With just over a month until the 2021 NFL Draft, have the New York Jets finally decided on their future QB? According to NFL sources close to Pro Football Network, it sounds like the Jets are determined to usher in a new era with Sam Darnold out and Zach Wilson in as the second overall pick later this spring.
Talking on this week’s Draft Insiders show (clip above), PFN Chief NFL Analyst Trey Wingo said, “I’m sure Tony [Pauline] is hearing the same thing, but it sure sounds like [Zach Wilson will be a New York Jet].”
Pauline, PFN Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider, explained, “As of last night [March 23], the word in league circles was very likely that Sam Darnold is out, they’re going to trade him, and it will be Zach Wilson.”
A sense of inevitability for a Sam Darnold exit as Jets QB
The news that the Jets wish to move on from Sam Darnold as their signal-caller should come as no surprise. The former third overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft has had a mediocre career to date. In fairness, the hand he’s been dealt by the Jets hasn’t always been a winning one. However, his historical struggles could spell trouble for general manager Joe Douglas if the Jets opted to retain him as their starting QB.
For several weeks now, Tony Pauline has hinted that the feeling around the league is that a Darnold departure would be the best thing for — above all — Douglas’ job security in New York. He reiterated that fact again last night.
“As we’ve said on this show, people in the league think that, for self-preservation purposes, it’s better for Joe Douglas to take Zach Wilson rather than to stick with Sam Darnold. Because, if he sticks with Sam Darnold in 2021, and Sam Darnold falls flat in 2021, it’s not a good sign for Joe Douglas.”
Jets offseason points to Zach Wilson as Sam Darnold’s heir apparent
Although the writing appeared to be on the wall for Sam Darnold, the Jets’ QB position seemed less certain. Many have linked The organization to multiple quarterbacks. Those options have ranged from trading for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to drafting one of Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Zach Wilson with the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
It appears that the Jets’ decision on the future QB is becoming more apparent — and the answer is not Sam Darnold. Furthermore, their offseason moves seem to gravitate towards the former BYU quarterback as the franchise’s new face come this fall. Those moves started with Robert Saleh’s hire as the head coach and perhaps, more importantly, the hire of former San Francisco 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur as the new offensive coordinator.
“Zach Wilson is a perfect fit for their offensive system,” Pauline stated. “The offensive system that the Jets are going to install, it’s not going to be a vertical offense. It’s going to be a timing offense.”
Moreover, the addition of former Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis in free agency adds fuel to the Zach Wilson fire.
Pauline continued, “That’s why they signed Corey Davis. Because he’s a good route runner, he knows how to separate. Yards after the catch. When you want yards after the catch, it’s usually because your quarterback can’t throw the ball 55 yards down the field, which Zach Wilson can’t.”
Zach Wilson’s ascension to 2021 NFL Draft darling and potential Jets QB
Interestingly, during his introductory video call with media, Davis implied that he arrived in New York expecting Sam Darnold to be the Jets QB. Now, it appears that it will be Zach Wilson. Why have the Jets fallen in love with the former BYU quarterback as their future face of the franchise?
Pauline said, “Wilson has been — his star has been — rising throughout the season. Scouts love the way he processes information. We’ve talked about that on this show since November. He sees the field, he knows what’s going to happen, and he makes good decisions.”
Entering the 2020 college football season, the question on everyone’s lips was who was going to make the meteoric leap out of nowhere to become a first-round pick in the same way that Joe Burrow did last season. As the season progressed, it was clear that this player was going to be Zach Wilson. His unbelievable play is why the Jets are considering him over Sam Darnold.
Pauline explained, “He’s a lot like Joe Burrow. Last year, Joe Burrow entered the season with a fifth-round grade and then had a phenomenal year. Ended up the first pick of the draft. Zach Wilson, by the way, entered the year with a fifth-round grade from scouts. Didn’t have the same season that Joe Burrow did.”
Zach Wilson’s translatable skill set shows in final season with BYU
How do their seasons compare? Well, Burrow threw for 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions, all while completing a stellar 76.3 percent of his passes. He led LSU to a national title, winning the Heisman Trophy in the process. Wilson certainly didn’t reach those heights, but he was impressive for BYU nonetheless.
People will try and degrade his level of competition. However, he still completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 3,692 passing yards and threw 30 touchdowns (with just 3 interceptions). He also flashed his athleticism with 10 rushing touchdowns. His ability to create plays with his legs is a significant trait NFL scouts covet from a quarterback. That playmaking ability is part of his rich tapestry that should lead him to replace Sam Darnold as the Jets QB.
Pauline said, “Scouts see enough things that translate well to the next level. That’s why they like him so much. That’s why he’s moved up draft boards so much. And, that’s why I think he’s going to be wearing a New York Jets jersey.”
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.