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Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, the first and second picks in the 2021 NFL draft, respectively, met for the second time on Thursday night. The Jaguars win served as a showcase of just drastically the two quarterbacks’ careers have arched in opposite directions since being drafted.
Lawrence has played every bit this season like the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be. Wilson has played like a placeholder that the Jets need to replace in the offseason.
Lawrence appears to be on the cusp of joining the elite quarterback club, and he has the Jaguars barreling toward a potential playoff spot. Wilson has shown virtually no growth over the last year and had Jets fans chanting for backup quarterback Joe Flacco by the third quarter on Thursday.
The Jets didn’t turn to Flacco, but they did pull Wilson for former CFL quarterback Chris Streveler. While Streveler didn’t do enough to deliver the win, he provided a brief but much-needed offensive spark.
Wilson was 9-of-18 for 92 yards and an interception before he was pulled. He was worse than even those numbers would suggest, repeatedly missing throws, ignoring open running lanes and failing to recognize pressure.
Streveler engineered a 13-play, 83-yard drive that ended with a failed fourth-down conversion. To that point, New York’s longest drive was nine plays and 33 yards. Streveler was far from spectacular throwing the ball, but he did the little things that Wilson didn’t.
Streveler’s flashes should be the final piece of proof that Wilson is not New York’s long-term answer at quarterback. He became the third quarterback this season—along with Flacco and Mike White—to cleanly outperform Wilson.
Flacco was the Week 1 starter, as Wilson was dealing with a knee injury. He went 1-2 as the starter and posted a passer rating of only 77.0. Yet, that was better than what we’ve seen from Wilson, who had a 75.3 rating coming into Thursday night.
White took over for the struggling Wilson in Week 12 but has missed the last two games with a rib injury. He posted an 85.8 passer rating while going 3-3 as a starter. Wilson now has a 5-4 record as the starter this season, but it’s obvious that he’s still in the developmental stage of his career.
“He’s got a lot of the things that you can’t teach,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said this week, per Mark W. Sanchez of the New York Post. “For him, it’s learning the timing and rhythm aspect of it.”
The problem is that the Jets’ offense has no rhythm with Wilson under center. He can provide the occasional chunk play because of his arm talent, but he struggles to sustain drives and make easy reads.
The on-field issues for Wilson appear to be two-fold. He’s still showing the same sloppy mechanics he did as a rookie, and now he’s lost any semblance of confidence in his arm, his eyes or his legs.
Connor Hughes @Connor_J_Hughes
Fundamentals were what was wrong with Zach Wilson. That’s what led to his benching. #Jets said it: His upper & lower half were operating out of sync.
You don’t fix that in three weeks. The QB out there now isn’t just dealing with fundamental problems, but overthinking now, too
Wilson doesn’t seem to trust what he’s seeing on the field, he isn’t making quick decisions, and with sloppy mechanics, he’s incapable of overcoming his deficiencies with raw talent.
And that’s just how Wilson is failing on the field. Off the field, he continues to show that he doesn’t understand what it takes to be a franchise leader. Accountability has eluded the Brigham Young product in 2022.
After completing just nine passes for 77 yards in a Week 11 loss to the rival New England Patriots, Wilson refused to admit that he let the Jets’ defense down.
More recently, Wilson insisted that he “definitely” believes that he’s still the future at quarterback for the Jets.
If the Jets were a different franchise or perhaps in a different stage of their own development, perhaps Wilson could still be the future. However, this New York team has shown that it is extremely close to being a playoff factor.
The Jets seem to have a budding head coach in Saleh. They have a stiff defense that came into Week 16 ranked third overall and fourth in points allowed. They’re loaded with young talented players like Sauce Gardner and Garrett Wilson—legitimate candidates for Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, respectively.
The Jets are truly a quarterback away from being a real threat in the AFC, and Wilson isn’t that quarterback. New York cannot continue to exercise patience while developing a player who simply isn’t improving.
Proponents for patience could point to the strides Lawrence has taken under Doug Pederson this year—or perhaps those made by Tua Tagovailoa under Mike McDaniel and the Miami Dolphins. However, the fact that players like White and Streveler have been more competent in Mike LaFleur’s offense suggests that coaching is not the problem.
Wilson’s supporting cast definitely isn’t the issue.
At 7-8, the Jets now need a lot of help to get into the postseason. They’ll undoubtedly turn back to White if and when he’s healthy. They may give Stereveler the start in Week 17 if White can’t go. It feels highly unlikely that we’ll see Wilson again in 2022 unless New York has no other choice.
In the offseason, New York needs to find a more permanent replacement for Wilson. Whether it’s White, former Jet Geno Smith, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo—a player LaFleur knows well—or an incoming rookie, the Jets’ 2023 Week 1 starter cannot be Wilson.
Pulling the plug on the No. 2 picks in the draft won’t be an easy thing to swallow, but New York has been here before. The Jets used the third overall pick in the 2018 draft and moved on after only three seasons.
The timetable here is a little different because the 2021 Jets weren’t ready to win. These Jets are.
Moe Moton @MoeMoton
#Jets whiffed on their QB pick with the #2 overall pick in 2021.
But what you don’t want to do is compound that by holding on to a whiff at QB.
Admit you made a mistake by moving on. When you’re stuck in denial, you make the initial whiff much worse.
It’s time for the Jets to rip off the proverbial Band-Aid and move on to a quarterback who can help steer them to the postseason.
As was the case with the Jets and Sam Darnold two years ago, both parties need a fresh start. That may not work out for Wilson, but New York will at least have a chance to make a run. The players will at least have an opportunity to believe in themselves.
It’s obvious that no one in New York believes in Wilson anymore.
If the Jets do try running it back with Wilson, they’re likely to experience another season exactly like this one: A promising campaign of “what ifs” that will ultimately end in disappointment.