After the news that the New England Patriots would be releasing the 2020 experiment, Cam Newton, it became apparent that Week 2 would be the first time that fans bear witness to Zach Wilson vs. Mac Jones.
The number two overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft against the number 15 overall pick, Jets against Patriots, Bill Belichick against Robert Saleh. The stage is set as fate has now linked these two quarterback prospects for as long as they remain in the AFC East.
We saw it recently with Sam Darnold and Josh Allen, only Gang Green will hope things go better this time around. When they chose Darnold, they passed on Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson.
This time around, the Green & White selected the generational talent out of BYU, in effect passing on Jones, as well as Trey Lance and Justin Fields. Twice now, one of those ‘passes’ has ended up starting for a division rival.
Did general manager Joe Douglas finally find the Jets savior? Is Jones the sleeper of the QB class? The truth is it’s way too early to tell, especially since each prospect has a different supporting cast.
Having said that, it’s always fun to compare and many experts have weighed in on the Week 1 debuts for Wilson and Jones.
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Kurt Warner, NFL Experts Provide Week 1 Grades & Analysis
We all know the stats, but a box score can be misleading for a number of reasons — opponent, the contribution from teammates, margin of difficulty on throws.
- Mac Jones: B.
- Zach Wilson: C.
- Trevor Lawrence: C.
Below is Warner’s take on both Jones and Wilson in Week 1.
“Mac Jones to me had the best performance of the weekend… to me it was about him being under control. He was a guy that knew what he was doing, I thought there were times where he was a little bit too conservative instead of pushing the ball down the field… but the bottom-line, when you’re starting in the National Football League it’s about giving your team a chance to win, Mac Jones did that.”
“I gave a C here and it isn’t all Zach Wilson’s fault because he didn’t have a whole lot of help, especially early in this game. There was a lot of pressure on him, there were a lot of issues up front, but to me when I’m looking at these guys I’m always looking at; ‘what are they seeing, are they making the right reads, are they getting the ball out on time?’ I felt like it took Zach Wilson a little bit of time to get going, he settled down a little bit in the second half and had a better performance.”
Warner’s assessment is pretty fair, although many Jets fans will argue that it doesn’t take into account the wide receiver drops and the offensive line play as much as it should. Of course, Warner wasn’t the only person to weigh in on this debate.
We’ve compiled some Week 1 grades from different NFL experts around the sport.
- ESPN (Jeremy Fowler): Jones (B), Wilson (C+), Lawrence (C-).
- Pro Football Focus: Jones (78.3), Wilson (63.2), Lawrence (57.7).
- Bleacher Report: Jones (A-), Wilson (B-), Lawrence (B-).
- Sports Blog Nation: Jones (B+), Wilson (B), Lawrence (B).
- Sporting News: Jones (B+), Lawrence (C+), Wilson (C).
Fowler wrote that “Wilson shrugged off a disastrous first half to average nearly seven yards per pass attempt. He must be more efficient and avoid sacks, though.”
For the Pats QB, he stated: “Jones wasn’t the problem. The problem was the Patriots’ uncharacteristic fumbling issues (they fumbled four times, losing two of them). Jones was decisive and played to his strengths as a distributor.”
There’s no doubt about it, Jones has won the Week 1 battle even if a lot of Wilson’s failures had to do with his situation. You could argue the BYU product was more spectacular in moments but the Alabama prospect brought a steadiness about his game.
The war is far from over, however, and Wilson can jump right back out in front with a win over the Patriots on September 19.
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Comparing Wilson & Jones
The new faces of the Jets and Pats franchises actually have a lot more in common than people lead on. Sure, as players they can be very different.
Jones is the pocket passer, composed and accurate, with natural leadership and an ability to read defenses. There’s a reason that the young Tom Brady nickname works, they’re similar in a lot of ways, although it’s important to recognize that no rookie can become the legendary QB overnight.
Wilson is the flashier prospect, with an arm that few athletes can replicate. He can make the throws that only a handful of the quarterbacks in the NFL can, the Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers of the league. Again, that doesn’t mean Wilson will become them in the blink of an eye. He’s also more mobile than Jones, with an elusive escapability in the pocket and an accurate ball on the move.
The two AFC East rivals have been the most consistent rookie quarterbacks since preseason Week 1, leapfrogging each other back and forth on the unofficial leaderboards. I’m starting to believe that has a lot more to do with their similarities than their differences.
Both signal-callers have had numerous headlines and articles written about their football IQ and their dedication in the film room.
Wilson has been called “cerebral,” Jones’ knowledge of the game was referred to as his “superpower.” Heck, the latter was recently touted for hitting the film room “immediately after” the Week 1 defeat. If that doesn’t do it for you, the Jets QB was caught studying film on vacation.
They’ve also both been incredibly team-first in every interview and press conference. It’s always about the organization improving and winning games, rather than the player breaking records.
In terms of Week 1, both quarterbacks dazzled under pressure at times, making throws that prove they belong in the NFL. Only one signal-caller (Ryan Tannehill) took more ‘QB hits’ on opening weekend than Wilson (10) and Jones (nine).
New England had the more productive rushing attack, which did help lessen the burden a bit for Jones. We’ll see if the Jets can assist their rookie more in Week 2.