
Week 4 = Wilson vs. TEN (27-24 upset win)
21-of-34 (62%) for 297 yards, 2 TDs/1 INTs, sacked 1 time, 3-0-0 rushing. Pressured on 11% of his throws.
The eventual AFC #1 seed Titans went to the then winless Jets, with NYJ looking terrible all of their first 3 games, with NYJ dealing with injuries, and Wilson getting slammed all over…because he just had 0 TDs/4 picks vs. NE Week 2 and followed that up with 0 TDs/2 INTs vs. Vic Fangio Week 3 – facing Belichick and Fangio back-to-back week is not nice for a rookie QB with no O-Line. So, it looked like Mike Vrabel might come in and further crush him, but a funny thing happened – Zach Wilson stepped up and played his best game to date (in 2021 season, at this time) and shocked the football world with a win in overtime.
Watching this back – once again, another game with Zach Wilson forcing the issue too much…but in this one he had less pressure so fewer bad spots trying to be a hero, but a couple of his 1-in-100 hero throws landed for big plays. To me, he still hadn’t learned his lessons yet…just better protection/less pressure in this game and also a few miracles hit.
Also, note his one INT was a simple in-cut medium route and his WR slipped and fell on the cut, Wilson had fired it to where the WR was going (and going to be open) and it went right to the defender. 8 INTs in 4 games for Wilson, at this point, and about half were on him…but he had so many others dropped/near-picks that I’m not seeing this lone pick (that was 100% not on him) as a big positive yet, or a legit excuse.
Weeks 5-6 = two more losses, 0 TD/1 INT total for Wilson -- but in Week 6 he was hurt vs. NE and left the game and missed the next 4 games. Mike White came in Week 7 and walloped the Bengals creating a mild QB controversy for the (2-5) Jets, who had two wins over two of the best teams in the AFC and humiliating losses otherwise. White would get hurt the next week and Joe Flacco came in for a few games. Wilson returned as starter Week 12 at Houston…and still totally under media and fan fire.
Week 12 = Wilson vs. HOU (21-14 win)
14-of-24 (58%) for 145 yards, 0 TDs/1 INT, sacked 4 times, 2-3-1 rushing. Pressured on 39% of his throws.
More of the same. I can see Wilson getting a little better now in not forcing things as much but he’s still forcing too many things and misfiring too often. He’s had several weeks off the field to take coaching, etc., and there’s some improvement but not enough.
At this stage of the season, Mac Jones is not nor never has been making these constant mistakes/misfires. And Davis Mills did for a bit early on -- but quickly progressed into a legit NFL QB. Wilson is more gifted an arm talent than either of them, but he looks like an erratic failure compared to them so far in their NFL journeys.
I’m hoping the next three games are gonna show much more progress for Wilson. This is a start to improvement, but I’m still nervous/not impressed.
Side note from this game: Wilson’s INT was him scrambling for his life then shuffling/pitching a ‘pass’ in desperation to an RB a few yards in front of him…as the RB turned away to block, because he thought Wilson was running, so the ball hit the RB in the back and popped up into the air and right into a DB’s arms for an easy pick. It wasn’t really a ‘bad’ Wilson throw. Just a goofy event.
Week 14 = Wilson vs. NO (30-9 loss)
19-of-42 (58%) for 202 yards, 0 TDs/0 INT, sacked 3 times, 4-33-0 rushing. Pressured on 16% of his throws.
As the season wore on, Wilson lost Elijah Moore and Corey Davis and Michael Carter, etc. He went into this game with a Crowder-Cole-D.J. Montgomery trio, and it was no match for a very good Saints defense.
My only Wilson note = I still don’t see any real progression in his game. Same scrambling for his life and making one solid throw for every two dumb throws or misfires. It’s concerning. I so want to see ‘the turn’ but I don’t see it.
Week 15 = Wilson vs. MIA (31-24 loss)
13-of-23 (57%) for 170 yards, 0 TDs/0 INT, sacked 6 times, 4-12-1 rushing. Pressured on 41% of his throws.
Sacked 6 times. Constantly running from trouble. Still not playing quality QB/football. Made a few really nice throws, but had as many headscratchers. The Jets were outmanned and hung in there. It’s hard to tell how much the talent gap of the teams is making Wilson look bad, but I went into this hoping to feel better about Wilson going forward…and I am not, and I’ve only got one more game to go through.
Week 16 = Wilson vs. JAX (26-21 win)
14-of-22 (57%) for 102 yards, 1 TDs/0 INT, sacked 6 times, 4-91-1 rushing. Pressured on 19% of his throws.
Playing one of the worst teams/the worst team in the league…Wilson didn’t really ‘dazzle’ here. He was OK against a weak defense – not a gold star moment.
This concludes all the games I planned to watch of Wilson 2021…and looking back over it all/considering I’ve crossed a fictional finish line on the studies -- it’s really left me unsatisfied and more fearful on Wilson. He was too sloppy and too risk-taking and erratic early on…and he’s winding up the 2021 season just a little better in those areas than he started the 2021 season, but still way too sloppy.
I believe these modern day QBs should hit the ground running and progress fast (but not an absolute). I don’t expect them to be league MVPs as rookies, but they should at least show to not be always overwhelmed.
2020 = Burrow-Herbert-Hurts were all off to the races after 1-2 starts, and even their struggles showed promise.
But Tua struggled early and often.
2019 = It took Kyler a few weeks to get more stable, and he looked lost at first…but quickly got up to speed. Gardner Minshew never batted an eye when thrown into the starting role Week 2 with a total crap team.
Daniel Jones and Drew Lock flopped and kept flopping.
2021 = Mac Jones assimilated quickly. Davis Mills got smacked around and then straightened up and played well on a worse team than the Jets.
But Zach Wilson never really got a whole lot better…it’s a concern.
I see Wilson’s flashes of brilliance but they are few and far between and drown out by some really terrible play. Sure, Josh Allen looked erratic for 1-2 years and then became great in year three…OK, I hope that happens to Wilson, but Allen is likely the historical exception of all time, and not the rule to apply to everyone.
We’ll see what Wilson looks like this 2022 preseason, but I am starting to downgrade Wilson’s Dynasty stock a touch. I’m not totally giving into ‘everything is fine, he’ll break out this year’ talk that I see in the football media by some prominent names. I want it to be true. I hope it is true. It could be true, but I have to start thinking that Wilson is more likely a QB2 than a QB1 ever. QB1 potential…but potential he may never hit. I’m not giving up, but I’m not as enthusiastic or confident in him as I was before this study. I cannot think of him as a for-sure future QB1…and given how many strong QB1s there are now, I don’t have a lot of patience or need to clutch onto a daydream.
Another 2021 rookie QB to talk about, briefly, is Trevor Lawrence…who I also watched intently in that Week 16 NYJ-JAX affair. I wanted to see if Lawrence had progressed by that point as well…and my scouting/notes turned into a compare and contrast on Lawrence v. Wilson.
My general take on Lawrence – he didn’t get a whole lot better in his situation either. And I thought he was wildly overrated pre-Draft, in-season, and going into this study…and his Week 16 tape didn’t sway me off the notion he’s a QB2, closer to bust concerns than any stardom.
Wilson v. Lawrence, Compare & Contrast…
-- Lawrence loves/lives to throw short passes. He’s not bad at it. He’s a game manager, which the NFL coaches LOVE. Safe passes within 3-5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Wilson throws/has a better short passing game because he has a better arm but Wilson wants to go deeper by nature and it makes him ‘out of control’ for NFL head coaches. Too much risk taking. NFL head coaches would rather have no turnovers than actually win a game…so they will hate Wilson and love Lawrence, always.
-- But eventually, you have to throw medium and deep…and that’s where Lawrence has his own major issues, always has. He’s unconfident throwing downfield so there’s a lot of backfoot, half-hearted floater-passes downfield. Guys were getting open for him deeper, but Lawrence took so long to deliver the ‘open’ was lost.
If you’re down 4 points and need to get a TD with just (like) 0:40 remaining, you want Wilson to try and create magic – because Lawrence is not, but most of an NFL game is not that…so, NFL head coaches prefer Lawrence-style.
-- Both Lawrence and Wilson were mostly ineffective and disappointments all 2021. But note: Wilson was under constant duress and was always trying to scramble (it seemed) and was guilty mostly of trying to ‘make’/force throws. It could be a legit excuse for Wilson, which could get cleared up by better O-Line play and thus Wilson starts to shine.
And note: Lawrence had a very good O-Line. He had lots of time and was constantly in deficits throwing at soft zones and was still ineffective medium and deep, and just plausible/normal in the short passing game.
Wilson was pressured on 31% of his passes in 2021…Lawrence 22%. Davis Mills 21%. Mac Jones 18%. Justin Fields 27%. Trey Lance 22% (in limited time/snaps/games).
Justin Herbert 19% (good/great O-Line) and Joe Burrow 25% (terrible O-Line), for some other comparisons.
-- Lawrence was locking in on one pre-decided receiver and throwing, and when he tried to do that further down the field it never looked very good…and he had the time to sit and look/read and plant and throw. Lawrence is a very limited QB. He can hang with the safe, short game but he’s not going to put an offense on his back and carry them like Burrow-Herbert. Lawrence is not even close. Wilson shows signs he could do that, that he can work multiple reads -- but his execution so far has been terrible…the desire and arm is there to carry a team, but the execution isn’t.
After a brief watch of Lawrence v. the Jets late in the 2021 season, my negative opinion on him hasn’t changed.