Zach Wilson must do what Sam Darnold did to close rookie season
No, Sam Darnold did not pan out in a New York Jets uniform, and I am not stating that Zach Wilson should aim to mirror Darnold’s entire career arc. And, no, I am not comparing Wilson and Darnold as players.
But there was one stretch in Darnold’s Jets career where he was exactly where he needed to be in his progression arc, and that was the same stretch that Wilson will begin today – the final four games of his rookie season.
Thanks to the substantial progress he showed over his final four games as a rookie, Darnold’s rookie season was ultimately a success despite a poor first half. Wilson is trying to write the same story.
Over his first nine starts as a Jet – the same number of starts Zach Wilson is at right now – Darnold led the NFL with 14 interceptions and had a 68.3 passer rating, which was better than only Josh Rosen among qualified quarterbacks.
Wilson is in a similar boat. He is ranked last among qualifiers with a 65.3 passer rating and has the second-highest interception rate (3.9%) among qualifiers behind only Justin Fields (4.3%). Darnold had a significantly worse interception rate of 4.8% through his first nine starts.
Starting with a Week 14 clash against the Bills’ strong defense in Buffalo, Darnold closed his rookie season looking like an entirely new quarterback after a brutal start.
From Weeks 14-17 of 2018, Darnold led all quarterbacks in average QBR (76.9) and tied Patrick Mahomes for the highest overall PFF grade (87.7). He ranked 10th out of 29 qualified quarterbacks in passer rating (99.1) and threw only one interception.
Like Darnold, Wilson’s final four-game stretch will kick off with a road game against a division opponent that has a solid defense. Wilson will take the field at Hard Rock Stadium against a hot Dolphins team that has won five straight games and is allowing only 11.0 points per game over that span.
Can Wilson do what Darnold did and completely change the narrative of his rookie season with an explosion over the last four games?
Darnold’s failure as a Jet was not foretold by his rookie season. As I previously mentioned, his rookie year ended up being considered a success. Most observers were very high on his future throughout the 2018 offseason. Darnold failed because he never progressed beyond what he showed near the end of that rookie year.
Regardless of how things panned out for Darnold afterward, the point here is that he was able to throw a cold nine-game start out the window and reverse his future outlook with a hot four-game finish.
Wilson’s quest to do the exact same thing begins this afternoon in Miami Gardens.
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