For those keeping track at home, out of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, only one preseason debut was graded out as an 80.0 or higher on Pro Football Focus.
That was none other than New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson.
PFF analyst Sam Monson wrote the article ranking the rookie quarterbacks, which included Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, and of course Wilson.
Here’s what Monson had to say about the BYU product’s first NFL action.
“Wilson played only 22 snaps against the New York Giants, but his performance looked effortless for the Jets — a far cry from Sam Darnold’s laboring play over the past few seasons. Wilson threw the ball with plenty of zip and also was rarely out of rhythm, earning the quickest average time to throw (2.4 seconds) of any of the five first-round rookie quarterbacks. Wilson didn’t make any big-time throws, nor did he have any glaring mistakes. A couple of his passes were impressive, though, even if they didn’t quite make the threshold for a big-time throw.”
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Breaking Down Wilson’s PFF Grades
Wilson’s overall grade was 80.3, but his passing grade was slightly lower at 78.8 with a hands/fumble grade of 71.4 in 22 snaps. He also had the quickest throw-time of the bunch, as Monson noted, at 2.42-seconds.
It will be crucial for the Jets signal-caller to get the ball out fast this season, something Darnold struggled with over the last few campaigns in New York. This is not a great pass-blocking offensive line, even after the improvements, and quick accurate throws can really help account for any issues the blocking unit may have.
Wilson faced three defensive pressures during his outing against the Giants, but the offensive trouble that occurred within the Green & White scrimmage stemmed from teammates like Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers blowing up plays. The Jets aren’t the only ferocious front in football, so this is an area both Wilson and this O-line will have to improve together.
A positive note from his grade was that this time around, none of those pressures led to sacks. Another positive was his three first-downs through the air and his 66.7 completion percentage (7.0 yards per attempt).
This all accumulated to an NFL passer rating of 86.8, a solid total for the rookie’s first start.
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Quick Notes on the Competition
Like it or not, these four names will always be compared with Wilson, just like Josh Allen and Darnold are always compared with one another, or Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson.
Fields and Lance gained all the headlines this weekend for their spectacular moments, but their overall grades according to PFF were actually pretty poor. The Chicago Bears’ future face of the franchise earned a 64.0 overall and a 70.0 passing grade in 33 snaps (third-ranked).
The Ohio State product seemed to receive his biggest docks from his rushing (47.5) and hands/fumble (24.7) grades, as well as his release-time of 3.76 seconds. Fields was stripped once during a scramble and he threw a “very interceptable floated pass,” per Monson. One definite positive for the Bears QB was his ability to out-maneuver eight defensive pressures, which yielded zero sacks.
Lance had a similar type of day, filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for a PFF analyst. His 48.8 grade through 29 snaps was the lowest by far, but the quarterback did have some highlight-reel plays that had San Francisco 49ers fans feeling the hype.
“He took a couple of unnecessary sacks and made three turnover-worthy plays,” explained Monson, although Lance was fortunate to have all three opportunities dropped by the defense. The North Dakota State product received a putrid 49.0 passing grade and 23.1 hands/fumble score.
The number one overall pick was far less flashy in his 15 total snaps. He ranked fourth by Monson’s assessment with a 58.7 (58.5 passing) and an incomplete vibe about his audition. Wilson can relate to that last part, but not the sacks or the fumble that killed Lawrence’s score. The main complaints were that the Clemson QB held the ball too long, leading to trouble in and around the pocket.
Wilson’s tightest competition in Week 1 of the preseason was the person that he’ll likely be seeing most over the course of his career, New England Patriots prospect Mac Jones. The former Alabama quarterback’s game translated well into Josh McDaniels’ system, earning him the highest passing grade out of the five (82.0) in 33 snaps.
His overall grade was slightly lower than Wilson, however, at 79.5, in part due to the sack he took and his ultra-cautious 4.6 yards per attempt.
There’s a long road ahead for all five of these prospects, but according to PFF, Wilson is out to the early lead.
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