By now you probably know a little bit about Titans first round pick Isaiah Wilson. The first thing that jumps out is obviously his size. Even in a sport filled with freakishly large athletes, it’s pretty rare to see someone who goes 6’-6” and 350 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan.
However, there is a lot more to Wilson than just his hulking size.
He arrived at Georgia in 2017 as a five-star recruit from Brooklyn, the crown jewel of another top five recruiting class for Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs. Wilson reportedly fielded more than 80 scholarship offers before choosing UGA over Alabama and Michigan despite playing at the prestigious Poly Prep Day School, a private school in New York that sends far more students to the Ivy League than the SEC.
As a 6’-4”, 275-pound freshman, Wilson also competed in wrestling, losing just three matches — his first match and two against the eventual state champion who was three years older than him — before exceeding the weight limit by his sophomore year. Later in his high school career, he would take up lacrosse as an offseason activity to help him stay in shape for football.
Wilson’s high school highlights are predictably hilarious for a five-star offensive line prospect playing against relatively low level high school football teams, especially his snaps as a wildcat quarterback.
By the time he arrived at Georgia, Wilson had grown to 6’-6” and 383 pounds, an absolute behemoth. However, the southern heat exposed some conditioning issues early on and led to him taking a redshirt season while fellow 2017 recruit Andrew Thomas — the 4th overall pick in the draft — started at right tackle.
Wilson used that year to set about reworking his body with the help of the Georgia’s strength and conditioning staff. He lost weight and redistributed some of his mass through a change in diet and hard work in the weight room.
“My arms are bigger. My legs are bigger. My stomach is smaller,” Wilson said. “That’s how we did that one.”
By the start of 2018, he had trimmed down to the 330 to 340 pound range, the weight that he played at for much of his college career, and had staked his claim to the starting right tackle spot with Thomas sliding across to replace another first round pick — the Patriots Isaiah Wynn — at left tackle for the Bulldogs. Wilson started all 14 games for Georgia and was named to the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-American team as well as earning recognition as Georgia’s most improved offensive player.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2019, Wilson missed three starts with a high ankle sprain early in the season, but finished strong as the year wore on. Many questioned his decision to declare for the draft after just two years of action. Had he stayed at Georgia, he likely would have flipped over to left tackle and joined Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood in the battle to become OT2 behind Oregon’s transcendent Penei Sewell.
However, the Titans taking Wilson with the 29th pick justifies his decision. Sure, he probably could have moved into the top half of the first round in 2021 if he’d chosen to wait — as Mel Kiper suggested he likely would have on draft night — but the chance of an injury derailing his season and his draft stock almost certainly wasn’t worth the $4-5 million difference between being pick 29 this year and pick 15 next year. Not to mention the cost of delaying his pro career an extra season.
At the end of the day Wilson said that leaving Georgia was a tough decision, but he felt that it was the right one because of how well he performed against top level talent.
“I was fairing well against first-round talent, and touted draft picks. Guys I know that have years on me,” Wilson said. That’s when I decided that I think that I’m good enough. I decided that I was ready to go to work and attack the next level of my life.”
Wilson has a gregarious personality and a strong work ethic instilled in him by his parents and long days of bus rides to and from Poly Prep. He’s highly intelligent — a sneaky critical aspect of being a great offensive lineman — and has talked about modeling his game after Raiders Pro Bowl right tackle Trent Brown, a similarly gargantuan player who checked in at 6’-8” and 355 pounds at the combine five years ago.
Combined with his killer instinct on the field, it’s not hard to see why the Titans would have fallen in love with Wilson’s fit within the culture of this franchise. D’Andre Swift — the star back that he helped pave the way for — had this to say about his hulking right tackle:
“I remember when Zay came in as a freshman, had to lose weight, and he was working,” Georgia running back D’Andre Swift said of Wilson. “That’s probably one of the hardest working people I’ve seen,” Swift said. “Just for him to move the way he moves and how he carries his weight, he’s a great athlete. Whatever team gets him is going to love him to death and they’re going to get a great player and a great leader.”
It’s those traits, as much as his physical ability, that make him so interesting as a prospect.
We already touched on Wilson’s size, but the chart below puts his measurables into perspective when compared to other offensive linemen who were tested at the combine over the years.
The first thing that jumps out is his size, obviously, but don’t sleep on those broad jump and vertical numbers. Those drills measure explosiveness and Wilson became the heaviest player in the history of the combine to jump at least a 29-inch vertical and a 110-inch broad jump. The previous record holder for that specific combination of metrics was five time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who accomplished the feat at 338 pounds. As his former teammate, and 4th overall pick, Andrew Thomas said at the combine, “Wilson is a physical freak”.
The weak spots in Wilson’s workout were obviously the change of direction drills. Not surprising for a man of his size, but traditionally, those are the key measurables for an offensive lineman working in an outside zone based offense similar to the one the Titans use. We will get into why those numbers aren’t a disqualifier for Wilson having success in this system when we get to the tape.
One other thing to mention here is Wilson’s age. He’ll be just 21 years old this fall, and given the physical progress he made under the strength staff at Georgia, it’s not hard to imagine him continuing to develop under Frank Piraino and the Titans excellent strength staff.
While there are almost no “traditional stats” for offensive linemen, Pro Football Focus provides charting stats that can be helpful for getting a feel for a player’s success, particularly as a pass blocker.
PFF had Wilson credited with 1 sack, 3 QB hits, and 11 hurries allowed in 400 pass protection snaps in 2018, his redshirt freshman season. Last year, he improved slightly, yielding 1 sack, 2 QB hits, and 6 hurries over 358 pass pro snaps.
Those are really quite impressive numbers, and they’re in line with 10th overall pick Jedrick Wills and better than 11th overall pick — and fellow jumbo sized tackle — Mekhi Becton. Sure, you can argue that Wilson got more help — thanks in large part to lining up across from Andrew Thomas — but if the goal is to keep the QB clean, Wilson accomplished that at an elite rate for the last two years.
From a run blocking standpoint, PFF grades Wilson out as just above average, which is interesting given his profile as a mauler. The stats, again, suggest a high level of effectiveness though. Georgia averaged a whopping 7.6 yards per carry and 2.8 yards before contact when running to Wilson’s gap over the last two seasons. To put that in some context, the Bulldogs averaged 5.5 yards per carry overall in 2018 and 2019 combined.
So let’s take a look at Wilson in action and see how he might project to the NFL level based off his college performance.
We will start with his prowess as a run blocker. After all, that’s a big part of why he was drafted and why he is such a great fit for the Titans.
As you’d expect, Wilson is excellent at generating movement at the point of attack thanks to his size and strength. You can see some of that with this first snap. This is an inside zone run behind Wilson, one of Georgia’s favorite run calls over the last couple seasons. You can see big No. 79 blow South Carolina’s defensive end off the ball on initial contact and then puts him on skates, eventually burying him 8 yards downfield with the help of his right guard.
Another example of his overwhelming power. This time he’s on the backside of a zone run and responsible for cutting off the 3-tech defensive tackle. This is not always an easy block since the defender has an angle to the ball pre-snap. This is where Wilson’s excellent explosive movement skills come into play. He’s able to generate an incredibly quick first step to cut off that angle and jolt the defender backwards. Wilson catches this defensive tackle off guard and puts him on the ground immediately.
The most popular quote from Wilson’s introductory press conference was “breaking another man’s will is what I enjoy about the game” and that kind of intensity shows up on his tape despite his warm off field demeanor. Here, he starts out a little high with his pad level — something that we will discuss below — but you can see his ability to recover and then overwhelm his opponent, torquing the defensive end to the ground and landing his 350-pound mass on top of him.
Here’s another example of Wilson’s power and get off. It’s 3rd and 1 and Wilson’s job is to collapse down on the 3-tech defensive tackle and allow his right guard to climb to the linebacker. Again, the defender has an angle advantage at the snap based on the direction the play is headed, but Wilson fires off hard and low, and not only does he get between his man and the point of attack, but he does so while moving the defender back three yards, helping clear room for an easy first down conversion.
Here’s another backside block from a zone look. This time the defensive tackle turns his shoulder to try and stay playside, but Wilson just dips his shoulder and takes him for a ride. These are blocks that the Titans will ask him to make on a regular basis and the fact that he’s been performing these zone specific techniques for over two years already is likely a big selling point for Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel and it will help him get on the field quicker than a tackle from another system might have.
Another zone technique with a high level of execution here. Watch Wilson use a “rip and run” technique to climb to the linebacker before driving him all the way out of the picture. Again, this is a 6’-6”, 350-pound man moving like that.
Another example of great work from Wilson on a zone concept. Here, his responsibility is to help his right guard get to the 3-technique’s outside shoulder before climbing up to pick off a linebacker. His raw power knocks the defensive tackle off balance and off the ball even without Wilson actually squaring him up.
Here’s a rep that gets me really excited about Wilson’s potential. Winning in a phone booth on the line of scrimmage is expected when you’re as big as he is, but being able to move in space like this? That’s special.
Jon Robinson talked about Wilson’s size and length as an asset on the second level as a path disruptor. Essentially, he gives linebackers a lot of mass and a big wingspan to have to run around when flowing to the ball and every inch that they go out of their way is an inch that Derrick Henry takes off their pursuit angle. However, Wilson shows the ability to do more than just get in the way, he’s athletic enough to break down, shuffle his feet, and engage with linebackers in space.
Just take a look at Orlando Brown Jr. moving in space from his college tape and you can plainly see a stark difference in athleticism. Brown has turned into a Pro Bowl right tackle with the Ravens and I think Wilson’s ceiling is higher than Brown’s.
There is far more good than bad from Wilson in the run game, but there are some technique issues that he could improve upon at the next level to really reach his full potential. One of those issues is inconsistent pad level. That’s not surprising for a guy who stands a little over 6’-6” tall, but it’s something that he will need to focus on at the next level and I’m certain the Titans coaching staff will adamant about.
Wilson has some snaps where he just gets out-leveraged due to being a little too upright at the point of engagement. Here is Wilson against Derrick Brown, the 7th overall pick of the Carolina Panthers. Brown goes 6’-5” and 326 pounds so this was a heavyweight fight when these two squared off. On this snap, Brown is slanting hard inside from a 3-technique position, making Wilson’s responsibility to cut him off extremely difficult. He does an admirable job of beating Brown to the spot, but his pad level is a little high when he gets there and that allows Brown to leverage him. Ultimately, you’ll take this rep from Wilson against a highly talented player like Brown, but the pad level could be better.
Wilson’s pad level issues aren’t exclusively just being too upright. He’s occasionally guilty of lunging at defenders with his head down which can lead to some whiffs against good players like Texans 3rd round pick Jonathan Greenard, who gives Wilson the olé here and makes the tackle.
Wilson winds up on the ground more than you’d like to see on tape, but most of that seems to be technique related, not a more long term concern like balance issues. Having inconsistent pad level is not unusual for an offensive lineman coming into the NFL. Most of the guys that make it this far have been so physically superior to their opponents in high school and college football that it hasn’t really mattered. That’s especially true for a behemoth like Wilson.
The fit with the Titans scheme is obvious. Not only does Tennessee use similar run schemes, but they use similar blocking techniques to the ones that Wilson performed at Georgia. With the added bonus that he gets to stick at right tackle rather than being asked to flip from left tackle to right — a task that can be more difficult than it might seem — it’s easy to see him as a potential early starter with the Titans.
The fit is also part of why the Titans might have been higher on Wilson than most media members — who are judging players in a scheme independent vacuum — and even other NFL teams. As much as any player in this draft, Wilson embodies what the Titans want to be on offense: big, extremely physical, and smart.
Wilson has been branded as a mauler who may struggle in pass protection, particularly with speed rushers based solely on his measurables, but his tape doesn’t necessarily reflect that opinion. As mentioned above, he allowed just two sacks in 24 games as the Bulldogs right tackle and his QB hits and hurries allowed were right in line with the top four tackles in this draft class.
Playing across from 4th overall pick Andrew Thomas certainly provided Georgia with the opportunity to give Wilson a little more help at times, but that’s something that Taylor Lewan’s presence will provide for the Titans as well.
The irony of Wilson’s pass pro repertoire is that he was very rarely bothered by speed rushes during his college career. He doesn’t have the lightest feet in the world, but he slides well enough that he’s able to use that length and power to push edge rushers deep behind the pocket.
As you can see with both this next rep and the last one, Wilson was left on an island with relative frequency and showed the ability to hold up well in these situations.
Here’s another shot of Wilson dealing with speed off the edge. He looks like he’s initially looking inside for a possible stunt, but recovers well enough to push the defender around the pocket, leaving the quarterback undisturbed.
One more versus speed. This time the Auburn defender tries to use a long arm, but Wilson’s length allows him to get a hold of the shoulder and push the rush comfortably behind the quarterback’s pocket.
Wilson’s tremendous strength gives him a really strong anchor when he is able to set up and engage a defender. Here, he’s in a slide protection, stepping inside to take on 47th overall pick Marlon Davidson. Again, you can see pad level is a little high, but he just physically overwhelms a very talented player despite sub-optimal technique.
Some of the most encouraging aspects of Wilson’s pass protection ability is his recognition of stunts. It’s no secret that the Titans offensive line struggled mightily with defensive line games last season, but that was not an issue for Wilson. Here, you can see him setting for the speed rush before he senses the stunt and slides back inside to stonewall the charging linebacker.
Wilson is very communicative at the line of scrimmage, frequently relaying messages back to his teammates to make sure they are seeing the defense the same way he is.
There is, however, a chink in his otherwise impressive pass protection resume. Wilson struggles consistently against inside spin moves. Here, he’s matched up against K’Lavon Chaisson, the 20th overall pick of the Jaguars and a very talented edge rusher. Wilson oversets against Chaisson’s speed and exposes himself to a beautiful spin move that results in the only sack he allowed in 2019.
Here’s the same matchup, same move, and nearly the same result except this time Wilson is bailed out by a quick throw from the quarterback.
Just so you can see that it’s not just Chaisson’s spin that gives Wilson trouble, here is another one that completely turns him along. He shows good competitiveness to try and recover and get in the way by any means necessary, but obviously you never want your offensive lineman turned around facing the quarterback in pass protection.
The struggles against the inside spin are something that can be worked out at the pro level in my opinion. Part of the issue seems to be a tendency to overset against quicker speed rushers to avoid getting beat around the edge. That’s a natural fear, especially for a guy who isn’t quite as fleet of foot as a Lewan type tackle, but it’s something that should ease as he gets more experienced with high level edge rushers. Remember, he’s really only played tackle for two years for all intents and purposes.
However, Wilson does flash some advanced pass protection techniques at times despite his relative lack of experience. Here, you can see him flash his punch to bait the pass rusher into his pass rush move early before taking the hand away and resetting. Instead of being able to swipe Wilson’s hands down and throw him off balance, the defender is left swiping at air and playing right into the tackle’s strong pass set. That’s a beauty of a rep from Wilson.
Here, he sees Jabari Zuniga’s move coming and patiently waits to knock his hands down, get him off balance, and bury him in the turf. Again, an excellent rep for a young tackle.
After studying Wilson in depth, it’s not hard to see what the Titans liked about him. He’s a massive, athletic tackle with a mauler’s mentality who has played — and excelled — in a similar blocking scheme at the SEC level. He’s also a thoughtful, highly intelligent person who lights up when he talks about studying offensive line play. Wilson represents many of the ideals that Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson talk about when it comes to how they want to play the game.
Ultimately, I think the comps to Trent Brown and Orlando Brown are fair, but there is little doubt that Wilson is a better prospect coming out of school than either of the Browns were. Those guys developed nicely at the NFL level after landing with smart teams — getting drafted by the Ravens for Orlando and then getting traded to the Patriots for Trent — that knew how to use their strengths and hide their weaknesses. The Titans are showing signs that they’re on the verge of becoming one of those “smart teams” and Wilson’s development will certainly be a part of that conversation moving forward.