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2021 New York Jets

what can The New York Jets Reasonably expect from Zach Wilson as a rookie?

Last season Los Angeles Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert re-calibrated expectations for what a first-year signal-caller can do. Herbert set rookies records for touchdowns with 31, yards per game with 289.1, and completions with 396. He also passed for 4,336 yards, second all-time to Andrew Luck. So what does this mean for Jets rookie Zach Wilson? By itself very little, but add in a hungry fan base, a new coaching staff, and the promise of an offensive scheme that has proven to be one of the most successful in NFL history, and fan expectation may be Mission Impossible for Wilson.

WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE FOR WILSON IN 2021?

Does Wilson have to top what Herbert did last season for fans to consider his rookie campaign a success? Does he need to be better than fellow rookie first-rounders Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones? Does he need to lead the Jets to the playoffs? I spoke to the guys from Play Like a Jet Live to see how they would define success for the former BYU Cougar.

“I think the instant success of Herbert and Joe Burrow to an extent, have diminished what success looks like for a rookie quarterback. I don’t think he’ll reach those levels in year one but still expect it to be a “successful” season. It shouldn’t come down to this but if you’re looking for a stat line, I believe 22 TDs, 13 INTs, 3,800 yards is realistic and successful enough to build off for year two.”

-Clay Smarslok

Smarslok’s partner in crime on the Play Like a Play Live show, Luke Grant, echoed similar expectations, as well as, his thoughts on how he would define success for Wilson in year one.

“I have a ton of faith in Wilson heading into his rookie year. Even more than statistical expectations, I want to see him thrive at some aspects of the game we didn’t see a lot of at BYU. Dissecting the middle of the field, particularly at the intermediate level, running Mike LaFleur’s “2 play call/kill” system. If you made me put a statistical threshold on it, I’d say anything in the range of 28-30 TDs, 12-14 INTs, and 7 YPA would be a successful foundation for Wilson.”

-Luke Grant

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

The Jets have added several weapons in both free agency and the draft. Adding former first-round pick wide receiver Corey Davis and former Jacksonville Jaguars pass-catcher Keelan Cole in free agency. The Jets drafted electric wideout Elijah Moore in the second round. New York also added two running backs to their arsenal, in Tevin Coleman and fourth-round pick Michael Carter. Wilson is set up much better than Sam Darnold was in 2018 but will that lead to statistical success as a rookie? Darnold started 13 games in his first season in the NFL, passing for 2,865 yards, 17 touchdowns, and throwing 15 interceptions.

Former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck holds the rookie record for passing yards with 4,374 yards. Of the top 10 passing performances by rookie signal-callers, only two lead their teams to the playoffs as rookies, Cam Newton and Dak Prescott. The list also includes two Hall of Famers in Peyton Manning and Jim Kelly.

The top 10 passing performances by rookie QBs

The Jets have had three rookies start at quarterback since 2009 that were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL draft. In 2009 Mark Sanchez, the fifth overall pick played in the best situation of the three. Sanchez started 15 games as a rookie tallying an 8-7 record and leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game. The former USC Trojan passed for 2,444 yards and 12 touchdowns. Sanchez became one of only two quarterbacks to win multiple playoff games as a rookie. Gang Green relied heavily on their league-leading rushing attack in 2009, something they will try to do under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.

The top 10 touchdown passing seasons by rookie QBs

In 2013 the Jets turned to reins over to rookie Geno Smith. He started 16 games that season finishing with 3046 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. Smith, who was selected in the second round that season, lead the Jets to an 8-8 record and a second-place finish in the AFC East. In his two seasons starting under center for New York, he never reached the playoffs. Since 2015 he has started just two games in the NFL, bouncing around the league having spent time with the Giants, Chargers, and Seahawks.

Darnold the third overall pick in 2018 and the expected savior of the franchise, started 13 games in that rookie season. He finished his first season in green and white with 2,865 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. Darnold he not take the leap most expected in 2019 and regressed in 2020 thus opening the door to the Zach Wilson era. While Darnold should no doubt shoulder plenty of the blame for flaming out in New York after just three seasons, the Jets did him no favors. A lack of talent around him and putting the worst coach in the league in charge of his development should be criminal offenses. Wilson steps into a much better situation than Darnold had in any of his first three NFL seasons.

RECENT FIRST ROUND QUARTERBACK PERFORMANCES

31 quarterbacks have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft since 2010, starting an average of about 11 games. With Wilson having no clear competition on the roster he is expected to be the day one starter barring injury. If you take a look at those 31 draft picks and take into account only those that started at least 12 games, they averaged about 3,285 passing yards and almost 18 touchdowns.

REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS IN YEAR ONE

Several factors will contribute to high fan expectations for Wilson in year one. As with any rookie quarterback, there will be highs and lows, ebbs and flows, good days and bad. What a successful 2021 does not necessarily translate to wins and loss or statistical highs or lows (but I will give a prediction in a second). Success for Wilson means getting better week to week, not repeating the same mistakes over and over. Showing that he can command a huddle and lead men into battle on a weekly basis. Many are saying it’s an offensive league with an extra game so he should be able to be in the Herbert neighborhood statistically. Asking him to duplicate arguably the greatest season by a rookie quarterback is insane. If he passed for 3,500-3,800 yards and 20-25 touchdowns while not looking lost, seeing “ghosts”, and showing the ability to learn mistakes that will be a successful rookie season.

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