If you have not had the chance to watch the exclusive documentary event, Flight 2021: An Offseason with the New York Jets, you should clear your schedule immediately.
This Hard Knocks-quality production tackled different areas of the Jets 2021 offseason. We already discussed the franchise’s new standard for how they go about bringing in talent, but another subject of extreme intrigue was why the team chose Zach Wilson.
The 2021 rookie quarterback class was stacked with promise and expectations, but Joe Douglas’ guys seemed honed in on one prospect, in particular, the former BYU Cougars quarterback.
Since the NFL draft, Jets fans have eagerly sifted through social media to find every snap and pass of the rookie’s OTAs and minicamp period. They have also listened to every word spoken by or about the Utah native, hoping to catch a glimpse of what Douglas and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur saw in their evaluations.
Wilson has had a mostly impressive spring, but the praise of his hard work and dedication from coaches has been even more encouraging than his game.
Already known as a “film junkie,” the BYU product seems to have the “it” factor that makes the good players strive to be great.
Separating One Prospect From Another
We already know how much the Jets rave about Wilson’s “arm talent” as a natural thrower of the football, but what else was it that ranked him over Sam Darnold, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones?
One of the coolest things about Flight 2021 was that it revealed the thought process behind the decisions like this pick and every other. Wilson is discussed in all four parts of the docuseries, but episode three really dives into night one of the draft.
Before we get to that, one must-watch segment about the QB draft process actually came before part three of the documentary. Towards the end of episode two, LaFleur talks about some of the skills they look for that separate one prospect from another.
“You try to find as many clips as you can over their four years or three years… where they’re, what we say, ‘throwing in a phonebooth,’ where that pocket is collapsing and they’re still able to make those throws without looking at the pass rush. They’re able to be accurate and be able to stand in there and be tough,” LaFleur told the audience.
Douglas added: “You want to get up close and personal to this player… just to get a sense of their build, get a sense of their total presence. How they’re communicating with their coach. How they’re communicating with their teammates.”
LaFleur noted that you never want to draft a quarterback before first getting to know him, and second, seeing him throw live. He also echoed Douglas: “You look at the interactions with his teammates that he’s throwing to, is he a leader of those guys or is he just kind of about himself out there?”
Wilson ‘Popped Off the Tape’
The docuseries actually starts with the scouting team discussing Wilson’s attributes as a player. Andrew Dollack is the scout that was assigned to Wilson’s area of the country, making him the star of this scene.
Dollack highlighted the quarterback for having a “command of the offense” and playing with a “high level of confidence.”
Other traits from Dollack:
- Playmaker mentality.
- Sneaky athleticism and foot speed when escaping a broken pocket.
- Ability to make “full-field reads” and get through progressions quickly.
- His overall toughness as a player.
- His intelligence and how he uses his eyes to “manipulate defenders.”
- “Weather-tested” for New York conditions.
- Scheme fit for LaFleur’s offense.
Assistant general manager Rex Hogan on the other hand was really impressed by his mental capacity, and how Wilson was able to recall specific plays and concepts during his interview process.
Then there was director of football analytics Brian Shields, who talked about how Wilson’s arm talent stood out with “A” grades in every category below.
- 20-plus yard passing attempts.
- Throwing under pressure.
- Play-action passing.
- Throwing the ball on the run.
Shields specifically mentions that the Jets graded him higher than every quarterback (including Trevor Lawrence) in “tight-window” passing and accuracy.
In episode three, Dollack adds that Wilson can make any throw, regardless of the angle or foot placement — a major reason for the Patrick Mahomes comparisons.
Jon Carr (director of college scouting) then jumps in, labeling the BYU product “one of the quickest decision-makers” that he had scouted this year. Carr calls Wilson a “risk-taker” but notes that his accuracy allows him to do so successfully more often than not.
Wilson Meets the Parents
After dazzling the scouting team, Wilson still had to nail the interview with Douglas, LaFleur and head coach Robert Saleh.
The Jets offensive coordinator made sure to point out that he liked Darnold as a quarterback, but “fell in love with [Wilson] early” after watching his tape. LaFleur’s full analysis of the number two overall pick comes at the start of episode four but Saleh gives a preview before that.
“When you watch his tape a lot of the concepts that they ran at BYU translate to what we do, so that was the first thing… when we got a chance to meet with him on tape he had already known our verbiage… and then his recall and all the different things that he did during those zoom meetings, I mean he just kept checking off boxes and really made it an easy decision for us,” the Jets head coach told fans.
LaFleur repeated much of Saleh’s sentiments, but he also detailed out a film breakdown on what he was looking for in a quarterback.
His first step was determining whether or not he has a natural thrower, meaning “does [the ball] come out quick and does it look fluid?” It did, and Wilson’s different arm angled throws also excited LaFleur.
He concluded: “He’s got natural throwing ability, he can play in the pocket, and he doesn’t flinch when he’s about to get hit. That is NFL-style football… when you take [that] natural ability, his toughness, his ability to process and go through progressions and then his ability to make plays off-schedule, it gives him a chance.”
Between the rookie’s skill set and LaFleur’s knowledge as a teacher, there is no reason to believe the former Cougar won’t be ready for Week 1.
When Wilson was drafted, Douglas told him to “have fun,” and that “this is still the same game you were playing when you were seven years old.”
Saleh’s message was also meant to take the edge off: “This organization is going to lift you, not the other way around.” Take flight, Zach.