It is always important to learn from mistakes and improve moving forward
NFL draft evaluation is one of the most difficult jobs for a sports front office.
Evaluating a quarterback?
The most difficult by far.
Consider that from 2011-20, 32 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Of those, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, (maybe?) Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert are the only ones that have become true franchise quarterbacks for the teams that drafted them; a 31% success rate on the most important position to get right. Jared Goff and Ryan Tannehill have found a measure of success with clear limitations, and the jury is still out on Daniel Jones.
If drafting a QB in the first round has no better odds than winning at rock, paper, scissors, then many teams are going to have failed. Still, failing three times in a little over a decade is a starkly painful reality for a star-crossed franchise still searching for the next Joe Namath.
Zach Wilson is, perhaps, the worst draft bust in New York Jets franchise history. Worse than Ken O’Brien, who wasn’t a bust despite the bitter taste of passing over Dan Marino. Worse than Kyle Brady over Warren Sapp. Worse than Blair Thomas, Vernon Gholston, Kyle Wilson, Quinton Coples, Dee Milliner, Calvin Pryor, Darron Lee, and Sam Darnold. Far worse than Mark Sanchez.
How did the Jets get it so wrong? How did the majority of prognosticators fall so far short of the mark?
Is it Wilson? Is it the coaching? Is it the team? Or is it a combination of all of the above?
Tanking the tank for Trevor
The 2020 Jets were the sorriest of the sorry teams that the Jets have put on the field. The hapless Adam Gase-led outfit lost their first 13 games of the season and appeared poised to be the third winless team in the history of the 16-game NFL season. Tanking for Trevor Lawrence was the consolation prize for a team that did not deserve to take the field each week.
But then Gase managed to mess that up, too. The draft class that year botched the Jets’ future in more ways than one. An ill-fated Braden Mann tackle on a punt return led to a victory over the 17.5-point favorite Rams, and a victory over the Browns the following week sealed the Jets’ fate. There was to be no generational QB talent in the house.
This is why firing just Gregg Williams after the Zero Blitz game was ill-advised. It would have been smarter to completely clean house and place an interim coach at the helm, putting in place someone on the same page as the rest of the team in the rebuilding process. Perhaps this is on Joe Douglas, but maybe he did not have the authority to can Gase.
Either way, once the Jets lost out on Lawrence, the seeds of the Jets’ present situation were sown. As good as the 2021 quarterback class was projected to be, there was only one clear favorite. The best prospect since Andrew Luck was not going to wear green and white.
Pivoting to Plan B
Once Trevor Lawrence was out of the question, there was some doubt about what the Jets would do. They still had Sam Darnold on their roster, a QB who struggled mightily in his three seasons with virtually no talent around him. Considering the dearth of talent on the roster, Joe Douglas could have opted to hang on to Darnold, trade the No. 2 pick for a nice haul, and begin to rebuild the roster around Darnold to see if he would improve.
Though the Jets tried to keep their plans close to the vest, they ended up unloading Darnold for second- and fourth-round picks in 2022 in what turned out to be a steal of a trade. That second-round pick turned into Breece Hall.
After the Darnold trade, there was also a chance that the Jets would trade down and try to still land one of the top QBs. Would the Jets have taken that trade with the 49ers and accumulated picks? They’d have ended up with Mac Jones, who looks only marginally better than Zach Wilson this year. But they may have also restocked the cupboard more quickly in 2021.
The Jets chose not to go the trade route. They had their pick of the next four likely first-round picks after Lawrence: Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones. Since Jones and Lance were never seriously linked to the Jets, the choice came down to Wilson and Fields.
While there was no clear consensus about which quarterback was superior, most scouts did seem to prefer Wilson over Fields. This may have been somewhat influenced by the fact that the Jets were linked to Wilson over Fields almost immediately once Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur were hired as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively.
This is not to say that Wilson was a bad prospect. Some, such as Chris Simms, even thought that Wilson had a higher ceiling than Lawrence. However, Plan B always has its drawbacks.
Those who preferred Fields or Lance over Wilson cited several concerns:
- Wilson was a one-year wonder during the Covid-19 pandemic with no fans in the stands. Prior to that, he had played two nondescript seasons at BYU.
- He went to a small school and faced subpar competition, often playing with completely clean pockets and receivers running free.
- Wilson’s fancy plays outside the pocket masked the fact that he often demonstrated poor footwork within structure.
Considering that each of these concerns has shown up and then some in the NFL, it is fair to wonder if these should be taken more seriously in future quarterback evaluations. Then again, Patrick Mahomes’s footwork was worse than Wilson’s coming into the league; Josh Allen also played at a small school and made far more mistakes in college than Wilson did; and quarterbacks such as Lamar Jackson and, indeed, Justin Fields also had to adjust to playing within the structure of an NFL offense.
In fact, the biggest of these concerns is likely that Wilson was a one-year wonder in the Covid season. Justin Fields and Trey Lance had looked like NFL quarterbacks their whole college careers, while Wilson had one admittedly sparkling season with no fans in the stands and a generally altered playing environment. This should have given the Jets pause.
On Wilson’s NFL.com predraft profile, he was listed as a prospect with boom-or-bust potential. His weaknesses included:
- Has tendency to over-stride and sail throws at times.
- Passed up on the easy throw to take the harder throw.
- Doesn’t work with enough anticipation as a passer.
- Ill-advised throws under pressure turned into interceptions in 2019.
- Will baby throws, forcing open receivers to break stride.
Sophistication of college offense
On a cursory film evaluation, it appeared that Wilson was far more advanced than Lance or Fields in going through his progressions and making multiple reads. This was one aspect of his game that our evaluators at Jet X thought was going to make him a stud.
However, as Vitor Paiva has admitted in hindsight, while Wilson did seemingly make multiple reads, he was only tasked with a very limited tree of plays. Mesh, which was Wilson’s favorite concept, theoretically has multiple reads, but it is really keying on one defender and then going from one to two. Rarely did you see him truly progress on a play that required more than reading one defender.
Looking back in retrospect, I believe the "few concepts" stuff was something I overlooked when watching Wilson. He ran mesh well. A lot of 989. A lot of play action bombs. And It was basically It. I watched him running mesh and throwing to multiple reads and I was like: hm, he + https://t.co/RiYLE4uVJG
— Vitor (@VitorPaivaM) December 23, 2022
good. But I should've asked: what else?
That's why it's so hard to evaluate qbs. So much goes into It.
With Fields, I often felt everything was too long-developing in an NFL world where everything goes 3 step. But, on the other hand, it showed a willingness to do things from +
— Vitor (@VitorPaivaM) December 23, 2022
the pocket that Zach, for instance, never had much.
All in all, I think the Jets should move on from Wilson.
I'm higher on Mike White than most, but even if the Jets bring a vet QB (carr, JG), I would make him compete with White.
It's sad we are having this discussion, tho.
— Vitor (@VitorPaivaM) December 23, 2022
This still does not account for the complete erosion of Wilson’s ability to read even that one defender in the NFL, specifically in 2022. Last season, he seemed to improve on those reads as the year went on. This season, after some nice reads against the Steelers, Wilson’s eyes indicate that he has no idea what he is seeing. Some of his ugliest throws have been on what should have been an easy pre-snap read. Anything requiring a post-snap adjustment is an automatic failure for Wilson, which opponents have been taking advantage of mercilessly.
Still, even though many college quarterbacks come into the league with a relatively limited tree of plays run in college, the fact that Wilson did, as well, should have been a knock on his evaluation. At the very least, we should have looked more carefully at the rest of his game given this limitation.
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From Utah to New York
It is easy to underestimate the impact of going from small-town Provo, Utah to the bright lights of the New York media. However, once again, considering what we’ve seen in the NFL regarding Zach Wilson’s mental makeup, it’s fair to wonder if this is another factor that the Jets should have flagged or at least considered more strongly prior to picking Wilson.
Again, Wilson’s top season occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. He had never succeeded to the level of an NFL quarterback with fans in the stands. Though the other quarterbacks in the draft had also played in empty stadiums in 2020, they had also previously shown the ability to succeed with the bright lights and the pressure on.
This is not to say that anyone could have predicted what has happened with Wilson in the NFL. His tendency to completely melt down the second he makes one bad play shows that he does not have the mental makeup to play the quarterback position in the league at all, not just in New York. One of the most crucial characteristics of a quarterback is a short memory—the ability to quickly recover from mistakes and move on. Wilson, on the other hand, turns one bad play into a terrible game on a regular basis.
The most classic examples are his two losses to the Patriots and one to the Lions this season. In each game, he had a period of decent-to-stellar play early in the game, made one bad mistake, and then completely melted down afterward.
Yup. Mental is the thing here: Wilson just doesn't seem to have It. Whether if it is just a general lack of leadership vibe or the fact that he completely falters after every mistake… QB position is about short memory and ability to make people rally around you. https://t.co/PLfPXS4srD
— Vitor (@VitorPaivaM) December 23, 2022
Still, a New York team may need to take additional aspects into consideration before drafting a quarterback. The pressure of the New York media is a real thing and should not be taken lightly. Not everyone can handle it. Zach Wilson clearly cannot, and there were some ways to take an educated guess at that fact during his draft evaluation.
Arm vs. footwork
The biggest reason that Zach Wilson was the No. 2 overall pick in 2021 was his raw arm strength. The Jets imagined Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes when they selected him. His ability to throw off-platform and throw the ball 50 yards downfield with a flick of his wrist had scouts salivating.
However, this took the focus off the traditional things that scouts look for in quarterback evaluations, namely footwork. Re-watching Wilson’s college film, you can see that most of the footwork issues he has faced in the NFL are not new. They may have been obscured by the wide-open receivers he was throwing to, but they were still there. Wilson never sets his front foot, rarely brings his body forward through his throws, and rarely rotates his hips in the direction that he is targeting.
For all that Mahomes and Rodgers throw off-platform, they still can and do set their feet more often than not. Their footwork is not perfect, but they both improved it enough to allow their smarts, arm strength, and athleticism to do the rest. Wilson has never done that.
The hire of Robert Saleh as the Jets’ head coach was universally lauded around the NFL. Lost in the shuffle was that the team hired a defensive coach while carrying the No. 2 overall pick with the intent to draft a quarterback. While it’s not impossible to groom a QB under such circumstances, the success of such a plan is usually contingent upon hiring experienced and creative offensive coaches to tutor the rookie.
The Jets did hire Gregg Knapp to be their passing game specialist, and Knapp was supposed to be their quarterback whisperer. A tragic car accident in 2021 resulted in Knapp’s death and the need to turn to Plan B. However, because all the Jets had behind Knapp was rookie offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and rookie QB coach Rob Calabrese, Wilson’s development suddenly went sideways. Bringing in his personal QB coach was a temporary solution, but this situation did not put Wilson in the best position to succeed.
Year 1 plan
In the NFL of Aaron Rodgers’s draft day in 2005, highly drafted quarterbacks often did not start from Day 1 in the league. The consensus was that most young quarterbacks were not NFL-ready and needed some seasoning. Rodgers was blocked by Brett Favre but likely would have sat regardless. Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick that year, did start pretty quickly with predictable results.
Since the 2011 CBA changed the salary structure of draft picks, though, the financial implications of drafting a first-round quarterback have changed everything. One of the primary ways to win in the league is to build a team when the star quarterback is still on a rookie contract. Considering that quarterbacks seem to demand that renegotiation after three seasons, it is that much more crucial to develop them immediately and win a championship within those first three years.
Once the Jets decided to move on from Sam Darnold, it was clear that whoever they drafted would start from Week 1 of the 2021 season. It was a mistake not to have a semi-viable alternative on the roster, though. When an injury forces you to trade for the 36-year-old quarterback you just let go in free agency, you know things are tough. The Jets should have kept a competent veteran behind Wilson to start the season if things were too fast for the rookie in the NFL.
Year 2 lack of contingency plan
Once the Jets saw Zach Wilson’s play in his rookie season, leaving Joe Flacco and Mike White as Wilson’s sole backups was a daring and potentially disastrous move on Joe Douglas’s part. The way we at Jet X viewed the move was that if Wilson wasn’t the answer, it didn’t matter who their backup quarterback was since the Jets weren’t going anywhere. Perhaps that was Douglas’s rationale, as well.
Douglas certainly did everything he could to try to give Wilson the weapons to succeed. He brought in Laken Tomlinson, Tyler Conklin, and C.J. Uzomah and drafted Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall. Before the Mekhi Becton drama ever took place, though, there was significant concern about the Jets’ tackle position. Becton and George Fant were both injury-prone prior to the season. Not doing more to solidify the tackle position before Becton went down for the year was an error. The fact that Tomlinson has been perhaps the biggest free-agent bust of 2022 is a separate story.
Once Wilson got hurt in preseason, the Jets doubled down on their position by not trading for a veteran backup or bringing in someone other than Flacco to start the season. However, it has appeared all year that the coaching staff slammed the brakes on Wilson’s athleticism unless it’s Wilson himself who simply does not want to run.
It’s clear that the Jets did not consider Mike White a legitimate backup, as he was the QB3 until Week 9 and was inactive from Weeks 4 through 8. What we’ve seen on the field from him this year is a wildly different player than the QB who couldn’t hit a pass against third-stringers in the preseason.
Mike LaFleur has tried at times to run mesh and other concepts that Wilson succeeded with in college. However, he has been uneven with regard to designing bootlegs and getting Wilson to use his legs in general.
It does seem that LaFleur is insistent on doing things his way rather than Wilson’s way. That being said, Wilson makes it difficult by being bad at pretty much everything. The only times we have seen flashes are in the two-minute drill or in a seemingly hopeless situation in which Wilson can just rip the ball without worrying.
Is it possible that a different play-caller could get more out of Wilson? Perhaps Andy Reid or Kyle Shanahan could. But would even they be able to get enough out of him to make him a starting-caliber QB? I don’t think even Mike McDaniel, with his high-flying receiver weapons, could do so. McDaniel can do it with Tua, he might be able to do it with a guy like Jimmy Garoppolo or even Mike White, but someone who cannot operate within the basic structure of an offense is not an NFL-caliber QB in today’s day and age.
Could Zach Wilson have thrived in a 1960s-style, chuck-and-pray league? Perhaps, if he could stay healthy long enough to play at all. (I’m imagining Deacon Jones taking a crack at Wilson.)
In the long run, is it possible that Wilson has a Geno Smith turnaround? Maybe, but it’s going to take an awful lot of work on his part. Sitting behind top QBs, taking copious notes, working on footwork and timing, and the willingness to play within the structure of an offense are all things that Wilson would have to do.
The worst part of whiffing on a high first-round pick is the difficulty in moving on from them. Zach Wilson has a $20.8 million dead cap number for next season, while his cap hit is $9.6 million. If he’s cut post-June 1, that 2023 cap hit goes down to $15 million.
Trading Wilson pre-June 1 would cost the Jets $11.5 million in dead cap, while trading him post-June 1 would carry a dead cap hit of $5.7 million in 2023 and 2024.
Though trading Wilson with a post-June 1 designation seems the most appealing, the question is if anyone would be willing to take on his remaining salary. Perhaps a team without extensive needs would take a flier on him, betting on their ability to coach him up and utilize his high-level arm and athleticism.
Unless Joe Douglas can pull a Blake Cashman or Jamal Adams rabbit out of his hat, though, the overwhelming likelihood is that Zach Wilson remains on the Jets’ roster in 2023. Considering that Douglas does not have a lot of cap space to work with, and clearing space (by releasing Carl Lawson or Corey Davis, for example) will create other roster needs, the ability to sign two competent QBs to compete for the starting spot will be challenging.
The other possibility is that Douglas works out some sort of deal in which he retains some of Wilson’s salary but still receives some cap relief, similar to the Baker Mayfield trade from Cleveland to Carolina.
For the good of the Jets’ locker room, it is certainly best if Zach Wilson is not on the 2023 roster. However, whiffing on a first-round QB has significant consequences.
Is there anything the Jets can learn?
Ultimately, drafting a quarterback is really tough. Taking a chance on a toolsy, high-ceiling, low-floor guy wasn’t a terrible idea after the Sam Darnold experiment failed. However, the questions surrounding Wilson combined with the unfortunate lack of anyone with QB development experience derailed any chance the Jets had of success.
If the Jets are in a position to take another QB in the near future, they need to bring in a better supporting cast to develop that quarterback. Other than that, it’s possible that looking at a QB from a small school warrants more careful scrutiny of his footwork and ability to read a defense.
When it comes down to it, though, Wilson joins a long line of quarterback busts. Knowing that they are not alone does not give any comfort to the Jets or their fans. The best the team can hope for at this point is quality play from a guy they’re paying very little to make up for the sunk cost.
Very good article. Drafting a quarterback is arguably the most difficult of all decisions in sports. What is most frustrating is that the Jets keep getting the analysis wrong time and time again.
With time off during the holidays I have been watching or listening to some of the talking heads. They make some interesting points (I don’t know if they are valid, but a few made an impression):
Everyone has a great pro day, the players showcase their skills, so it should be afforded little weight.
Zach’s “deer in the headlights” bulging eyes during press conferences should have been a tip off.
More attention should be played to game tape over his college career, not just his final year.
Game tape showed he did not handle pressure and blitzes well.
Several talking heads expressed that, after Zach’s pro day, the Jets did minimal evaluation of other prospects. I don’t know if that was true or not.
Most of the talking heads who were NFL players tended to blame Douglas & Saleh for not developing him enough. Most of the woman and non-player talking heads tended to blame Wilson for not progressing in the system, with several women pointing out the Mike White progressed quite well in the same system.
One talking head listed the Jets recent quarterback failures and noted the only common denominator was Jets ownership. He noted that Tannenbaum, Idzik, Maccagnan were all fired after a quarterback draft failure and is afraid that Douglas may have a similar issue in the next few years.
A different talking head noted that once a quarterback loses the locker room, they have never seen one get it back.
While the article notes it is roughly a 1-in-3 chance of drafting a franchise quarterback, this was not just a failure, but a failure of epic proportions. This Geno and Darnold were draft failures. but Wilson is so much more extreme a failure. He is already being talked about in Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Jamarcus Russell and Johnny Manziel territory.
So, where does this leave us? Most likely in quarterback purgatory. The dead money cap prevents cutting him. Wilson’s performance in a nationally televised game for all to see destroyed any trade value he had. Maybe a true quarterback whisperer (no, not Adam Gase) like Sean Payton or Kyle Shannahan could develop Wilson or be a serviceable quarterback, but I would not bet on it.
Regarding the pro day, it should always be regarded with a grain of salt. From Alex Smith to Zach Wilson, you’d think the teams would know better than to lend serious credence to the Uniformed Olympics (as opposed to the Underwear Olympics at the Combine), but they fall into that trap time and time again.
I don’t recall Zach having a “deer in the headlights” expression during his interviews. I think that’s revisionist history.
I agree 100% that there was too much focus placed on his final season rather than his complete body of work. The other QBs in the draft had looked like NFL-caliber players for more than one season, while Wilson went from nondescript to No. 2 overall pick with empty stands against a mostly cupcake schedule.
It is also accurate that Wilson did not look good under pressure in college. That should have been more of a red flag than it was, especially for a team that had such a spotty offensive line.
I don’t either know about the Jets’ homework on the other QBs. It did seem like they were pretty much locked in on Wilson from the moment Saleh and LaFleur were hired. Every single mock draft I saw had Wilson going to the Jets.
It’s interesting that you note the disparity among the genders in where they place the blame for Wilson’s failure. I tend to be in the camp of blaming the QB unless the coach is an absolute disaster, like Urban Meyer or Adam Gase. Maybe I’m wrong, though. We don’t know what really goes on behind closed doors.
If Douglas does get fired soon, it will be for the failure to construct a seriously competitive roster. Yes, his failure with Zach is the impetus of that, but as I mentioned in other comments, his free agency record has also hamstrung the Jets’ ability to move forward. This will be a critical offseason for him, as this roster has a lot of the pieces necessary to compete in 2023.
I agree about a QB losing the locker room for good. It’s the same way for a teacher or any other leader. It’s difficult to regain trust once you’ve lost it. Tom Coughlin is the only example I can recall of a leader who rebuilt his relationship with his players after initially losing their faith.
I would agree that Wilson is one of the worst draft busts in history in terms of expectations vs. reality, but is he really worse than Carson Wentz and Mitchell Trubisky? Obviously, both of them had more success in terms of wins and losses than he did, but think of the capital (in both draft picks and money) relinquished for those two players. Was the Wilson pick more costly for the Jets than those two picks were for their teams? How about if Trey Lance doesn’t work out? Even Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were pretty much busts. Every top-five QB who doesn’t work out is a big problem for their team. The only solace for the Jets is that they’ve gotten their definitive answer very quickly rather than sitting around unsure like the Browns did with Baker Mayfield.
Yes, the Jets are likely in QB purgatory. On the plus side, they have a roster with some pretty strong talent. Deciding which positions to prioritize will be tricky for Joe Douglas given his free agency failures, but after the QB position, the next focus must be the offensive line. Put Mike White, Jacoby Brissett, or Gardner Minshew behind an average offensive line with Breece Hall and Bam Knight in the backfield plus a potential top-5 receiver in Garrett Wilson and you’re still talking a potentially excellent team.
The NFL is made up of two types of teams: those who have their QB and those who are looking for him. However, Matthew Stafford won the Super Bowl last year having played as around the 12th-best QB in the league. The 49ers were ranked No. 1 in NFL.com’s Power Rankings this week with Mr. Irrelevant at QB. This has been an odd season for quarterbacks, but there is still evidence that it takes a team to win a championship. The Jets must focus on building the rest of their roster to the next level.
I’ve said elsewhere, it would seem as those Mr Irrelevant out in SF has thrown a monkey wrench into anyone’s belief that they can predict QB success.
I believe that Zach is done playing with THIS team. The environment is just too far gone, almost toxic at this point.
My biggest concern is all the pending “dead cap” money we’re about to acquire, for all the right reasons. Joe D had done such a great job of clearing our former dead money nightmare. Tomlinson should be a post-June 1 cut. Lawson, Berrios, and Corey Davis should also be cut, but having flexibility to look for a FA QB will be difficult.
Ideally, if White can get us to the playoffs he should be the de facto starter coming into camp. I would look at signing someone like Minshew. He has enough skills and is eccentric enough to deal w/ New York pressure (he’s already in Philly).
All this said, the OLine must be job #1. Without an efficient, if not dominant, run game, none of these QB’s will get us to the promised land.
Well, let’s see Mr. Irrelevant win a few more games before we crown him the Next Great Thing. Additionally, the 49ers are an exception because of their system; it’s reminiscent of when Nick Foles won the Super Bowl—yes, the same Nick Foles who threw three picks last night and did not look like an NFL-caliber quarterback.
I agree about Zach being done playing, but they cannot afford to cut him if they can’t find a trade partner. It would hamstring their cap. As you said, dead cap is going to be an issue. As good of a job as Douglas did ridding the roster of the rot of the Maccagnan years, he’s added quite a bit of dead weight himself through free-agent signings that have been mostly disappointing (Davis and Lawson) to disastrous (Tomlinson) and the Zach pick.
I’d be on board with bringing in Minshew so long as the Jets also re-sign White. I’m thinking more along the lines of Jacoby Brissett depending on his price point. I think that they need two legitimate starting options. Zach cannot be the QB2 next year, and a Flacco type won’t cut it, either.
I agree about the OL, which makes the QB situation that much worse. They likely need four new offensive linemen for next season unless they decide to rely on Max Mitchell and/or Mekhi Becton, and that’s not a good idea, to put it mildly.
Bill Walsh said 25 games will tell you if you have a qb or not. Zach has had 22. This roster is ready to contend for many years to come. Sign a free agent qb in the off season. Maybe resign White. I believe Joe Douglas will fix this in the off season and do the right thing for the Jets.
The roster does still have some holes, namely on the offensive line and at safety, that will be difficult to stock properly because of the hole at QB. I would re-sign White, but he can’t be the clear-cut QB1 next year.
I’d like to point out that Douglas’s free agency record is spotty. Other than D.J. Reed and maybe Kwon Alexander and Greg Zuerlein, most of his signings have been either shaky (Conklin and Uzomah), disappointing (Lawson and Davis), or horrible (Tomlinson).
Don’t forget Ryan Kalil, another gem.
But, thinking about it, it makes sense that the free agent history is spotty. The Ravens were also great at drafting but only average at free agent signings.
The Ravens’ free agency philosophy is not to overpay the market. While Douglas professes to follow that same philosophy, he definitely overpaid the market for Laken Tomlinson, at a position that is not considered premium by any means.
(I don’t blame him for Kalil; he was kind of stuck and trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.)
I hope they are finished trying to force a square peg unto a round hole when we have AN answer in Mike White.
Is Mike THE answer? probably not but you can win a Super Bowl with Mike White….IF we use a guy like Streveler for important short yardage and goal line plays when everything calls for a QB sneak.
Mike throws beautiful passes but isn’t that big and dosent run often.
If our coaches can’t work with a semi-hybrid QB where Streveler gets 5-7 plays a game depending on situation.
White can be had on a reasonable contract and Strevelor will cost nothing so please have a bit of ingenuity and put that in place.
Watching Mike I could see moving the pile is an issue. Watching Streveler I saw him barreling over linebackers and safeties and the bell went off in my head ad it should with Saleh and Douglas!
I should have mentioned he can win a Super Bowl when the rest of the team is in place and we’re close.
I’m not quite convinced yet that the Jets can win a Super Bowl with Mike White. It’s a real shame he got hurt because I thought the Jets needed a larger sample size to evaluate his viability as the long-term answer. It’s also a shame that Saleh didn’t insert him into both Patriots games.
Regarding sneaks, I think White will need to gain weight if he wants to be a starter. He’s too skinny, but there’s no reason that a guy who’s nearly 6’5″ shouldn’t be able to perform on a play that works 82% of the time league-wide.
I still think the Jets need another viable starter on the roster for next season; if not Jacoby Brissett or someone more well-known like Jimmy Garoppolo, then at least Gardner Minshew.
I feel like Streveler is a waste of a roster spot, as much as I love his effort and toughness. The Jets have enough speed and running ability on their team that they shouldn’t need to resort to Streveler. QB mobility is important, but only if the guy can actually throw. That’s one of the things that makes Brissett an appealing option. Honestly, Streveler is only a “thing” for the Jets because their offensive line is so bad. Next year, it’ll be Breece Hall mauling linebackers once more.
I love your article but to say there was not a consensus on Wilson vs. Fields is wrong. Albert Breer surveyed 23 front offices before the draft (right after his ground breaking SI article that declared the Jets were taking Wilson) and every single FO had Wilson as number 2. It was a 2 QB draft then a steep drop off. To say Fields was a consideration is rewriting history.
While Vitor makes a good point about him keying on one read in college I think saying the Jets evaluated Wilson wrong is hindsight thinking. The Jets evaluation as well as the rest of the NFL was not necessarily bad. Wilson’s problem is not accuracy, not reading defenses, not footwork but mental. He cannot handle the pressure. When he makes mistakes everything falls apart including his mechanics. Vitor has talked endlessly how well Wilson played at the end of last year, how well he played against Pitt and Miami this year and then how his game changes like a switch from good to bad once he makes a mistake. The first NE game as an example. Zach’s issue is 99.9 percent mental. I don’t know how you scout the mental part or the inability to handle the pressure especially in a place as unforgiving as NY. If anything maybe the fact he did not play in big pressure games and had only year of elite production might have been his biggest red flag and a point that should have been weighted more heavily.
Fields for the most part has lived up to his scouting report. Not a very good pocket passer, runs to soon, injury prone, takes big hits, poor pocket presence, lots of fumbles. But two things set Fields apart. One he runs better than any QB who has ever played and second he handles the pressure of being a QB really well, Fields, Lawrence and Jones’ big game experience maybe should have gotten a bigger emphasis. The one thing that Wilson lacked on his resume.
Interesting take, and I tend to agree. As a fan, I’m a grinder, and I have seen Wilson make a few good, sharp, timely throws from the pocket, so I figure that even if he’s only doing it 10% of the time now, he can gradually up that percentage. But if you accept that Wilson’s problems are almost mental, then you have to question what the coaching staff has done to help him with that. First, they bench him after a disastrous outing against the Patriots, even though their next opponent was the Bears, who offered Wilson a chance to get back on the beam immediately with their soft defense. Instead, they gave this cushy assignment to the back up. Second, during the Lions game, at the end when Wilson made two excellent throws to get the team to midfield with prospects of winning or tying the game, Saleh neglects to call a time out to help his QB settle down for his next throw, even though he had all three TOs. I think this speaks volumes. Saleh’s head was apparently buzzing with all kinds of scenarios, except the one that would help his young QB, who could still be the future of the franchise. Thirdly, what evidence is there that LaFleur has adapted his play calling to help a struggling young QB? In the Jacksonville, he practically robotically called runs on first and second down every single time, even though the OL was pathetic at creating holes. Everyone knows, first down is the easiest down for a QB to throw on because a pass is least expected. Plus, practically every pass play is a seven step drop. I actually have a hard time telling LaFleur’s style from Adam Gase’s.
Saleh and LaFleur together have totally lost focus about what is most important for the future of the franchise, and don’t really have the experience and expertise to handle the Wilson project. In fact, I feel like they are throwing him under the bus to cover their own asses. Maybe if Wilson had become an instant star, the rookie coach duo would have worked but it just didn’t turn out that way and the Jets organization has to face this fact. I think the best thing the Jets could do right now for the long run is to fire them both and hire Sean Payton, who coached Drew Brees to the hall of fame. Wilson is a highly mobile, undersized but strong-armed QB like Brees. I think Payton could get the best out of him as well as bringing veteran leadership and expertise to the team.
In regards to the coaching staff. The coaching staff has known it is mental since the early last year. before the Jets went to Lndon Saleh started talking about Wilson just needing to relax, not overthink and just play. Saleh said he was a different player in practice when he just relaxed. Saleh said when he learns to relax and just play it will click and he will be very good. Saleh has repeated this theme for the last year and a half.
In regards to what they have done to help his confidence that is hard to say. They brought in Beck last year to help. On the negative side they did not baby him last year and threw the entire offense at him unlike the other top drafted QBs. in retrospect that might have been a mistake. if there is a criticism of MLF it is that he has not done enough to get WIlson confidence early. But, then again that might be Wilson’s fault. It is hard to guess. But, I think we can all agree JD, the FO, Saleh are all smart people. The fact they were aware of Zach’s issues for the last 1.5 years tells me they likely bent over backwards trying to help build him up.
One interesting point to me is second year QBs especially in NY have the potential to regress because of the mental pressure to produce. Look at Geno. In 2013 Geno did something quite regular that we never saw Sanchez do and that was throw the ball away rather than take a sack. In Geno’s 2nd year he started playing like Sanchez and not throwing the ball away. Maybe the pressure to put up numbers? Same goes with Darnold in year 2. He stopped throwing it away and he also folded under the mental pressure. In Zach year 2 he continued to throw it away but he expressed frustration to the media about constantly having to throw it away. Which implied maybe that he was worried about numbers. Year one is a lot easier as there is less pressure. Year 2 QBs can regress and fold under the pressure. Zach like Geno and Darnold was much better in year one than 2 except for the first few games of year 2. As things got worse and snowballed all 3 QBs caved under the pressure.
The coaching staff may have known it was mental for a long time, but what they didn’t know was that wasn’t going to be fixable. It seems so simple, but it’s pretty self-evident at this point that Zach is done in NY. Whether he can pick it up in a smaller market when the attention and pressure are off him is likely up to his own capacity to work hard for very little.
We wrote a number of times during the offseason that throwing the whole playbook at Zach from Day 1 was a mistake. That being said, LaFleur has tried to modify the playbook this year, and, other than that one Buffalo game in which Zach attempted one pass longer than 10 air yards, it hasn’t worked. I’m not saying MLF has done a great job (I don’t think he has), but Zach hasn’t made it any easier for him to figure out what might work.
Being able to identify problems doesn’t mean that you can figure out solutions. I’m not sure if JD, Saleh, MLF, and Co. knew what to do with Wilson. Not having more experience on the offensive side of the ball was a mistake. Not acquiring a good replacement for Gregg Knapp this past offseason was doubling down on that mistake, in my opinion.
Your point about second-year QBs is interesting, but if I recall correctly, Darnold played fairly well at times in Year 2. Sanchez also looked better in 2010 than in 2009, even if his better was not all that great. Geno was the only one who seriously regressed from Year 1 to Year 2.
Sam Darnold made some of those beautiful throws in his time with the Jets, and he did it more often than Zach ever has. So did Mark Sanchez. I remember one particular throw that Sanchez dropped in the bucket to Braylon Edwards, making me think that he was the answer. So much for that. Most first-round QBs have arm talent and can make occasional wow plays on their arm only. What they do the rest of the time determines where their career is going to go.
I did think that Saleh would give Wilson that one more game against the Bears for the exact reason you mentioned, but I honestly think that he was afraid of a mutiny from the locker room. Garrett Wilson’s outburst on the field and the likes on Twitter from Sauce Gardner and John Franklin-Myers were emblematic of the locker room’s attitude toward Zach.
Also, remember that Zach didn’t exactly face world-beating defenses in Detroit and Jacksonville. Both were bottom 10 in passing defense. He got his second chance. You can make excuses about the offensive line, but Mike White played behind that same horrible line against Buffalo (who actually have a good pass defense) and did a far better job.
Wilson made two nice throws on that drive, but he also took two soul-crushing sacks. I would argue that the sacks nearly negated the positives of his throws. The first thing they tell QBs in the two-minute drill is not to take a sack. We all know that Saleh messed up by not taking that TO, but I wouldn’t say that he failed Wilson, specifically; Wilson failed himself by taking sacks when he shouldn’t have (and could have thrown the ball away).
I am on the train that LaFleur should be fired at this point, but not specifically because he has failed Zach. I just feel that if the Jets don’t have a true franchise QB on their roster, they need an offensive coordinator who can be creative with the weapons they have to get the ball moving. I don’t think LaFleur is that guy.
Regarding the seven-step drop, that is simply not true. In fact, for most of the season, LaFleur refused to run a seven-step drop because he knew that Zach didn’t have the field awareness to hold the ball that long without disaster striking.
I don’t agree about Saleh throwing Wilson under the bus. I do think, as I said in my article, that the Jets did not do a good enough job putting coaches in place to develop Zach. I have always been a proponent of hiring an offensive-minded coach whenever there is a young QB on the roster.
Realize that Sean Payton would need to be traded for, since, if reinstated, he is still under contract with the Saints. He is the hottest coaching commodity on the market and would cost an arm and a leg. Are you really willing to spend what it will take to get him rather than actually fixing the offensive line? As important as an NFL coach is, it’s the players who ultimately determine the difference between winning and losing.
Also, calling Drew Brees mobile is like calling Tom Brady mobile.
I have to say when you compared LeFleur to Gase you lost me. If LeFleur was/is so bad, why has Mike White developed into a serviceable player? I think Adam Gase has the Midas touch in reverse.
I wouldn’t be so quick to give LaFleur the credit for White’s development. The same way that I’d give Geno Smith the credit for his own blossoming this season, I think that White did a lot of work on his own during his time as the QB3. The Mike White who took the field for the Jets this season is not the same guy who played in the preseason and looked like a Josh Johnson type.
That being said, I agree that the Gase-LaFleur comparison is inaccurate.
I should have clarified that there was not a consensus among external analysts. Most people did prefer Wilson, but it wasn’t universal. I saw that poll about the 23 front office executives, but we don’t know prior to the draft what the NFL consensus is. I’m going just by predraft evaluations from analysts and from Joe Blewett. (I was not writing for Jet X at the time; personally, I was hesitant about Wilson but equally unsure about the other options.)
Wilson’s problem is accuracy, reading defenses, and footwork. Even if those have eroded due to his mentality, the fact is that they have completely eroded. Additionally, his footwork was always an issue, and it said right in his predraft eval that he had a tendency to sail throws. When every single one of the knocks on him shows up in the NFL, no one can say, “We had no idea.”
I also did not write for Jet X last year, so I haven’t read or watched all of Vitor’s previous articles and videos on the matter. However, I did start writing for Jet X after the draft and have read every article and watched the film breakdowns since then. The consensus on our site was that Zach’s improvement down the stretch last season was cautiously encouraging, but that he was yet to put it all together to be able to consistently move the ball and incorporate big-play ability. We were encouraged by the early returns, but after a two-game sample size, Wilson completely bottomed out. Realistically, he had about 5 encouraging games between the end of last season and the beginning of this one. 5 out of 22 is not enough, especially when most of those 17 were subpar to disastrous.
Yes, ultimately, the reason that all of Zach’s worst traits and few of his best have shown up in the NFL is likely 99% mental. However, I did point out in my article that Wilson’s one-year highlight reel with an empty stadium was a concern for some predraft analysts. I don’t know if there was any way to know that it would be this bad, but maybe that’s the takeaway from the whole Zach experience: if a guy has not faced multiple high-stakes situations in college, the possibility exists that he will fall apart under the New York pressure in the NFL.
I’m still not sold on Fields any more than I was when he came out, but that’s because I have a bias against run-first QBs. I still believe that they will flame out more quickly than pocket passers due to the accumulation of hard hits. There has yet to be a true run-first QB who won a Super Bowl (Russell Wilson in 2013 was not a run-first QB). I would agree that if he does make it in the NFL, it’s because he has the mental toughness to do so. Lawrence’s moxie was visible from Day 1 in college.
Mike White went from a terrible combine to being a fifth-round pick to failing to make the Cowboy’s pracrice squad to being the last Jets quarterback option to achieving elite scores on your metrics. HOW did he do it? Now there’s an article for you during this long drought of real stories. And if he can do it, why can’t Zach Wilson (ignoring the locker room problem, which would disappear with good play and a little humility).
How did Tom Brady go from laughingstock dad-bod at the combine to the GOAT? How did Kurt Warner go from packing groceries and getting a jellyfish bite on a random island on his honeymoon to a Hall of Fame QB? Probably through a combination of luck, the right situation (coach?) at the right time, and consistent hard work.
I don’t think Cleon Jones would have hit Zach very hard unless Zach pitches also. Jones was an outfielder for the Mets. Perhaps you’re thinking of Deacon Jones?
I’m surprised no one else caught that. Thanks!
The first premise here is the main one: drafting QBs is a general guessing game. As Kurt Warner correctly states, you don’t know until you see them play NFL opponents. The reality is after 2 years, outside of Lawrence, none of the others are a sure thing…including Fields (despite the hype). He can’t run his way to NFL stardom. I think a simplistic QB equation is a) the floor is do they have the physical skills and b) what is their mental makeup? In NY, the second point is as important as the first. I like what I’ve seen in limited action from White. I don’t really care where he was drafted, but I do care greatly in seeing his ability to build himself up. That speaks volumes to the mental side of the game. With our dismal QB track record, if he plays well in the last two games, I would not let him leave the organization.
As I said, first-round QBs garner about a 30% hit rate. Kurt Warner is correct. That being said, you try to learn what you can from the past to do better in the future, even if what can actually be learned is limited. I agree that none of the other QBs are a sure thing, which, in fact, is why I was conflicted about whether I wanted the Jets to draft Wilson at No. 2 or trade down and keep Darnold with an improved team. As much as Darnold likely wasn’t the guy, would the Jets have been worse off in 2021 with Darnold and, say, a Devonta Smith or Micah Parsons on the roster (with possibly other high picks, as well)? I understood why they took Wilson but was not convinced that any of the non-Lawrence QBs would work out.
The mental makeup is very hard to determine, and it was probably even harder in the 2021 still-Covid environment. The tape was all from empty stadiums. In general, looking at a guy from a small school is a tough task, but if the NFL would overlook all guys from small schools, the pickings would be even slimmer at QB.
I’m also all for re-signing White. His quick decision-making is reminiscent of Drew Brees. However, I don’t think the Jets should leave him as the sole option on the roster, and Zach cannot be the QB2. They need someone else, whether a Brissett, Minshew, or Bridgewater, to at least be a semi-viable alternative if White turns back into a pumpkin or plateaus.
you left out browning nagle.
he was a bigger bust than wilson
Browning Nagle was drafted 34th overall. No way a No. 34 pick is a bigger bust than a No. 2 overall pick. (I did go through the list of all the Jets’ first-rounders since 1960.)
I think Zach would have been just as bad elsewhere but I also think the Jets have an inability to properly develop a QB
I would agree with that assessment, but I wonder if any of Sanchez, Darnold, or Wilson would’ve developed elsewhere. Maybe Sanchez.