The coveted prospect out of USC had just become the latest face of the franchise in 2018 when ex-Jets boss Mike Maccagnan spent a third overall pick on him.
Three short years later, Darnold was an afterthought.
After a disastrous season that saw many fans hop on the Trevor Lawrence bandwagon, Gang Green ended up with the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Enter Zach Wilson, golden boy of BYU, newest face of the Jets franchise.
It will take Wilson and Douglas some time to change the national narrative that has haunted this organization for decades but a majority of the fanbase is already all aboard the “Z-Dub” train, and why wouldn’t they be?
The Utah native has embraced New York and this Mike LaFleur offense since the moment his name was read on draft night, and his play has backed up the pick so far.
One all-important question remains though — did Douglas make the right choice building around Wilson over Darnold?
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Don’t Take My Word for It, Take His
Jets beat reporter Connor Hughes remembers Darnold’s early days in camp, and he’s noticing a contrast as he watches Wilson. In a recent article on The Athletic, Hughes wrote this:
“Having watched a chunk of Wilson’s organized team activity practices and all of the mandatory minicamp, there’s a strong difference between what he’s doing and what Darnold did their first offseasons.”
It’s relatively rare that you see a reporter of Hughes’ stature voluntarily stick his neck out for a player this early in the process. He’s right though, the difference in talent, composure and pro readiness is stark by comparison.
Hughes continued in his praise: “Wilson looks so comfortable in Mike LaFleur’s offense. He’s accurate, aggressive and regularly in control. There were hiccups, sure, but Wilson never resembled an out-of-place rookie.”
Ready for the icing on the cake? Hughes went on to explain that very few of these traits were displayed by Darnold at Jets OTAs, where he went “2-of-11 in team drills” during his initial session.
Here are some of Hughes’ notes on Darnold from 2018.
Wilson probably has the better coaching staff and he definitely has the better receiving core, but at the end of the day quarterbacks are supposed to work with what they have and that’s exactly what the rookie has done so far.
It’s also not like Darnold has been scorching the field with the Panthers’ stacked core of playmakers. The ex-Jets QB has struggled by all accounts, with reports from 2021 that aren’t all that different from Hughes’ observations in 2018.
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It’s Okay to Be Optimistic
This should all be music to every Jets fan’s ears. It’s not that anyone wishes anything bad upon Darnold. If he can turn his career around in Carolina, more power to him, just so long as he turns out worse than Wilson.
As for the soon-to-be 22-year old BYU graduate, all signs point to positive thinking but don’t start to envision a Jets Super Bowl just yet.
It’s healthy to be optimistic, don’t get me wrong, especially when Wilson’s lighting up OTAs and impressing veteran offensive minds. Just make sure you balance that confidence with some necessary reality.
Every NFL rookie goes through his ups and downs, Zach will too. So long as this Robert Saleh-led staff keeps him on an upward trajectory, Wilson could finally provide stability at the quarterback position.
Mark Your Calendars
We may not find out who the better quarterback is till later in their careers, but Week 1 in Carolina should give the nation a pretty decent preview.
“Typical NFL right?” That was Wilson’s casual take on the decision to schedule him against Darnold on the opening weekend of his NFL career.
The highly anticipated head-to-head won’t just be about the two signal-callers though, it’ll shape the storyline surrounding each franchise as they each embark on a new era.
Who will slip up early? Who will dazzle as the entire world watches eagerly?
Only one way to find out. September 12 at 1 p.m., tune in and see for yourself.