2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Zach Wilson

February 6, 2021 1:00 AM EST

Zach Wilson Scouting Report picture

School: BYU

Height: 6'3"

Weight: 209

Eligibility: JR

Uniform: #1

Position: QB

Evaluated by: Austin Smith
Twitter: NFLDraftAustin
January 31, 2021

Prospect Overview

2018: 120-182 (65.9%), 1,578 yards, 12/3 (TD/INT), 75 rush, 220 yards, 2 TD
2019: 199-319 (62.4%), 2,382 yards, 11/9 (TD/INT), 67 rush, 167 yards, 3 TD
2020: 247-336 (73.5%), 3,692 yards, 33/3 (TD/INT), 70 rush, 254 yards, 10 TD

What an incredible year Wilson put forth in 2020 to put his name in the first-round conversation of the draft. After having a decent, but not eye-catching, career to that point, the Utah-native was absolutely sensational in his junior campaign. That lead to his decision to leave school early to head for the NFL.

ZachWilson Scouting Report image 1

In his final year, Wilson finished third in the country in passing yards and touchdowns behind Mac Jones and Kyle Trask, while his completion percentage and passer rating were second to only Jones. He also finished tied fourth in rushing touchdowns for any quarterback in the country and was eighth in the Heisman voting.

While nearly every other quarterback prospect played a limited schedule due to the COVID-19 protocol put in place by their conference or opted out of the season, Wilson got 12 games to showcase his skills. Needless to say, he took full advantage of the spotlight, and his draft stock skyrocketed in the process.


With NFL offenses transitioning to more open schemes like we see in college, timing is more crucial than ever to a quarterback's success. However, with the defenses' speed at that level, those windows are short-lived, meaning signal-callers have to make quick reads and get rid of the ball fast. Having said that, Wilson has a lightning-quick throwing motion that reminds me of Tony Romo.

Za ch Wilson Scouting Report image 2

The time it takes from his arm to drawback to the moment it's off his fingertips is so impressive, and while his arm strength is good, not great, he puts plenty of zip on his short and intermediate passes without a wind up. That alone has to make NFL evaluators feel that he can handle the speed of the game as long as he can diagnose quickly, which we will talk about later.

Also, the footwork and mobility he displays are terrific. Wilson uses subtle yet effective movement to climb or maneuver in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. He also escapes the pocket quickly and can make plays with his feet. With more quarterbacks being able to make throws on the move and plays with their feet in the NFL, defenses are placing a high priority on keeping quarterbacks in the pocket at the next level.

Wilson is going to be a player defensive coordinators will want to keep in the pocket. On that note, Wilson also makes excellent throws on the move. He stays on balance well while evading the pocket. Wilson keeps his feet under him with a structured core to use as much of his legs and torso to add velocity to his throws.

I also love his ball-placement, which is a big reason we saw both his completion percentage and specifically his deep-ball accuracy tick up in 2020. We see it on crossing routes where he has displayed the ability to thread passes into tight coverage, but as I said, the deep ball is where we see it most. Last fall, we saw plenty of throws from him on the opposite side of the receiver from the defender. That is crucial because it allows the receiver to position himself to where only he can get a hand on it. Wilson also showed us a keen understanding of when to put a ball on the back shoulder in tight coverage. The touch and depth on his throws have improved to allow his players to run under deep balls, and that, along with proper ball-placement, is the definition of deep-ball accuracy.

Areas for Improvement

Let's start with his size. Wilson will never be considered a big quarterback, but he still needs to add bulk to his frame. This is a guy who has had two surgeries at BYU. The first was for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, and the second was on his throwing thumb. While neither worries me for his future, he's still not the sturdiest guy and probably never will be. However, every bit helps, considering he is listed at just a hair over 200 pounds.

On a similar note, I will be interested to see how big his hands measure, and even so, I think he needs to get stronger in that regard. This may sound nit-picky to fans, but it is quite important. As I've alluded to, Wilson has very good arm strength, but it's not in the same category as Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, or Trey Lance. However, he's not consistently getting the most out of his arm either, and it has to do with his spiral. Too often, we see his spiral get loose as it travels or even right as it comes out of his handoff. You don't have to have a Ph.D. in aerodynamics to understand what happens to a pass when the spiral gets loose. It decelerates on the way to its target. If the velocity on his passes drops over the course of a throw in the NFL, that is going to lead to tipped balls and interceptions. His hands and wrists may need to get stronger to really spin it and keep that spiral alive to his targets.

Another area I believe will need to improve is more of an assumption on my part based on a few flashes of evidence. I have questions about how quickly Wilson processes while keeping in mind the coverage of the defense. It's easy to throw the quick one-reads and pre-determined passes, but when working your way across the field, it can be far more dangerous. He's made some less-than-desirable decisions in those scenarios. A few times, he's put his receiver in a tough spot, while others he's thrown an interception-worthy pass that just wasn't caught. They were situations where you are left wondering what he was thinking.

It's not uncommon for collegiate signal-callers to have moments like that, but it's also paired with performances against top competition that produces numbers below his career marks. In three years, he's played five games against Power-Five Teams (Utah twice, USC, Washington, Tennessee). In those games, his completion percentage drops from 67.6 for his career to 63.8, and Wilson threw five touchdowns to four interceptions. I'm not sure if it's more aggressive defenders or tighter coverage, but there is a difference. Still, none of those games came in 2020.

Zach Wilson Scouting Report image 3

Draft Stock

That quick release, along with Wilson's mobility and overall production, make it hard to imagine him getting out of the top ten. He's not in the same class as Trevor Lawrence (Who is?), and while he may be a bit more polished than Justin Fields, I like the upside of Fields a little more. Still, when you get into the conversation of him and North Dakota State's Trey Lance, Lance may have similar upside to Fields, but he played one game this year, and he's never played a Power-Five opponent.

Lance and Wilson both have a lot of projection involved when considering how they will transition to the NFL, but Wilson is more polished and more tested against top competition. Wilson is also a terrific leader with a little swagger about him and shows poise in the big moments. I think he will be the third quarterback off the board, and considering the amount of turnover we are likely to see at the quarterback position among NFL teams, he should be gone before we get out of the top ten.

Zach Wilson Scouting Report image 4

Player Comparison

This is a tough one. As I said, that quick release and his poise in the pocket reminds me a lot of Tony Romo, and while Romo was a mobile quarterback in his prime, we are entering a new era of athletic quarterbacks.

I’d be lying if I said there isn’t a little Kyler Murray to him in the way he makes throws on the move, although Murray is a far superior runner. If you put those two together, I think you get a good grasp of how Wilson will succeed in the NFL, despite not having the prototypical size or arm-strength that has been coveted for so long.

Games Evaluated

    vs. Washington (9-21-19)
    at Houston (10-16-20)
    at Boise State (11-6-20)
    at Coastal Carolina (12-5-20)
    vs San Diego State (12-12-20)
    vs Central Florida (12-22-20)

Notes from Film

  • He's got very good subtle quickness the pocket to give himself that extra bit of time he needs when he knows a receiver is about to come open. His balance is also very good as he maneuvers in the pocket allowing him to throw from a good platform when it's time to pull the trigger.
  • On that note, he rarely ever throws from a poor platform, even when on the move. He keeps his weight under him with his shoulders square and it allows his torso to help make up for the power he’s losing from his legs because he's on the move. Kyler Murray is a similar player making throws on the move, and while Wilson isn't nearly the athlete Murray is, they are similar passers on the move.
  • Against Washington, Wilson had some interception-worthy throws in a least a handful of cases but also some brilliant ones where his receivers let him down. However, it's the former that has me a bit concerned about the speed of the game being an issue for him when he transitions to the NFL.
  • Wilson also has a lightning quick release, and I can't remember a rep where we saw any sort of wind up in his throwing motion. Quick releases and good timing make for high completion percentages in the NFL, and he's got half the battle won before he even steps foot into the league.
  • Arm strength is good, not great. Can really put some zip on his short and intermediate passes, but definitely a notch below Lawrence, Fields and Lance. I think part of this could be contributed to his spiral. We see his spiral get loose which can take the velocity off the ball. It's going to be interesting to see his hand size during the pre-draft process.
  • When I say he is cool and calm in the pocket, that holds true when he’s got pressure and even when it's coming right in front of him. He steps in and delivers and that is impressive. I will, however, say he may have to be talked out of that if he can't add some bulk to his undersized frame. NFL coaches and general managers are going to be much more thrilled with him escaping the pressure with his ability to make throws on the move, rather than trying to fit one in while taking a short to his frame.
  • I wish BYU had a burner on their roster because I'd really be interested in knowing how quick the ball needs to come out before they outrun his arm strength. I've got a feeling it's going to be quicker than some coaches will be happy with, but that quick release definitely helps.
  • Predetermines his throws more than he’s going to be able to get away with in the NFL, and sometimes he hangs players out to dry leaving you wondering why he understood the coverage pre-snap but didn't know the defender would be there.
  • Love the mobility with the ability to take off and run for yards. However, lowering his shoulder like we've seen him do at BYU at times is not an option in the NFL. Even if he adds bulk, he's never going to be what I’d label a strong quarterback.
  • Another thing that improved from 2019 to 2020 was his anticipation. Saw him throw a lot more balls to players that hadn't yet turned their heads when he released it. Especially on throws to the far sideline.
  • I'd like to see him calm down with some of the alternate arm angles he chooses to throw the football with. I get Patrick Mahomes looks good doing it, but even he misses more often than not with his accuracy when it happens, and for a lot of guys it's the majority of the time. Great example, fourth and two in the first quarter of the UCF game, his running back is standing all by his lonesome five yards past the first-down mark and Wilson spots him. There was a little pressure on its way but nothing that should have disturbed him. Wilson side-arm slings it and it skips four yards inside of where the running back is at without any chance of him getting a hand on it.
  • The Coastal Carolina game was a chippy one, and Wilson was the target of some really bush-league tactics by his opponents. Still, in the fourth quarter of game where your down five points, the quarterback can't be the one shoving people in the face. I get how frustrated he must have been but the game is still anyone's to win. He got away with one, but as the leader of the team you have to set the standard. If you lose your composure, so will those who follow you. If you lose focus on a game that you're clearly in, so too, will those around you. We've rarely seen anything like that and I hope someone talked to him about it, because I'd rather him learn from that now, as opposed to repeat it in the NFL.
  • They don't run a ton of play-action where he turns his back to the line of scrimmage, but when he does, he does an excellent job of whipping his head around and getting his eyes downfield. Such an underrated quality with how quickly defenders can get on a quarterback with a naked bootleg called.
  • Timing on checks downs was immaculate as 2020 went on, and that is a credit to his decision-making as much as it is his awareness and internal clock. This guy was putting up video game numbers during this season, and it would be understandable for a young player in that situation to hold on to the ball sometimes in order to give downfield throws more time to open up. That's a temptation that is too risky with his size, and I love seeing him check down on time. Very disciplined approach.

Scouting Video Courtesy of College Films

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