After a rough start to his career, Zach Wilson is showing signs of hope
Through the first two seasons of his NFL career, Zach Wilson has been one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks in recent memory. Sporting career totals of 4,022 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions in 22 starts, Wilson has consistently hamstrung the Jets during his time as the team’s starting quarterback.
Wilson’s shortcomings are the result of many different on-field problems. The former BYU quarterback struggled with grasping the Mike LaFleur-coached offense, missed reads, and held onto the ball for too long. He scrambled when he did not need to and made head-scratching decisions that turned into turnovers.
More importantly, Wilson’s strengths as a player disappeared. His accuracy disappeared, most likely caused by his regressing mechanics. And unlike his play in college, Wilson was less willing to use his athleticism as a way to gain extra yards on the ground.
While Wilson deserves most of the blame for his own failures, there is an argument that the quarterback was not ideally set up for success. Wilson had no experienced veteran coaches to work with during his first two seasons. LaFleur, a rookie OC at the time of his hiring, was the main person interacting with the quarterback. The Jets’ quarterback coach, Rob Calabrese, was also a rookie at the position when he was hired in 2021.
Furthermore, there was no real veteran presence or competition for Wilson at the quarterback position. The closest thing to this was trading for Joe Flacco in October of Wilson’s rookie year, although Flacco did not seem to make much of an impact.
The Jets, evidently, are choosing to reason that Wilson was not set up for success. Despite all the struggles, the Jets are adamant in their belief in Wilson and decided not to remove him from the roster. They want to allow the former second overall pick to reset, both with his mechanics and mentality.
While the main goal of trading for superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers was to push the team into Super Bowl contention, Rodgers was also the perfect pick to supplement Wilson’s development. They also hired Nathaniel Hackett to be the team’s offensive coordinator, bringing experience to the role that LaFleur lacked.
Rodgers is the quarterback Wilson has idolized and modeled his play after. The Jets are hopeful the four-time MVP can provide valuable guidance to Wilson. Hackett, known as a players’ coach, offers a departure from LaFleur’s stricter style and could be a better fit for teaching Wilson the nuances of the position.
Heading into training camp, I was adamant about my concern with Wilson’s position on the team. The messaging about wanting Wilson to develop was inconsistent with the Jets’ listing him as the backup quarterback. To truly give Wilson a shot to develop, I wanted the Jets to look into adding another backup quarterback.
While the prospect of adding another quarterback is still a good one to consider, Wilson is doing his best to ease concerns about him being the backup.
Wilson has seemed much more comfortable throughout the first few weeks of camp. He has been going through his progressions much better than before. The footwork is under control on most of his passes, leading to better ball placement on his throws. Wilson is also showing more poise in the pocket, moving up and scanning the field instead of running at the first sign of pressure.
The progress Wilson has shown in practice translated to his first live-game performance of 2023. In last week’s preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns, Wilson went 3-of-5 for 65 yards, namely completing a 57-yard bomb to Malik Taylor that stands out as one of the best deep throws of his NFL career.
Zach Wilson letting it fly! 🎯 @ZachWilson
— NFL (@NFL) August 4, 2023
It was not a perfect performance, as Wilson did misfire on one intermediate throw and slipped while attempting to run for a first down.
Still, the little things are what matter, and Wilson showed positive signs in these areas.
Wilson’s footwork looked smoother than in the past. He had great placement and accuracy on his 57-yard completion to Taylor. More importantly, across all of his dropbacks, Wilson did not immediately scramble at the first sign of pressure and looked more comfortable standing in the pocket. He seemed more confident going through his progressions.
Both Rodgers and Hackett have noticed the progress Wilson has made since their arrival to the Jets. Rodgers said that he’s seen “maturity” from Wilson and wants the quarterback to use this opportunity to “reset.”
“His play on the field, the frustration, some of the stuff that he said, and the stuff that was said about him, which is probably the most difficult by his teammates and by some of you all, and now he’s got a chance to kind of reset that whole thing. Take back the narrative,” Rodgers said.
“I think he’s done a great job. He’s played really, really well in camp. You guys have watched him, he’s made a number of great throws. He looks confident. His fundamentals, I think, are improving. He’s thrown the ball on time because he’s got all the other intangibles. He can run, he can move, he can throw on the move, he could throw no-look passes, just to be a good reset for him, and I think he’ll look back years from now and be really thankful for this time to grow, to reset, to take a breath and that’s going to set him up for a nice long career in the league.”
Hackett said of Wilson, “I just think his understanding the fundamentals, the beauty of some of these basic plays, has been something that is slowly working to get to the right place, and the good thing is he’s got time to learn from one of the great ones, so it’s been fun working with him.”
Wilson spoke about Rodgers’ impact after the Hall of Fame Game, saying that he is “grateful” for how much Rodgers has helped him. The quarterback also spoke about his approach this offseason.
“For whatever reason, I feel like I’m trying to find my way. I feel like this training camp and OTA’s, I found what feels comfortable for me, and it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s something I’m working at. It’s a great feeling to feel like there’s a good path you’re going down, and you can just keep working on those things,” said Wilson.
While there is still a lot of room for Wilson to improve, it is good to see that the young quarterback is progressing. We’ve only seen it in practice and one short spurt in a preseason game, but the play he has shown so far this offseason suggests he has taken a step forward from where he was last year.
Even with Rodgers as the entrenched starter, Wilson’s development is still a significant part of the Jets’ 2023 season. If Wilson can continue to build off his good practices while showing his progress in games, the Jets’ backup quarterback situation may not be as dire as previously thought.