Jets’ Zach Wilson ‘Asked to Carry the Offense’ Most out of Rookie QBs

Zach Wilson

Getty New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson rolls outside of the pocket on October 3, 2021.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but a New York Jets rookie quarterback is being asked to overcome adversity.

This time, his name is Zach Wilson, and NFL analyst Chris Simms said he’s had it the toughest out of his entire rookie class on the October 6 segment of “Chris Simms Unbuttoned.”

Nobody’s being asked to affect the game or carry the offense out of all the rookie quarterbacks more than Zach Wilson, nobody. The degree of difficulty of throws he’s being asked to make on a play-by-play basis is way greater than anybody else in football.

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Analytics Support Simms

Simms didn’t stop at the rookie class, adding that his degree of difficulty on throws is more challenging than any other signal-caller in the NFL.

This might sound like a wild accusation to some and it is in part — especially coming from a Wilson fan like Simms — but the analytics show that the quarterback genius is not too far from the truth. The starkest comparison is New England Patriots rookie Mac Jones.

Looking at the side-by-side passing charts for Week 4, Wilson and Jones are being asked to do totally different things based on the Next Gen Stats. I’ll make that chart even easier on the eyes with a throw breakdown of my own (each column represents the distance of their passing attempts).

Quarterback Behind LOS LOS to 10 Yards 10 to 20 Yards Over 20 Yards
Mac Jones 7/7 18/24 (2 TDs) 6/8 0/1 (1 INT)
Zach Wilson 6/7 8/12 (1 TD) 3/10 (1 INT) 4/5 (1 TD)

Jones is a tremendously accurate passer on short-yardage throws and the Patriots are aware of that, limiting him to one 20-plus yard pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (which ended up being intercepted). Both rookies were pretty consistent inside 10 yards, but Wilson did struggle in that intermediate range from 10 to 20. At the same time, he excelled from 20-plus and that was a huge reason the Green & White upset the Tennessee Titans.

The point here isn’t that Wilson is better than Jones, or Trevor Lawrence and the others, it’s that Jets OC Mike LaFleur is not making things as easy as Pats OC Josh McDaniels. While watching the Sunday Night Football game, I marveled at the seamless play design from New England, something I rarely witness watching New York.

Simms is correct, Wilson’s degree of difficulty has been much greater than a QB like Jones. We haven’t even taken into account the offensive line play, which led the NFL in pressures and sacks allowed heading into Week 4.

“They’re asking Mac Jones to [throw] five yards here, six yards here, our system’s great and just execute it,” Simms continued, “… the Jets, you turn them on any week they’re going — we need the 103 [MPH] fastball, paint the corners against the best teams [in football].”

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Distinct Difference in Week 4 Performance

Simms said he noticed a change in Wilson’s game in Week 4, and it wasn’t just the 27 points and the jaw-dropping throws that he was talking about. The BYU product, as well as LaFleur, began to trust in his skill set and his ability. In other words, he began to play his game.

The analyst voiced: “Where he changed this week is he stopped trying to be ‘Johnny Pocket Passer’… I know they’re telling you to go through the reads and stand in there and you’re trying to please Mike LaFleur and look I can go through the reads and be a quarterback, but we *bleeping* drafted you at two because you’re a baller and make plays when *bleeps* not open. That’s what I saw from him this week that I loved and he got a little confidence like in the second quarter, he hit a deep out to the right and a deep out to the left and it’s like it took the pressure off him, and he just threw strikes from there on out.”

That couldn’t be more accurate. We finally saw the Patrick Mahomes type throws and the nature arm talent that Wilson was touted for in the draft (like the 53-yard TD to Corey Davis). Simms breaks down this play and more if you continue on in the segment above.

“There [aren’t] 15 guys in the league that can make this throw,” tweeted New York Daily News reporter DJ Bien-Aime (a known Miami Dolphins supporter) about the Davis conversion that is depicted above.

According to Jets X-Factor, Wilson is currently third in the NFL in deep-ball completions (passes traveling 20 yards or more) behind Kyler Murray and Derek Carr, and we saw four of those moneymakers against the Titans. Rather than force a square peg in a round hole, LaFleur decided to let it fly, but there should be more of a balance.

No one wants Wilson to turn into Jones with five-yard outlets that are schemed into every play, but when you mix those “boring” passes in with the spectacular ones, that’s when your offense becomes dynamic.

If you watch Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, they hit players like Travis Kelce and Davante Adams underneath on the majority of their throws. It’s all part of that chess match that allows a QB to go deep when the defense overcommits. Getting Jamison Crowder back was huge in this regard because it bolstered the short-yardage attack, which then allowed Wilson and LaFleur to stretch the field.

That complimentary offense was finally on display in Week 4, but Wilson told reporters that the best is yet to come. “[We turned the corner] to an extent. I wouldn’t say we fully arrived, I would definitely say that this is just another puzzle piece to where we’re trying to get. We got to stack the blocks and we gotta just keep getting better, we can’t make the same mistakes twice… but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” the Jets QB said.

In terms of Week 5 in London, Simms thinks the Jets could win two straight. That prediction did come with one final disclaimer for the NYJ coaching staff, however.

“They’re putting a lot on this kid,” he concluded, “they’re putting a lot on him. They’re asking him to make plays to win the game because it’s the only way they can right now.”

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