Zach Wilson begins his second year with the Jets, and it will be a pivotal one. It will be one that can begin to shape his place among all-time Jets’ signal callers.
Wilson began to show his comfortability with the position late in the season, as his numbers and confidence rose with each passing game, He finished completing 213 of 383 attempts for 2,334 yards with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. However, he had five touchdown passes and just one interception through his last six games.
Wilson endured enough growing pains, and his team finished with an overall 4-13 record.
So, now, Wilson will officially begin the 2022 campaign in a few weeks with an improved club via the draft and trades. Jets’ fans and some football pundits can see the Jets make a run at a wildcard spot if everything falls into place.
Over the years, the Jets haven’t had a fluid history in drafting quarterbacks, notably ones with high picks.
Joe Namath still remains the gold standard for the position, and his heir apparent still hasn’t surfaced. Namath was the AFL leader in passing yards (3,379) in his second season, but he threw 27 interceptions for the 6-6-2 Jets in 1966.
Sam Darnold was believed to be the Jets’ next franchise quarterback, but injuries and inconsistency knocked him off the path. At this writing, Carolina has apparently given up on him with their trade for Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.
Darnold nearly mirrored his rookie year during this sophomore season. He threw for nearly 200 yards more, a pair of touchdowns, and two less interceptions. Darnold’s production tailed off in year three, and it became clear the Jets wanted to send him packing.
Before Darnold, there was Josh McCown (2017), Ryan Fitzpatrick (2015-16), Geno Smith (2013-14), all of whom were band-air quarterbacks at best. Fittzpatrick had some success, but he wasn’t the long term solution.
Mark Sanchez (2009-12) took the team to two AFC championship games with Rex Ryan. Like Darnold, though, Sanchez’s talents faded. Brett Favre (2008) had his one-year stop.
Before them, Chad Pennington (2002-07) had a steady run, and Vinnie Testaverde got them to a championship game in the twilight of his career.
In the late 70’s after Namath, Richard Todd was portrayed as the team’s quarterback messiah, but Todd couldn’t totally get them over the hump. Ken O’Brien followed a similar script in the mid-80’s.
Boomer Esiason (1993-95), Browning Nagle (1992), and Neil O’Donnell (1996-97) had their share of moments in the 90’s, yet they weren’t there for the long haul.
Looking back, Darnold, Pennington, Todd, O’Brien, and Sanchez all had the best chances to fall in behind Namath to lead the Jets to the Promised Land –yes, it is now 53 years later.
For the record, O’Brien was the msot productive overall, and he threw for 3,888 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his first full year of staring in year two.
Todd also got the full-time call in his sophomore season and had 1,863 yards with 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Pennington didn’t start until year three and had 3,20 yards with 22 touchdowns and six picks. Sanchez had 2,444 yards his rookie year with 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
Yet, Wilson’s numbers can be in the same range of the former five Jets’ quarterbacks. Namath threw for 2,200 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his rookie year.
Based on his predecessors, Wilson doesn’t have an entirely high bar to cross.
For Wilson’s sake, this current Jets’ team is still in the early stages of building a perennial winner in the AFC East. He appears to have enough receiving options and the running back game should be steady. The offensive line took a major step forward toward chemistry last season.
Wilson will need to shed the gaffs and clumsiness that plagued him early last season. The expectations will surround him.
Come September, this is Wilson’s team. Wilson does have all the tools of his predecessors, and he has proved to be effective running the ball. How Wilson deals with it will begin to determine his place in the annals of Jets’ quarterbacks.