Zach Wilson’s lack of pocket pressure could become big Jets concern

When you watch film of Zach Wilson at BYU last season, there are plenty of things that stand out — including how clean his uniform is.

Wilson was barely touched in 2020 as the Cougars played a weak schedule and he had the luxury of playing behind a strong offensive line. Of all the questions that have centered around the quality of competition Wilson faced last year, the most legitimate one may be is there enough film of him from college playing with someone in his face?

“That’s a fair question,” Jeff Grimes, who was BYU’s offensive coordinator last year and now is at Baylor, said. “He was standing back there eating a sandwich sometimes.”

Wilson was sacked a total of 11 times last season. There were six games when he was not sacked at all. Wilson was sacked once every 33 times he dropped back, according to the NFL Network. By contrast, Sam Darnold was sacked once every 12 times he dropped back last season.

The Jets invested in the offensive line with the selection of guard Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first round last week and they used their first-round pick on tackle Mekhi Becton last season, but the line is still a work in progress. Wilson will face more pressure if he plays as a rookie than he did at BYU.

Jets quarterbacks have been on the run for the last decade. In his three seasons with the team, Darnold was sacked 30, 33 and 35 times. The last time a Jets quarterback was not sacked at least 30 times was 2016.

Zach Wilson wasn't sacked a lot at BYU.
Zach Wilson wasn’t sacked a lot at BYU.
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“He is going to have to speed everything up a little bit because there was a pretty clean pocket for the most part there,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I’ve seen examples of him being able to navigate within the pocket. I’ve seen examples of him being able to take off and create once he is flushed. I think his operation is really quick. In other words, I don’t think he needs a lot of space around his feet in order to be able to drive the ball. He doesn’t have to have his feet in the ground to deliver the football. I agree there are not a ton of examples of [Wilson facing pressure].

“But I’ve seen him, even on fadeaways getting pressure in his face, deliver the ball accurately. He’s got answers. It’s something that will be an adjustment seeing more of it. To me, he’s got the answers. He just needs more experience.”

Grimes, who was with Wilson for his entire career at BYU, said while the 2020 tape does not show many examples of Wilson facing pressure, he has faced it in his career. He was sacked 19 times as a sophomore and 23 times as a freshman. Grimes said Wilson is able to escape pressure when he needs to.

“At other times in his career I’ve seen him under duress,” Grimes said. “We played USC and Washington and Tennessee and Wisconsin. I’ve seen him in that situation. He’s a guy that creates. He’s an artist playing quarterback. Sometimes that’s standing back in the pocket for an exorbitant amount of time. Sometimes, though, it’s him feeling pressure and creating a play with his feet by extending to either sideline. I think he does that exceptionally well. He throws on the run better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Wilson’s durability also comes into play when you talk about him getting sacked. He had shoulder surgery in 2019 and even though he is 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, his frame is not big. Can he take the punishment he will absorb in the NFL? One hit last season altered Darnold’s season when his shoulder was driven into the ground.

Grimes said avoiding the big hits is something Wilson will figure out.

“I do think that will be an adjustment for him to understand how to throw on time consistently,” Grimes said. “It will be different than what he’s accustomed to, but I know he’ll do just fine with it because he’s incredibly intelligent and he’s a real fast thinker. I know he’s going to apply himself by studying the game and knowing where he has to go with the ball if they do get pressure on him.”

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