In a nutshell, Zach Wilson’s rookie year:
Let’s start with the bad.
Wilson was 30th or 31st in yards, touchdowns, passer rating, and QBR and completed 55% of his passes for the worst record in the league.
He averaged 179 yards per game with nine touchdowns and had the sixth-most interceptions in the league with 11. He was fired 44 times, some of which were by Wilson or the offensive line.
But he cut his interceptions, none in his last five starts.
If you’re a Jets fan with a weak stomach, turn your back on the following information.
Since 2010, there have been 32 first round QBs who have started at least six games as rookies. Among them, Wilson ranks in the bottom 10 in completion percentage, touchdown percentage, passer rating, and yards per game, according to Stathead.
Statistically, over the past 11 seasons, Wilson’s rookie year has been comparable to the likes of Mitch Trubisky, Jared Goff, Blaine Gabbert, Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Rosen, Christian Ponder, Duane Haskins and Josh Allen.
Allen, an outstanding player, became an MVP after his struggles. The rest, well, no. At the very least, Wilson has more hand talent and athleticism than all the QBs mentioned except Allen.
Wilson really got into a difficult situation. He had a rookie head coach, a rookie offensive coordinator, and his quarterback coach Greg Knapp tragically died right before training camp.
At the start of the season, the offensive line still merged with Wilson, resulting in forcing in the pocket. And his only reliable target was Corey Davis.
And towards the end of the year, Wilson’s receiving corps ran into injuries as Elijah Moore and Davis missed the last five games. His tight end group included Tyler Croft and Ryan Griffin, who combined for just 434 receiving yards.
The rushing game was inconsistent as they finished 27th in yards per game (98). All in all, rookie Wilson’s problems can’t be chalked up to his own growing pains.
A TALE OF TWO HALVES
In Wilson’s first six starts before the PCL injury against New England, he averaged 223 yards per game with four touchdowns. The early stretch was marked by an electric 297-yard, two-TD performance against the Titans that brought to mind his BYU off days.
But he made nine interceptions and only completed 57% of his passes.
When Wilson returned in the 12th week, the turnover dropped sharply. In his last seven starts, he had just two interceptions and one lost fumble against five touchdown passes.
But his completion percentage remained the same, while his yards per game (166) and yards per attempt (5.7) dropped. In short, he became a dunk and a QB dunk, though part of it was a receiving body decimated by injury. Wilson created a mini-spark on the ground with four rushing touchdowns. Two were QB sycophants, which, frankly, doesn’t move the needle. But a 52-yard score against the Jaguars does.
His best moment in his comeback was his 234-yard performance against Tom Brady and the Pirates. Had it not been for Antonio Brown’s viral exit from the third quarter and an unfortunate fourth-down break, Wilson’s game would have made headlines.
Total: Offensive, Wilson averaged 13 points before the injury and 18 after his return.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
Wilson needs to become more precise and improve many other aspects. What can the Jets do to help this development?
Starts with upgrading the host hull. Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios and Keelan Cole will soon be free agents. All three are replaceable, but they provide solid depth and make a difference at launch.
Davis and Moore are a solid duo, with Moore having elite-level potential.
But look at the NFL landscape, who is considered a good player in the elite. Top-level QBs – Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Joe Barrow, Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray – have at least good weapons, with some elite options receipt.
Murray has DeAndre Hopkins and AJ Green, two potential Hall of Famers. Prescott casts C.D. Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Everyone has 1000 yard receiving seasons on their resumes. Burrow’s has three four-figure receivers: Ja’Marr Chase, Ty Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Josh Allen has an All-Pro receiver at Stefon Diggs.
Aircraft must upgrade Wilson’s armament from solid to elite. No excuses. If Gang Green wants Wilson to become the franchise’s QB, add a change to the rules of the game. And they have the means to do so.
The Jets currently have $53,774,414 of available space.
Mike Williams became a free agent after 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns with the Chargers this year.
Chris Godwin too, but there’s a risk because he tore his ACL with the Bucs in December.
When Godwin is healthy, he’s great. Over the past three years, he has gained 3,276 yards with 21 touchdowns. However, his recovery could take until the 2022 season.
Christian Kirk led the Cardinals in receiving yards (982) and is set to become a free agent too.
And Calvin Ridley of the Falcons retired from football on October 31st to focus on his mental well-being. But if Ridley has fully recovered mentally and wants to play football again, he may be available.
NFL Network reporter Steve Veach attended the Dukes and Bell show and hinted that “it looks like both sides may be looking for a fresh start.” Ridley’s contract is good for the team, with just one year left at $11 million. Ridley had 3,061 yards and 26 touchdowns in three seasons through 2021.
If the Jets don’t go down the free agency or trade route, the Jets will have four top 40 picks and two top 10 draft picks. Trailon Burks of Arkansas, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olav of Ohio State, Jahan Dotson of the University of Pennsylvania, and Drake London of the University of Southern California are all highly publicized.
The Jets should have used one of those wide receiver picks.
So while Wilson’s rookie season was a disappointing one, there were still glimmers of elite talent. But the Jets need to raise catchers around him to speed up his development.