Breaking Down Zach Wilson's Promising Jets Debut

Photo: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

For nearly half a century, the New York Jets have lacked a face of the franchise talent under center. Since the glitz and glam of Joe Namath, the Jets have enjoyed the tenures of Ken O’Brien, Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, and Brett Favre, to name a few of the stop-gap talents tasked with leading the Jets. While it’s not a list to write home about, one of the league’s most disappointing teams in the high-octane New York media market looks to have potentially found its long-lost gun-slinging headliner in the form of 2021 No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson.

The Jets’ victory over the Giants in Wilson’s professional debut and head coach Robert Saleh’s first game pushing the buttons in New York could have represented the start of something special, or in turn, just a flash in the pan to a moment years down the road where we ask the question of “what if?”

It looks to be much of the former, as the oft-criticized, arm-arrogant Wilson during his collegiate days at BYU operated the intricately unique hybrid offense of Mike LaFleur to a T, completing six of his nine pass attempts for 63 yards in what proved to be an efficient day at the office for Wilson—as well as backups Mike White and James Morgan, who, along with Wilson, entered Saturday’s game as the only trio in the NFL without a professional snap to their name. 

The 65-yard bombs and sidearm throws across his body were kept in the bag in his first game. However, flashes came in abundance, as Wilson’s highly touted mobility and unlimited arm angle capability offered more than enough substance to project that Wilson should live up to the high expectations in his first season captaining the Jets.

This is a great example of Wilson’s ability to stand tall in the pocket and deliver on time. With a bunch set to his left, LaFleur presents Wilson with a bevy of options to target on third down. As the New York Giants opt to rush four defenders, from the onset of the play Wilson is able to identify man-to-man coverage, connecting with Jets free-agent addition Keelan Cole on a simple pitch and catch to move the sticks. However, the intricacy of the route concept resulted in easy processing for Wilson, as Cole trailed slot-man Jamison Crowder who cleared out the inside corner while contracting attention from the closing safety.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a first-down completion on a nicely executed play. However, the flashes of pocket presence, Wilson’s ability to identify a mismatch, and a completion with accuracy and zip provided a clear glance into the execution ability of Wilson as LaFleur begins to open the playbook even further.

Similar to the first clip, the Jets line up in a 3x1 concept from left to right, the only difference is the positional alignment of the tight end. This route is won pre-snap, as Giants corner Rodarius Williams finds himself lined up five yards off of Corey Davis, whose speed will be too much for Williams to counter as he works toward the outside later in the route. Wilson sees this and executes. 

On a simple three-step drop, Wilson immediately identifies leverage, delivering the ball before Davis’ route begins to direct entirely toward the boundary. As his throwing window begins to shrink as Williams bursts out his coverage with excellent closing speed, Wilson’s ball placement is pin-point into Davis’ numbers, again resulting in a first down.

With just nine attempts, Saturday’s performance offered a small appetizer into the potential of Wilson coupled with LaFleur’s ever-growing manuscript of offensive wizardry. But for Jets fans, and general manager Joe Douglas—who looks to have the Jets finally on the track back to relevancy—Wilson’s debut presented a long-overdue arrival for the future under center in New York.

Written By:

Ryan Fowler

Staff Writer

Feature Writer for The Draft Network. Former Staff Writer for the Washington Football Team. Multiple years of coverage within the NFL and NBA.