Zach Wilson's 2021 preseason start dwarfs that of Sam Darnold and other recent NY Jets quarterbacks.
Zach Wilson, Sam Darnold, NY Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

Zach Wilson is off to a far better start than the NY Jets’ recent young QBs

Zach Wilson’s career with the New York Jets is off to a red-hot start. He put together back-to-back sharp performances to kick off his NFL preseason career.

Yes, it’s only preseason.

That disclaimer applies to every discussion about production and performance in the NFL preseason, but nevertheless, analyzing the preseason can still be worthwhile so long as we remain pragmatic while doing so.

Wilson’s two-game start compares extremely favorably to those of the Jets’ recent young quarterbacks. That does not mean it is already a guarantee that he will be better than those quarterbacks – remember, it’s preseason – but it is something worth noting.

Passer rating

Each of the stats we look at in this piece are from the quarterbacks’ first two preseason games in their rookie season.

  • Zach Wilson: 137.7
  • Bryce Petty: 85.2
  • Sam Darnold: 82.3
  • Mark Sanchez: 82.3
  • Geno Smith: 54.6
  • Christian Hackenberg: 35.7

Wilson is 15 for 20 with 191 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions through two preseason games. His 137.7 passer rating currently stands as the best in the NFL this preseason among quarterbacks with at least 20 pass attempts.

Bryce Petty, Sam Darnold, and Mark Sanchez each had one good performance and one bad performance within their first two games.

Petty went 10 for 18 with a measly 50 yards against the Falcons in his debut. He took a big step forward the next week as he went 12 for 19 with 168 yards, one touchdown, and no picks against the Falcons.

Darnold started off hot, going 13 for 18 with 96 yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions as he methodically moved the ball down the field against the Falcons. He dipped the next week as he went 8 for 11 with 62 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception in Washington.

Sanchez went 3 for 4 with 88 yards against the Rams before going 3 for 8 with 43 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in Baltimore the following week.

Sacks

  • Wilson: 0 on 20 dropbacks (0.0%)
  • Hackenberg: 1 on 48 dropbacks (2.1%)
  • Smith: 1 on 38 dropbacks (2.6%)
  • Petty: 3 on 40 dropbacks (7.5%)
  • Sanchez: 1 on 13 dropbacks (7.7%)
  • Darnold: 3 on 32 dropbacks (9.4%)

The Jets have done a nice job of protecting Wilson thus far. Mike LaFleur has created natural protection for him through bootlegs, rollouts, and play action, while the first-team offensive line has done solid work.

However, sacks are largely a quarterback stat. It’s on the offensive line and the coaching staff to prevent pressure, but it’s on the quarterback to prevent those pressured plays from turning into sacks.

And Wilson has been able to do that. He has been poised when operating from a congested pocket, showing no panic and consistently getting the ball out to an open target.

Interceptions

  • Petty: 0 on 37 attempts (0.0%)
  • Wilson: 0 on 20 attempts (0.0%)
  • Darnold: 1 on 29 attempts (3.4%)
  • Hackenberg: 2 on 47 attempts (4.3%)
  • Smith: 3 on 37 attempts (8.1%)
  • Sanchez: 1 on 12 attempts (8.3%)

Wilson has taken great care of the football, posting zero sacks and zero interceptions through his first two preseason games. He hasn’t even come close to making either of those mistakes – he has not been knocked down and he has not had any potential interceptions dropped.

The other five Jets quarterbacks on the list combined to throw seven interceptions over 162 passes. That’s a rate of 4.3%, which would have been the worst in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks in 2020. Those interception struggles translated to the regular season for that group of passers.

Petty tops the list with zero picks on 37 passes, but he was lucky to post that line. He was charged with two turnover-worthy throws by Pro Football Focus. Wilson has been tagged with zero turnover-worthy throws.

It is certainly nice to see that Wilson is slowly separating himself from the Jets’ previous quarterback failures. While twenty preseason passes is far too small of a sample to claim that he has already firmly established himself in a different stratosphere than his predecessors, he will eventually do just that if he maintains his current pace of development.

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Michael Nania is the best analytical New York Jets mind in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania@jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania

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