CLEVELAND, Ohio — Guess how tall BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is.
Don’t Google it.
If “short” came to mind then in my best T’Challa voice (Black Panther) “You are wrong!”
The projected No. 2 pick measured slightly over 6-foot-2 at his pro day earlier this month. His height won’t be an issue. Neither will his hands (9-1/2 inch).
Baker Mayfield stands about an inch and a half shorter than Wilson. Their hands are the same size. Wilson didn’t run any drills, but his tape shows an off-script playmaker, similar to Mayfield at Oklahoma.
Mayfield proved he’s a winning NFL quarterback in 2020. Given a smart offense with elite production and quality playmakers, he’ll command a system and push it to success.
Will Mayfield’s collegiate heights ever materialize in the NFL? That depends on your expectations. He won’t throw for nearly 600 yards in a game like he did versus Oklahoma State. Rushing for 69 yards and two scores against Kansas State isn’t replicable either.
Those are inflated examples. So are these. Wilson threw for 425 in his college finale against Central Florida. He also rushed for 10 touchdowns last year.
Mayfield wasn’t drafted No. 1 for his rushing abilities. Instead, he’s a powerful thrower, like Wilson. Both college quarterbacks threw off-platform well and could extend plays in creative ways. They also didn’t turn the ball over.
Wilson threw 33 touchdowns to only three interceptions as a senior. Mayfield touted a similar ratio with 43 scores and just six picks. Generating explosive off-script plays while simultaneously protecting the football tantalizes general managers.
Imagine a guard blows a block. Perhaps the No. 2 read isn’t open and the running back doesn’t release quickly enough. Now what? Well, your wizard-like signal-caller somehow must turn a bad situation into fresh downs.
That’s Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson. Can Mayfield become that? Perhaps.
New Jets coach Robert Saleh believes Wilson is that. And that’s because Mayfield paved the way for Wilson to be seen in such light. Let’s break down some tape that details the commonalities between Wilson and Mayfield.
This is the first story in a series, “Center Stage: Four people who will be front and center next week and help define Cleveland’s NFL Draft.” Check back Wednesday for Doug Lesmerises on Urban Meyer.
He rolls right like Baker Mayfield
I contemplated several paragraphs to prove this point. None was better than just showing this rep of Wilson versus Boise State. The play breaks down. Wilson rolls right and fires a snapping 50-yard sideline dime. It’s vintage Mayfield, college or pro.
I see a taller and more slender Mayfield, which isn’t necessarily all positive. I’m glad he’s taller, but Mayfield’s thicker base provides him more of a pocket presence. He can take knocks and still reset before throwing.
Regardless, both have Kobe Bryant-level confidence in their arms. The same way Kobe thought he’d score from any angle (picture his shot from behind the backboard versus Celtics in 2010 Finals), Wilson and a rookie Mayfield figure they can complete any throw.
Often they are right, especially when breaking contain and throwing right. It’s their dagger move.
Below I pause a similar rep. This time Wilson rolls right and throws across his body to the target near midfield. A conservative coach wouldn’t advise this, but it worked against Coastal Carolina.
Wilson’s improvisation excites
Mayfield tore up the Big 12 while I covered Division III college basketball and frequented Wisconsin dive bars. Admittedly, I don’t recall much of his college career. If you say he made off-platform plays like Wilson then I believe you (until I call a college football writing friend to set it straight). But in the pros, Mayfield doesn’t twist to throw like Wilson can.
There isn’t an awkward angle Wilson cannot generate power from. Mayfield paved the way for Wilson, but he clearly studies Rodgers and Mahomes like young hoopers mimic James Harden’s stepback triple.
He’s excellent off-platform. There isn’t an impromptu throw he cannot make.
Here are some interesting stats on Wilson’s senior year.
- He finished second among all passers in completion rate (73.5%), fourth in total EPA per attempt (0.51), and third in yards per attempt (11.0)
- Only 16.3% of his deep passes were considered uncatchable, and he notched Pro Football Focus’s highest single-season tight-window passing grade (92.7) since 2018.
Causal eyes may consider those above completions lucky or instinctual. It is more instinct, but it’s critical to highlight Wilson’s dedication to improvisation. He practices these throws and it’s obvious.
Learning from the Mayfield experience
Throwing on the run and off-platform are what excite. But his pocket throws are nice as well. On the below play, Wilson drives the ball to the field side and hits a back-shoulder vertical. His mechanics are 2020 Mayfield. Notice the snap-release and pointed high left foot after following through.
Wilson will land in New York. The Jets cannot fail him like they did Sam Darnold. Like Mayfield, he doesn’t throw well against pressure. New York invested in prizes like Le’Veon Bell rather than solidifying its offensive line.
Browns fans understand what remaking a front-five does for a young quarterback. Buffalo did the same for Josh Allen, like Mayfield a 2018 draft pick. Without protection (which Wilson had plenty of at BYU), off-target throws fester.
What we learned
Those around Wilson rave about him. From his high school coaches, to trainers and pro scouts, it’s difficult to find negativity. He’s a competitor (Mayfield-esque) but has a calming balance of humility as well.
At times, he doesn’t appreciate the simplicity and benefits of quick football. But he’s 21 years old. I’m confident a coach can quickly show him how complex it is to actually execute snap or “simple” concepts in the NFL.
Like Mayfield, he’ll need a coach who can control his irrational tics.
Mayfield helped make Wilson possible. Kevin Stefanski proved it’s doable. It’s on both quarterbacks to prove they’re Canton-capable.
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