Way back in August, rookie, first-round pick quarterback Zach Wilson was wrapping up a stellar preseason. A two-game rehearsal that saw Wilson complete 15 of 20 passing attempts for 191 yards and two scores. Jets fans, ravenous for a winning season, expected Wilson to be more Justin Herbert than Troy Aikman as a rookie. By the end of week three, Wilson had thrown seven interceptions and just two touchdowns and it was clear things were moving way too fast for the first-year signal-caller.
Last season a historic rookie campaign from Herbert, perverted fans’ expectations for Wilson. The former BYU Cougar showed flashes during the first half of the season but it was clear he was struggling. He had a case of the “yips” often missing easy, short, wide-open passes. The accurate passer from Utah was struggling with accuracy. The word bust was thrown around way too early in our “hot take” media. After getting hurt in week seven against the Patriots, Wilson missed four games and was able to clear his head.
The rookie returns
Sitting on the sidelines Wilson got to witness the roller coaster that was Mike White and see a former Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Joe Flacco, prepare for an NFL start. The Jets also brought in Wilson’s personal quarterback coach John Beck to be a full-time member of the team’s coaching staff.
In his first game back, a week 12 match-up with the Houston Texans, Wilson looked about the same. He finished the game going 14 of 24, for 145 yards, one interception, and no scores.
An outstanding first half against the Eagles
The next week Wilson looked like the player the Jets envisioned when they turned in their card on draft night, in the first half of the Eagles game. He led the Jets to touchdowns on each of their three drives. He finished the day going 23 of 38 for 226 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. The Eagles dominated the time of procession in the second half and Wilson was never able to get in a rhythm.
That one interception Wilson threw in the fourth quarter of the Eagles game was the last interception Wilson threw. He has not been picked off in four games setting a franchise record for most consecutive games with an interception for a Jets’ rookie quarterback.
Rough outing against a tough Saints defense
In week 14 Wilson struggled mightily against a stout New Orleans defense. The rookie completed just 45.2% of his passes and failed to lead Gang Green into the endzone. After a positive first half against the Eagles, Wilson still seemed lost. Floating short passes and just being very inaccurate with his throws. This was not the same guy that played at BYU and the rookie was clearly struggling with his confidence.
Improvement in Miami
While the Jets ultimately lost to the Dolphins in week 15, by the final score of 31-24, Wilson definitely started to show some signs that things were slowing down for him. Miami, a blitz-heavy team, presented a big challenge for Wilson. Coming into this game when Wilson was under pressure he had a passer rating of 41.4. Miami brought the heat in this one, pressuring Wilson 15 times and sacking him six times. The difference this week, the rookie signal-caller finished the game with a passer rating of 82.6 while under pressure. He did not turn the ball over and had zero turnover-worthy plays.
Jets get the win dispite adversity
Week 16 saw the first and second overall picks in the 2021 NFL Draft face-off. It was the first time since 2015 that two rookie quarterbacks, drafted with the first two picks of the draft played against each other the same year they were drafted. New York faced a tall ask with 19 players and Head Coach Robert Saleh not at the game due to Covid-19.
Wilson, unfazed, showed off his athleticism, rushing for 91 yards, highlighted by a 52-yard touchdown run. It was the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in Jets franchise history. Even with many of his weapons not on the field, Wilson found a way to lead the Jets to a 26-21 victory. He finished completing 63.6% of his passes and this was his third straight game without an interception.
Wilson has his best game start to finish against the GOAT
Last week against the defending Superbowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by the greatest signal-caller of all time, Tom Brady, Wilson played his best and most consistent game of the season. Wilson finished the game going 19 of 33 for 234 yards and one touchdown. He had the Jets out to a 24-10 lead before ultimately losing to Brady.
This was easily Wilson’s best performance of the season. He played with confidence and was decisive with the ball. His footwork, which has been an issue for most of the season was much improved, and my Twitter line was littered with beautiful pass, after beautiful pass from the young gunslinger. Wilson finally looked like a true franchise quarterback.
Wilson trending in the right direction
Through his six games as a pro, Wilson was tied for the league lead in interceptions with nine and 11 turnover-worthy plays. In his last six games, he has had just two passes picked off and only four turnover-worthy plays. Among rookie quarterbacks that have played at least 50% of their team’s snaps in the past six games, Wilson ranks second in passing yards (1,079), tied for the least amount of interceptions with just two, and is second with just six turnover-worthy plays.
Wilson has recorded a passer rating above 80 in four of his last five games, something he did just twice before his injury. He has thrown for 13 more first downs in his last six games than he did in his first six. Wilson has thrown seven fewer interceptions and has had five fewer turnover-worthy plays during that time period.
Wilson has shown improvement despite losing so many weapons, it makes you wish we could’ve seen this version of the Jets’ franchise quarterback with a full arsenal at his disposal.