Through Zach Wilson’s first six games, the No. 2 overall pick has played exactly how most rookie quarterbacks play.
Wilson had four touchdowns and nine interceptions (sixth most in the NFL), with a completion percentage of 57.5 and a passer rating of 63.5.
Then Wilson suffered a PCL injury and was sidelined for a month. Now he’s returning against the 2-8 Texans on Sunday.
To get an expert review on how Wilson has played and where he can improve, the Daily News interviewed three NFL experts: Former Jets lineman Damien Woody and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who are both analysts at ESPN, and Greg Cosell, NFL analyst and senior producer at NFL Films.
THE ISSUES AND HOW TO CORRECT IT
Wilson’s main two problems were accuracy and consistently going for the big play.
He had the second worst completion percentage at 57.5%. He also ranked low on Completion Percentage Over Expectation according to Next Gen Stats.
CPOE adds up the completion percentage and the expected completion based on the probability of the completion. It’s a good metric for accuracy because it favors quarterbacks who consistently complete both incredibly difficult and easy throws. The leader is Kyler Murray with 6.9; Wilson is last at -6.9.
Wilson also had the worst off-target percentage in the league according, to TruMedia.com.
The area Wilson struggled the most with was intermediate throws of 10-19 yards. In that area, Wilson’s completes 41% of his throws, second worst. His passer rating is 35 with seven interceptions, both worst in the NFL according to Next Gen Stats.
“I think that he’s still very much playing like a college quarterback,” Cosell said. “He’s a little undisciplined.”
Cosell’s explanation for Wilson’s issues centered around fundamentals. Cosell viewed the rookie’s movement too loose at times.
“He needs to be much more precise with his drops and his sets. There’s not really a strong sense of timing to the way he’s played,” Cosell said. “He’s a young quarterback who came out of a program where he was able just to make plays. I think that he’s got to transition to being much more of a nuanced, detailed precision player to be consistently successful at the NFL level. He just needs to play with a lot more precision to his game.”
Orlovsky believes the accuracy issues revolve around aiming the football.
“It’s because he becomes a guider of the football and the short stuff, he aims the football,” Orlovsky said. “You gotta see it and trust it. You never want to guide the football. It looks like you’re trying to be almost exact and just run the ball out to that guy. When you’re trying to be so perfect and guide the football there, you can’t do that in the NFL.”
Orlovsky explained the superior alternative to pushing and aiming the ball.
“Ball placement over guiding the ball is paramount,” Orlovsky said. “Ball placement happens for a lot of different reasons. Having really good base, using the ground for accuracy and velocity. Making sure your upper body torque is great. Front shoulder pointed the right way. The revolution of football, the release of the football, a flick of the football is your wrist.”
The other issue with Wilson was going for the kill shot, even when it’s not there. That’s why his intended air yards per attempt was 8.8, sixth highest in the NFL. That’s a product of how he played at BYU.
“I think that what he’s hopefully realized is that talent is necessary when the situations demand it,” Orlovsky said. “Greatness at that position in the NFL is about the consistency of the boring, the consistency of the mundane, the consistency of the basic and the fundamental. I think it’s also he’s going to have to learn that just because you have home run ability doesn’t mean you take home run swings all the time. Making off platform throws and funny buddy throws, that’s great. It’s a blessing to have when it’s a necessity. When it’s not needed, it’s a detriment.”
The counter to that is taking what the defense gives you and hitting the check down.
The other Jets quarterbacks did a better job of that and got the ball out quickly. Mike White’s time to throw was 2.70, Joe Flacco’s was 2.52 and Josh Johnson was 2.79. All of their intended air yards per attempt were below eight yards.
That’s why running backs Michael Carter and Ty Johnson’s production increased with Wilson out.
“You can only do the right thing with the football. Sometimes the defenses won’t allow you to throw it deep and all while you want to throw it in while you know it’s drawn up on paper and the defense is giving you the right kind of scheme. Sometimes they play it well,” Orlovsky said. “The boring thing,” he said, echoing Robert Saleh, “is to throw the check down to make it second and six. And that’s difficult for super-talented guys.”
Even though the numbers haven’t been impressive, a blind man could see the arm talent in Wilson.
Woody mentioned Wilson’s best performance when he threw for 297 yards with two touchdowns and made a few spectacular throws in Week 4.
“You could point to the Tennessee Titans game to see the arm talent,” Woody said. “The things that he can do that a lot of the quarterbacks just can’t do as far as improvising.”
The off schedule plays that Wilson can create impressed and his gunslinger mentality is tantalizing.
Orlovsky has been impressed with his playmaking ability.
“I do think him staying aggressive with the football is nice. I think you have seen some of the creative plays. I think you have seen some outside of the pocket athleticism,” Orlovsky said. “The accuracy downfield. There’s been moments when you go, yep, that’s what it looks like. That’s what it should look like… You never want to take away a young player’s stinger… You always want guys to be aggressive.”
It’s been a struggle for the former BYU star, which is normal for a rookie quarterback. Justin Herbert, Baker Mayfield, Andrew Luck, and Cam Newton’s rookie years are anomalies.
“The thing is, we’ve reached a point, unfortunately, with young quarterbacks where people expect to be great, but all these young quarterbacks they’ve never played at this level before. And it’s hard,” Cosell said. “So, they need to learn a lot. They need to learn the fundamentals and the mechanics and the details of the position. And then they need to learn their offense, and then they need to learn about defenses in the NFL, that stuff’s hard.”
But there’s no reason to be alarmed in Woody’s eyes.
“I think he’s typical of any rookie, to be honest with you,” Woody said. “There’s this unreal expectation of these guys coming in and having a start like Justin Herbert. That’s really an aberration. What he’s going through is what rookies typically go through on a bad team.”
A young quarterback can fail out the gate. If he’s not Herbert right away, that’s OK. Josh Allen and others have proved that patience can pay off.