Zach Wilson: A Cautionary Tale of Betting on the Wrong Traits

Is Zach Wilson the worst starting quarterback in the NFL? Here's a cautionary tale of betting on the wrong traits and why the Jets will now have to start over.

Nov. 23 Update: Jets QB Zach Wilson has been benched ahead of the Week 12 game vs. the Chicago Bears.

Zach Wilson is the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. It’s not easy to objectively make a case to the contrary. Since entering the league, nobody is even in his league, at least when it comes to adding value to his team’s pursuit of points. And now, it finally appears the honeymoon phase is over, and Robert Saleh and the New York Jets are gearing up to make a move.

Some may point to the Jets’ 5-2 record with Wilson as a starter as their own twisted form of proof that he’s been fine under center. The truth is, they’ve been winning games in spite of him, like the Cowboys’ run with Cooper Rush earlier this year.

While quarterback play is the most important facet of the game, a good defense can plaster putty over holes your drunk roommate, or heedless QB, make in the walls.

But even Wilson’s poor play may not be the deciding factor in what feels like his inevitable benching. What happened after the Jets’ two-yard second-half performance against New England could have been the kicker. All because of the myths told about Wilson as a draft prospect.

The Curious Case of Zach Wilson

Wilson is what happens when blindly seeing the highlights of quarterback play without taking a critical eye on more important factors regarding the position than the ability to create outside the structure of the offense.

Wilson had uncanny ball placement at BYU, where he took advantage of large receivers who could win in 50-50 situations. He’d leverage passes away from draping defenders, making throws that nobody else in the class was regularly making. He also had former best friend Dax Milne to make plays closer to the line of scrimmage and on shorter crossing patterns.

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But it wasn’t just Wilson’s arm that got evaluators all hot and bothered. It was the effortless flicks of the wrist while scrambling left and right that got teams intrigued. He could sneak away from pressure and pick up yards with his legs.

Wilson’s hype wasn’t his fault but the fault of comparison. Every year there’s the “next Tyreek Hill,” except they never actually are (except for Jaylen Waddle). The minute Wilson was likened to Patrick Mahomes, it was all over.

Nobody has all of the answers. And absolutely nobody has a perfect track record in player evaluation. However, that comp seemed doomed from the start and at no fault of Wilson himself.

We see the unbelievable creativity from Mahomes and the physical attributes that make those physics-abusing plays possible, and we can see some other quarterbacks capable of similar. But it’s the unmatched mental attributes Mahomes possesses that allow him to make those plays.

Mahomes can see, process, and deliver in adverse conditions. Wilson gets pressured and runs around in the backfield like he’s waiting for Apple maps to load without any cell towers in the area.

But I can’t stress enough that it is not Wilson’s fault that the media and the Jets ignored his flaws and overdrafted him.

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The craziest part is there were two other quarterbacks in his draft class with objectively better physical traits than Wilson. The BYU QB could scoot a bit in a pinch, but he didn’t have near the rushing ability Trey Lance or Justin Fields possess. Additionally, both of those QBs offered better size and comparable, if not better, arm strength.

That rushing ability is proving massive right now as Fields still learns the finer points of playing quarterback at the NFL level. And Wilson’s inability to create in the same way exacerbates his flaws.

But the arm angles! Those sexy submarine throws can hook you. And we all collectively let one slight part of the evaluation process outweigh the glaring holes in his game as a prospect. Cue the DJ Khaled “congratulations, you played yourself” meme.

Zach Wilson’s Lack of Process

It was right there, and I (along with most) wasn’t critical enough of it. We’ve seen Wilson flash competent QB play when he’s able to play in rhythm, hitting his first read with consistency.

At BYU, they used a lot of heavier personnel groupings that isolated receivers on the outside, making the picture prettier for Wilson. Then, when he got into the red zone, and things tightened up, his weakness as a processor showed. It’s something I wrote in his scouting report, but I ignored its importance in my numerical grading.

And now, the chickens have come home to roost. Wilson see-saws between paralysis by analysis and a complete disregard for possession of the football. Even some of his non-interceptions this season have been some of the worst decisions made by a QB this season.

Zach Wilson
The graphic is courtesy of Ben Baldwin’s website, rbsdm.com.

That is what being the worst-performing QB in the NFL looks like. He’s also the worst if we chop the sample to just 2022, but larger samples are always better. Wilson has been the least accurate QB in the NFL relative to expectation, and he’s generated fewer points added than any QB in the league over that span.

Zach Wilson’s Lack of Development

We’ve arrived at the most significant issue with the young QB. Development is often seen as linear, but that’s not the case. We’ve seen ebbs and flows with Trevor Lawrence. Fields’ growth appears exponential at the moment, while Mac Jones has taken a step back in Year 2. Everyone is on their own path. Hell, Geno Smith is blossoming in Year 9!

MORE: NFL Week 11 Recap

But Wilson was bad and has somehow looked worse in a better situation in 2022. Corey Davis, Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Breece Hall, and Michael Carter are a group of weapons some QBs would give a kidney for. Mike LaFleur will take some punches for the Jets’ offensive woes, but he’s been far from the offense’s biggest issue.

Benching Wilson isn’t permanent. The Jets are too good to secure one of the NFL Draft’s top quarterbacks. Wilson’s reaction to being benched could make it permanent, or he could use it as fuel to significantly improve his process in the offseason. We’ll have to wait and see about that.

Has Wilson Lost the Locker Room?

In the army, you don’t point. The “knife hand” is deliberate. Pointing angles three of the fingers back at the sender, while the knife hand doesn’t divvy the responsibility. There’s no denying where the message is heading.

And after the Jets’ loss to the Patriots in Week 11, the second-year quarterback had a golden opportunity to knife-hand himself, and instead, he threw that to Devin McCourty too.

When asked if the offense let the defense down on Sunday, Wilson gave a defiant “no.” That won’t win Wilson any favors with his defense, who hopped on Twitter to like a few tweets aimed directly at Wilson. The QB must take responsibility for performances like that. Falling on the sword is part of being a leader of men!

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And that will ultimately be his downfall, even more than the poor play. Because losing the respect of teammates is a true knockout blow in a situation like this. And when it is most definitely your fault, to answer the question the way he did is inexcusable. You can’t skirt responsibility when your offense punts the ball more times (10) than it does complete passes (9).

That’s not going to fly in New York. The media will chew him up and spit him out if he doesn’t course correct quickly. The optics of that one-word answer will haunt Wilson, who many in New York media have talked about as being coddled since arriving in The Big Apple.

Taking responsibility publicly is a start. That should be easy. Learning to play quarterback in the middle of the season won’t be.

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