Zach Wilson’s overwhelmingly young look is just the latest in a long line of topics dividing New York Jets fandom.
Trevor Lawrence looks like a quarterback. Trey Lance feels as explosive as he actually is. Justin Fields plays the part of a new-age football player to Oscar-winning levels. Even Mac Jones passes the test if only for those interesting Tom Brady circa 2000 comparisons.
Then there’s Zach Wilson, the presumptive next face of the New York Jets, a kid whose smaller frame and boyish looks do everything possible to halt his surging hype and divide the fanbase expecting to hear his name called in the two-hole of the 2021 NFL draft.
It’s true: A football player’s look contributes to the way he’s viewed. If height can determine professional basketball status, the same can be true in football—the toughest game in the country (save for the hockey diehards who would vehemently disagree while dropping the gloves).
The first concern is his smaller frame. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 214 pounds, Wilson’s body type isn’t what anybody would expect from a top-10 quarterback (no less top two).
Smaller frames are one thing, but a smaller frame with an injury history is another. Wilson has twice endured shoulder surgery, one of which repaired a torn labrum on his throwing side prior to the 2019 season.
By all accounts, the Jets feel comfortable in the medicals on the kid. And why not? After struggling through a mediocre sophomore season, the kid torched his competition to the tune of 3,692 passing yards and 43 total touchdowns (10 rushing) to just three interceptions.
On one hand, this is the NFL, after all. Quarterbacks with a daredevil mentality usually don’t make it very far in this league—especially one who showcases a smaller frame. On the other, this is a brand-spanking-new NFL.
Never has it been easier for smaller players to navigate the professional football field. Once thought of as a suicide mission, the read-option has not only taken off, but it has also bled into constant jet-motion action that allows little guys to flourish on the edge.
Wilson’s skill set blends in perfectly with today’s league that plays for pay.
But wait … why would any Jets fan trust the face of the franchise role to a kid who could easily play the part of your 17-year-old high-school-quarterback neighbor?
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Yes, the former Corner Canyon stud quarterback (we promise, he’s no longer in high school) has a face that some fans can’t accept. Unlike the other four quarterbacks expected to be taken in the first round of Thursday’s first-round festivities, Wilson doesn’t look the part in street clothes.
The oblivious-to-the-NFL human wouldn’t have a chance in the world to pick out this football player from a lineup. If we were picking teams on the sandlot—without pre-game action, of course—the kid wouldn’t be called first, or second, or probably third. Those spots would go to the more physically intimidating humans.
It’s—at the very least—understandable that some Jets fans hold reservations based on look alone. It’s also critical to realize that putting too much credence in look alone is where talent evaluators go wrong.
Tom Brady didn’t look the part. New England Patriots fans who attend the church of Brady are still trying to forget about his now-infamous pre-combine photos.
Luka Doncic doesn’t look the part. Yet, he’s tearing the NBA up on a nightly basis.
If the Boston Celtics cared about look alone—in this case, athletic look—Larry Bird’s wizardry never happens at the Boston Garden.
If the Cleveland Browns cared about body structure and look, Johnny Manziel … wait, that’s a bad example.
Nonetheless, countless examples of the kid who didn’t look the part but eventually grew into an icon exist in our sports world. After all, it’s the stuff that cannot be seen or measured that separates every professional athlete in America today—all of whom are exceptionally talented in his or her own right.
In reality, this young-looking kid is a baby-faced assassin whose need for competition defies belief, and it’s this trait that separates the grown men from the boys.
Even those who attempt to bring him down a peg can’t deny his competitive drive.
“Wilson has character concerns, rich kid who is an entitled brat — uncle owns Jet Blue (sic) — parents are a pain, not a leader, selfish, and he’s a know-it-all,” an unnamed director of college scouting said in December, per Walter Football. ” … His positives are that he’s super competitive, not (likely) to get scared and won’t back down, extremely confident, very smart with keen real and teammates will play for him.”
Stories revolving around his attention to detail and obsession over painfully combing through the film are now legendary. And it’s these traits that make it tough for anybody to fear Wilson as the next Manziel—a kid who neither put in the necessary effort nor had his life in order at the time of his entry to the league.
He even brought two cheerleaders to the prom. One date, as in blending in with the rest of the prom attendees, just wasn’t good enough.
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Jokes aside, are there clear worries about Wilson at the next level? Absolutely. He does play like his hair’s on fire. He does take too many chances at times. And that frame, coupled with his past shoulder surgery, sure does put extra fear in the tortured Jets fan’s brain.
Just make sure you don’t penalize him for looking “young.”
The very same Jets fans who question Zach Wilson based on look alone need to ask themselves this one critical question: Do you also not care about dedication, bravado, attention to detail, and an obsessive drive that would have even Michal Jordan blushing just a tad?
If the answer is no, then go ahead: Jump all over the smaller-framed kid for looking young. At this point, you’ve already lost the plot.