Zach Wilson brings home his third belt
— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 30, 2021
On the day, Wilson completed 14 of 22 passes for 102 yards and one touchdown while carrying the ball four times for a whopping 91 yards, outdueling number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence in a 26-21 win over Jacksonville. His 52-yard touchdown run is the longest by a quarterback this season and the longest in Jets history.
In five games since returning from a knee injury, Wilson has shown significant improvement in several key areas. This progress has helped him get two wins and two ROW awards in that time.
While fans are surely happy with that honor, does it mean anything? Can a fan-voted award be trusted to validate that the Jets rookie class is special or that its future is bright?
Going off historical precedent, there is more evidence that these awards are meaningful than I expected.
Individual Rookie of the Week awards for QBs
Over the last 10 years, eight quarterbacks have won at least two ROW awards. Six would go on to make at least one Pro Bowl and three became MVP candidates (Cam Newton, Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert).
The two that have not made the Pro Bowl are Baker Mayfield and Gardner Minshew. While Mayfield has been a disappointment out of the first overall slot, I’m a firm believer that Minshew can be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
While this obviously doesn’t guarantee success for Wilson, it’s good to see that previous quarterbacks to take home similar accolades have gone on to enjoy some success – especially given his significant improvements:
|Metric||Weeks 12-16||Weeks 1-7|
|Turnover Worthy Play Rate||2.7%||4.8%|
For a Jets team that has sniffed the playoffs once in the last ten years, this is welcome news. However, long-term success is much harder to sustain or predict.
Five of the nine quarterbacks to win the ROW award twice lost their starting job shortly after or did not amount to much as a starter. Does the success of Newton, Prescott, and Herbert outweigh the disappointment of fellow multi-time ROW winners Robert Griffin III, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Mayfield, and Minshew?
Team Rookie of the Week awards
So, sure, Wilson has played better, but what about the Jets’ overall team success with producing ROW awards? Does that matter?
We’ve seen it with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Dan Marino, and many more all-time greats: it takes more than one great player to win.
The results are mixed for teams to lead the league in most total ROW awards. Only two of the last 10 teams to lead the NFL in that category made playoffs the following year: the 2015-16 Raiders and 2017-18 Saints. The Chargers have a chance to make it three of 10 this year.
The Raiders would fall right back into mediocrity after their 2016 playoff season, while the 2012 Football Team, 2013 Chargers, 2014 Giants, 2015 Buccaneers (who tied the Raiders for ROW wins in 2015), and 2019 Jaguars all went nowhere after leading the league in ROW awards.
The 2011 Panthers, 2016 Cowboys, and 2018 Browns each failed to make the playoffs the ensuing season but made the playoffs two years later. Newton helped the Panthers make the playoffs four times in a five-season stretch beginning his third year while Prescott is about to lead the Cowboys to their third playoff appearance in his five healthy seasons.
So where will the Jets fall? That answer mostly depends on Wilson.
Of the teams who led the league in total ROW award wins while also having the quarterback with the most ROW award wins, those that fell apart were hampered by either their quarterback’s injury woes (Griffin III and Bridgewater) or his failure to improve (Winston and Mayfield). Newton and Prescott developed nicely and helped their teams put together sustained runs of success. Herbert appears to be on his way to doing the same.
Among the teams who led in total ROW award wins without a stud quarterback, several had a breakout rookie receiver who fell off. Keenan Allen (Chargers), Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants), and Amari Cooper (Raiders) had over half of their team’s wins. Only Allen stayed more than four years with his team and maintained success. Beckham Jr. and Cooper were eventually traded by their teams.
Awards aside, the Jets’ young prospects are on the right track
Overall, I like where the Jets are at and the play of their rookies. Michael Carter, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Elijah Moore are looking like legitimate stars that can be among the best at their position. Wilson has flashed the talent that made him the second overall pick and has shown steady improvement each week.
Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, Jamien Sherwood, and now Jason Pinnock have stepped into starting roles already. The group has been a mixed bag but for late picks, it’s a home run. The door is still open for Hamsah Nasirldeen and Jonathan Marshall to contribute as well.
Not to mention, the Jets will have four top 40 picks and a mountain of cash to improve the team.
Coming off their second win in the last five weeks, optimism is high. Closing the year with games against two contenders in Tampa Bay and Buffalo, we’ll get an opportunity to see how much further New York needs to go.