The New York Jets selected BYU’s Zach Wilson at the No. 2 spot of the 2021 NFL draft, a move that came with the familiar hopes of stropping what seems like a historical carousel at the position for Gang Green. And now, just into the 2023 season and without the hopeful savior Aaron Rodgers, there are questions about whether Wilson has the chops to be “that” franchise quarterback. At one point, even Joe Namath questioned Wilson’s ability.
But this isn’t anything new; just look back at the QBs the franchise also thought could help change the historical course…
1961: Howard Dyer
Howard Dyer was drafted by the New York Titans, who turned into the Jets. The VMI QB was a 24th-round selection.
1962: Sandy Stephens
Sandy Stephens went on to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for his play at Minnesota. Stephens was a second-round NFL draft choice of the Cleveland Browns and the fifth overall selection in the AFL draft by the New York Titans. Both teams said they wouldn’t use him as a quarterback and never played a down in either league. The Canadian Football League welcomed him as a quarterback.
1963: Bill King, Ron Vander Kelen, Mike Taliaferro
Ron Vander Kelen was not chosen in the 1963 NFL Draft but drafted in the 21st round of the 1963 AFL Draft by New York. He entered into a contract with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent. He was the backup to Fran Tarkenton from 1963-66. Bill King, out of Dartmouth, never played for New York. A 28th-round selection from Illinois, Mike Taliaferro stuck around and was 3-4 as a starter over four seasons.
1964: Dick Shiner, Jerry Rhome
Dick Shiner, a 20th-round pick out of Maryland, never played for the Jets but did for six other teams. Jerry Rhome set all sorts of records in college at Tulsa. He was with the Dallas Cowboys and three other teams in a moderate NFL career.
1965: Joe Namath, John Huarte, Bob Schweikert
The Jets drafted the Heisman winner, John Huarte, out of Notre Dame. However, they also drafted and signed Joe Namath, which turned into football history. Bob Schweikert was with the team in 1965 and ’67 and had one career rush.
1967: Bob Biletnikoff
The late Bob Biletnikoff, brother of Raiders HOFer Fred, was a QB out of Miami and a late-round pick. He also was a first-round pick of the New York Yankees and went on to a short career in the minors.
1969: Al Woodall
Al Woodall came to the Jets from Duke. He was 5-14 as a starter from 1969-74.
1976: Richard Todd, Dave Buckey
The Jets had success with Joe Namath, so why not go back to the Alabama well with Richard Todd. It didn’t turn out as successfully for this Crimson Tide QB from Alabama. The Jets drafted Don and Dave Buckey at 326 and 327 out of North Carolina State. Don had some catches while Dave didn’t stick.
1977: Matt Robinson
Matt Robinson was a late-round choice out of Georgia and famously became part of a QB controversy with Richard Todd.
1978: Pat Ryan
For an 11th-round pick, Pat Ryan did well for himself, sticking in the league for 13 years. He was 11-8 as a starter for the Jets.
1979: Dan Sanders
Dan Sanders was an 11th-round pick out of Carson-Newman. No Jets stats.
1983: Ken O'Brien
Ken O’Brien was one of the QBs taken in the first round of the famed 1983 class. He came from Cal-Davis and played nine seasons with the Jets, going 50-55-1 as a starter.
1987: Bill Ransdell
Bill Ransdell was a 12th-rounder out of Kentucky. No Jets stats.
1990: Troy Taylor
Troy Taylor was a fourth-round pick out of Cal. He threw 20 passes, completing 12.
1991: Browning Nagle
Browning Nagle was drafted by the Jets in the 1991 NFL Draft with the 34th pick overall, one pick after the Falcons selected Brett Favre. He was 3-10 as a starter in three years in green.
1997: Chuck Clements
Houston’s Chuck Clements played in one game, losing three yards on two carries.
2000: Chad Pennington
Chad Pennington came to the Jets from Marshall. He was a popular player and was one of four first-round picks. He spent eight years with the Jets and three with Miami.
2003: Brooks Bollinger
Wisconsin’s Brooks Bollinger was 2-7 as a starter in two seasons with Gang Green.
2006: Kellen Clemens, Brad Smith
Oregon’s Kellen Clemens was 4-5 as a starter in five years with the Jets. Missouri’s Brad Smith spent five years with the Jets and was a jack-of-all-trades for the offense.
2008: Erik Ainge
Erik Ainge was a fifth-round pick out of Tennessee, but battled off-field issues that eventually curtailed hopes of a career.
2009: Mark Sanchez
The Jets drafted USC’s Mark Sanchez in the first round, and he led them to two AFC Championship games. However, the bottom fell out after that, and he became a journeyman.
2011: Greg McElroy
Another Alabama QB, Greg McElroy, has found far more success as a broadcaster than he did as a QB.
2013: Geno Smith
Geno Smith was chosen from West Virginia. He was 12-18 as a starter over four years that were sometimes, um, turbulent.
2014: Tajh Boyd
Sixth-round pick Tajh Boyd from Clemson had no impact on Gang Green.
2015: Bryce Petty
Bryce Petty came to the Jets from Baylor, and there were high hopes that were quickly dashed. He was 1-6 as a starter in his two seasons.
2016: Christian Hackenberg
Another quarterback with high hopes was Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg. Five years after he was drafted, Hackenberg is coaching high school football.
2018: Sam Darnold
And Sam Darnold completes the quarterback carousel, which is a fairly sorry one. The former USC star was the third overall pick in 2018 and never found his groove. He had illness and injury and is now on his way to the Carolina Panthers.
2020: James Morgan
The Jets added one more new play caller in 2020 when the team selected FIU’s James Morgan in the fourth round. Although relatively unknown, there was a small bit of 2020 draft buzz about him being a “sleeper.” But nothing came of the chatter as Morgan is currently on the roster of the Carolina Panthers, joining former Jets play-caller Sam Darnold.
2021 to 2023: Zach Wilson
Unfortunately for the Jets, it hasn’t been smooth sailing with Wilson. In 2021, Wilson missed games after suffering an injury in the Week 7 matchup with the Patriots, and since then, he hasn’t done anything to solidify the starting position—including losing the job in favor of Mike White and even fourth-string QB Chris Streveler, who was brought in from the practice squad.
Now, after Aaron Rodgers went down in Week 1, many are still looking at what’s next…