A few short weeks into his NFL career, some were ready to label Zach Wilson a bust.
Chances are, the same people that came to that conclusion leading up to Week 4 — or even after his Week 7 injury — had already decided what he was back in April when he was drafted. The Twitter age of sports has created an “I told you so” mindset and it has also yielded a general lack of patience in rookies.
Even 13 games into his New York Jets tenure, Wilson has a long way to go and a lot has yet to be determined, but his late-season progress in year one is turning the heads of some of the NFL’s best and brightest.
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Jeremiah, Rapoport Back Wilson
Jets 360 interviewed some of the league’s most well-respected individuals and had each one fire away on Wilson’s rookie season. Were there critiques? Absolutely, but the overwhelming theme was optimism after his final seven starts.
“He started taking care of the ball,” stated Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network. “He did a great job taking care of the ball really the whole second half of the season, so that’s a great place to start. I think you saw him be a little more consistent with some of the lay-ups that you saw him miss, maybe get a little bit out of sorts… I thought he cleaned that up as he went along, but he didn’t flinch. I thought [there are] times where you have some struggles you’re gonna see — okay how does this impact his confidence and what does it look like? I never saw that, so that’s encouraging to me.”
He continued: “Now, get the guys healthy that weren’t healthy last year, supplement that talent — free agency, trades, the draft — and I think you’ll get a chance to see this kid take off.”
Jeremiah wasn’t the only one hopping aboard the Wilson train as NFL insider Ian Rapoport had some insight from around the league.
“It was impressive and it was instructive,” Rapoport began, “because it started out rough and I would get texts or calls from coordinators around the league like — man, I thought this guy would be better, I’m not sure what’s going on — and then he basically took a break, injured but basically took a break. And it’s incredible how helpful it is to just take a deep breath, take stock, learn, understand what’s happening around you, get your feet under you, and then when he came back he was much better and you could see, this is the guy they drafted.”
He went on: “It wasn’t just — there’s some throws he made where you’re like okay, and then a couple [of] runs where you’re like alright, this guy’s got it — but it’s also managing the game, decisions, ease, not being tense, all those sorts of intangibles that are important for a quarterback. You could start to see it by the end of the year [and] around the league the thoughts on him — there’s a lot of optimism regarding what he’s going to be.”
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Quotes From Other NFL Experts
Many others weighed in on Wilson’s noticeable improvements, including NFL Network host Andrew Siciliano who noted that the Jets are happy that they’re not “looking at the quarterbacks” early in the draft but rather, “looking to build around that quarterback.” He predicted that “the future is bright.”
Pro Football Focus’ Director of Content Austin Gayle even pointed out that “Zach Wilson was very accurate at BYU,” adding that “he just needs to get back to that in the NFL.”
“Yeah, I thought there was improvement,” ex-Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum told reporters. “I think if Zach Wilson was here he would say there are so many things he didn’t know he didn’t even know. I thought even how he comported himself at press conferences was more nuanced and enlightened as the year went on which is a good sort of sign [that] there’s a real awareness… There [are] reasons to be encouraged.”
“Any time you start a young quarterback and you just throw him out there — let’s see how he does — you’re going to have some really great moments and have some really awful moments,” explained ex-Jets QB turned analyst, Greg McElroy.”
He continued: “I’m actually okay with that. As long as the awful moments start to go away over time… So you got to progress and you got to grow and you got to develop, but I’m all for taking chances at least earlier in your career, see what you can get away with… Now it’s just about becoming more consistent and I think that’s the progression for every young quarterback. You have the gifts, you have the natural ability, but now can you do so in a rhythmic manner? And hopefully, he’ll have opportunities to show that growth.”
Finally, NFL insider Adam Caplan summed up the campaign pretty well: “He looked like a rookie quarterback that was struggling to find his way — mechanics were a little bit off, he was playing too fast, he needed to settle down a little bit, take something off the football — and then second half at times you go okay, that looks like a high first-round pick.”
Wilson finished the year with one turnover and zero interceptions over his final five games. Although the more conservative gunslinger only mustered one victory during that stretch, he lost two games by one score and went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and the 2020 Super Bowl champions in a game the Jets probably should have won.
It’s time to bulk around the franchise quarterback in New York — this is not a drill.