• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

2021 NFL Preview: The Jets try to finally, finally get it right at QB with Zach Wilson

·9 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2021 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 4, the day before the Hall of Fame Game.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Amber Matsumoto)

In 1988, the Green Bay Packers had to just lose one of their final two games to get the first overall pick of the famed 1989 draft. They were going to draft UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman. 

The Packers won their final two games, because it's impossible to tell professional athletes to tank and lose. Green Bay drafted offensive tackle Tony Mandarich instead. It remains one of the most interesting "sliding doors" moments in NFL history (and it ultimately worked out just fine for the Packers).

What happened with the New York Jets in Week 15 and 16 of last season changed NFL history. We just don't know if that change was good or bad for the Jets. 

The Jets were 0-13 and needed to lose three times to get the No. 1 overall pick, which everyone knew would be Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The Jets unbelievably won at the Los Angeles Rams, a playoff team. Then to remove all doubt about the first pick they beat another playoff team, the Cleveland Browns, in the second-to-last game of the season. The Jacksonville Jaguars got Lawrence. 

Regardless of any offseason time-wasting nonsense you may have seen, any team would have drafted Lawrence first. He's a once-in-a-decade (or longer) prospect. However, that doesn't mean the Jets might not have backed into a great QB answer at No. 2. 

The New York hype train is already roaring down the tracks for Zach Wilson, the BYU quarterback who went second overall. He is getting Patrick Mahomes comparisons due to his arm. This is what happens in markets like New York, with teams like the Jets. There's a never-ending desire for success and new headlines. Before Wilson plays a game, he'll be turned into a messiah. Then, if he fails, the headlines will turn nasty. It's not like we haven't seen that before. 

There's no reason to believe Wilson will fail, however. He's electric at improvising and making plays with his cannon arm. Had he not been in the same class as one of the great quarterback prospects ever, he would have been a fine No. 1 overall pick. If he's better than Lawrence, it wouldn't be entirely shocking. If there was ever a year for the Jets to screw up tanking, it was for this draft class. 

Wilson takes over for Sam Darnold, the last highly drafted quarterback to get built up and torn down in New York. The Jets need to do for Wilson what they didn't do for Darnold, and put a good infrastructure around him. Darnold was stuck with no-name offensive talent and Adam Gase, one of the worst NFL head coaches of this century. Darnold was bad and deserves blame for his failed time with the Jets, but it's not like he had help. 

The Jets got a new coach, Robert Saleh. The well-liked Saleh hired Mike LaFleur to run the offense. One of the Jets' two big free-agent additions was receiver Corey Davis, a former top-five pick of the Tennessee Titans. Their first three draft picks after Wilson were offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, receiver Elijah Moore and running back Michael Carter. It'll take a while to build an offense, but that's a good start. 

Other than the Chicago Bears, no team has an uglier half-century trying to figure out quarterback. Since Joe Namath’s last Pro Bowl in 1972, the Jets' four (yes, just four) Pro Bowl quarterbacks: Ken O'Brien, Brett Favre, Boomer Esiason and Vinny Testaverde. There have been a lot of swings and misses at quarterback since Namath hung up his fur coat.  

Wilson is the latest in line to take his shot. He has the talent to succeed. Maybe the Jets won't ultimately regret those two wins late last season. 

Zach Wilson was the second pick of the draft, behind Trevor Lawrence. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Zach Wilson was the second pick of the draft, behind Trevor Lawrence. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
-
-

The Jets added two big free-agent signings and a couple of first-round picks. Defensive end Carl Lawson and receiver Corey Davis were the big signings. In the draft, Zach Wilson was obviously the big addition but Alijah Vera-Tucker will help the offensive line. It was questionable for the Jets to trade up for a guard like Vera-Tucker, but he is a good prospect. Receiver Elijah Moore in the second round was a great value pick. The Jets didn't spend like crazy, and didn't lose much either. It was a solid haul as the rebuild starts. 

GRADE: B-minus

-
-

The biggest challenge might be managing expectations for Zach Wilson. 

"He's a great player," rookie running back Michael Carter said on SiriusXM Radio. "He's literally so good. He's so smart. He does minute stuff that just really just wows you. He deserved to be the No. 1 pick if I'm being honest. He deserved every bit of that."

There were lengthy reports on how Wilson did in seemingly every OTA practice, with full statistical breakdowns. Trevor Lawrence won't have to deal with anywhere near the scrutiny Wilson will get. Being regularly compared to Lawrence might become a burden too. Dealing with New York will be a brand new challenge for Wilson, who was born and raised in Utah. It's a big part of his job now. 

“There’s not another team I’d want to play for besides the Jets," Wilson said on NFL Network after he was drafted. “We’re going to be a special team. We’re going for the Super Bowl.”

-
-

BetMGM's win total for the Jets is 6. It's hard to know how the upgrade from Adam Gase and Sam Darnold to Robert Saleh and Zach Wilson will transform the Jets. Gase and Darnold were among the worst in the NFL at their positions, so there has to be some improvement. Yet, it's also a team that started 0-13 last season and at times looked like it could be one of the worst in NFL history. Going from that to 7-10 is asking a lot. Under 6 looks like the better play. 

-
-

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "When the Jets renegotiated Jamison Crowder’s contract two weeks back, ensuring he’d be a part of the team for 2021, it officially made their receiving corps a mess for fantasy purposes. Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, Elijah Moore, and Crowder are all going outside the Top 100 in fantasy drafts — you can build a case for any of them as plausible sleepers, but it’s impossible to know which wideout will click the quickest with a new quarterback and coaching staff. 

If the Jets had a narrow passing tree, I could view one of these targets as a proactive pick. But short of an injury or some major news moving this summer, I’ll probably just skip this group. I know, it’s not like you needed help getting to a ‘fade the Jets’ take, but just because something feels obvious doesn’t mean it’s not right. You win again, Occam's Razor."

-
-

Here are the offense categories in which the Jets ranked last or second-to-last in the NFL last season: points, yards, passing yards, rushing touchdowns, plays per drive, yards per drive, points per drive. Just think, Adam Gase was hired for his offensive acumen. The Jets still have questions at running back, they're building on the offensive line, new No. 1 receiver Corey Davis was good at times with the Titans but mostly disappointing given his draft status, and there's no tight end to speak of. With a rookie quarterback. The offensive almost has to be better, but don't expect too much right away. 

-
-

Can Robert Saleh fix the defense?

The Jets offense was awful last season. The defense wasn't much better. It ranked 26th in points against and 24th in yards against. The Jets were decent against the run and miserable against the pass, allowing a 103.2 passer rating that ranked 29th in the NFL. Saleh is known as one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL after the work he did with the San Francisco 49ers. He also had talented players with the 49ers. Getting linebacker C.J. Mosley back after he opted out of last season will help the Jets. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, the third pick of the 2019 draft, made key strides last season. But there are many questions around them. The secondary is unproven and the team really needs a pass rush from Carl Lawson, who is more untapped promise than proven potential after just 11.5 sacks his final three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Saleh's schemes will help, but don't expect a 49ers-like surge in 2021. It'll take a while to amass talent, especially with the team focused on building an offense around Zach Wilson. 

-
-

As is the case with most bad teams who draft a quarterback early and hire a new head coach, the Jets' season shouldn't be judged by wins and losses. Though it would be nice to compete for an AFC East title, that's not realistic. If the Jets get through this season feeling good about Zach Wilson's ability to play in the NFL and Robert Saleh leading the franchise, that's a good season. And it should happen; Saleh was a great hire and Wilson has talent you want to bet on. 

-
-

Good quarterbacks come from all schools, conferences and divisions. But it needs to be acknowledged that Zach Wilson was totally off the radar before last season, when he put up great numbers without facing one Power Five team. Level of competition can be overrated, but this will be a big jump for Wilson. It's possible he gets exposed in the NFL. Then the Jets will be wondering if they just picked the latest in a long line of high draft picks that didn't make it. And if Wilson isn't good, it's not like the rest of the roster is capable of carrying the team very far. It's a team that didn't get its first win last season until December. If you looked up in a few months and saw the Jets were the worst non-Texans team in the NFL, it wouldn't be that surprising. 

-
-

I really liked the hire of Robert Saleh, and it seems doubtful that Zach Wilson is a total bust. The most likely outcome seems to be a lot of losses this season, but with a ray of hope that wasn't anywhere to be found when Adam Gase was coach. If Wilson is good, the window for the Jets to improve rapidly during his rookie deal opens up. If other young players come along this season, the Jets' rebuild could accelerate in a big way. 

-
-

32. Houston Texans
31. Detroit Lions
30. Jacksonville Jaguars