I happen to think the nickname Mormon Manziel for BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is stupendous. It's got it all -- alliteration, a nod to BYU's religious affiliation, and after watching him, I see the stylistic resemblance to Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. Nevermind for a second the atrocity Manziel was in the NFL. In college, he was a dynamic, huge-play creator who destroyed SEC defenses for two seasons and was a blast to watch en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.
Wilson has started his true junior campaign phenomenally with a completion rate of 78.3% at a humongous 12 yards per attempt with 16 touchdowns, one pick and six more scores on the ground. Oh, and he's bigger than Manziel at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds and his arm talent is much more impressive than the former Aggies star.
Ahhh yes, arm talent, a ubiquitous scouting term with seemingly a variety of definitions. Here's mine -- the ability to throw with velocity, touch, and accuracy from different arm angles and platforms, while standing stoically in the pocket, sliding away from pressure, or when improvising outside the structure of the play. Wilson has first-round arm talent. Not necessarily the strongest arm. But he's unafraid and capable of letting any type of pass go in any situation. And it typically lands where he wants it to. Trust me. Let's take a closer look at Wilson's game after he's arrived on the early-round draft radar for 2021.
In the fourth quarter against UTSA, Wilson's arm talent allowed him to quickly snap a back-shoulder fade while off his back foot to beat the corner blitzer who entered the backfield untouched. Wilson released the ball before his target had gotten five yards down the field, and it was lofted perfectly for a 20-yard gain.
Talk about a touch pass. That was it. And it had to be hurried. No problem for Wilson.
Wilson isn't just all arm talent and no quarterbacking nuance either. This play against UTSA is fine demonstration of Wilson's coverage processing and natural pocket drifting ability. The throw on the move had plenty of zip and was accurate. Good things. Total package play you see from top NFL quarterbacks every week.
And it didn't look awkward or forced. Looked like Wilson just felt that's where he needed to maneuver to create room for himself, generate a throwing lane, and buy time for his receiver to get open.
Here against Houston, Wilson provided another demonstration of his calmness while scanning the field and reacting to what the defense gives him. This play didn't end with a strike across the middle but provided a demonstration of Wilson's athleticism and Grayson Boucher-like street ball agility.
That crossover Wilson put on the approaching defender at the second level would've drawn a "that's my godson!" line from the And 1 on-court announcer in the mid 2000s. No doubt in my mind. After that, notice how Wilson didn't appear to be running fast but was separating from the pack chasing him, and he capped it with a textbook baseball slide to avoid a hit.
Sometimes, especially in today's NFL, if a quarterback can't find anyone open, the athleticism switch has to be flipped on, and explosive plays can be created with a passer's legs. Wilson has a playmaker knack as a runner too.
The NFL's a constantly evolving landscape, and the freestyle capabilities Wilson shows every game is precisely what teams want from their quarterback today -- after competent play from the pocket. But, can he do "classic" things well like the sideline throw from the far hash, you know, what's long been deemed as the most glaring example of an "NFL throw?" You tell me.
Here's Wilson against Troy starting with his eyes down the seam before ripping a comeback on toward the right sideline. Velocity and timing. Perfect.
Wilson can push the football vertically as well. In fact, he loves it. To date, Wilson's attempted 28 passes of 20 or more yards down the field, good for rate of 17.1%. For context, Trevor Lawrence's 20-plus yard attempt rate currently sits at 16.6%.
This pass from a clean pocket against Troy shows Wilson's innate touch along with an NFL-caliber arm.
Nearly 50 yards in the air, gorgeously out in front of the defensive back and over the outside shoulder of his wideout running near the boundary.
Speaking of a clean pocket -- where quarterback production is most stable per Pro Football Focus -- Wilson's currently second only to Alabama's Mac Jones in clean-pocket yards per attempt at a whopping 12.1 among the 56 quarterbacks who've attempted at least 100 passes.
I won't call him a sure-fire first-round pick just yet, but I'm excited about his potential as a prospect and the skills he's showcased at BYU this season that absolutely look immediately translatable to the NFL. And, he's only 21 years old already with 24 games of starting experience.
The Mormon Manziel is a must-watch passer at the collegiate level right now, and I'm already much more impressed with his refined skills than I was with Manziel himself in 2014.
(All advanced stats courtesy of TruMedia unless otherwise stated)