Scouts impressed by Jets QB Zach Wilson's composure through rough MetLife debut: 'I didn’t see the panic'

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Zach Wilson looks up after interception
Zach Wilson looks up after interception

Zach Wilson looked very much like a rookie quarterback on Sunday. There were times he looked rattled. He often seemed overwhelmed.

But to scouts who watched his disastrous, four-interception Meadowlands debut, there was a bright side buried under the mess: As bad as it looked, several of them agreed, Wilson still looked like he belonged on an NFL field. And they were all impressed with how he shook his awful start off.

“He was definitely rattled and shook up early in the game,” said one AFC scout. “But I don’t think he was scared or lost. I’ve seen rookie quarterbacks who were (scared) and you can see the panic. Their head and eyes are moving constantly, they’re running away from pressure that isn’t there, they take a sack because they just don’t know where to throw it.

“I didn’t see any of that with Zach. I didn’t see the panic.”

“What I saw was a guy who bounced back after a horrible start,” said another NFL scout. “This wasn’t a 1-for-7, 20-yard performance where the offense doesn’t move. He made a lot of mistakes, but he kept throwing and found his groove.”

Wilson did finish with decent numbers aside from those four interceptions – 19-of-33 for 210 yards – but that really masked his performance a bit. He was just 3-of-7 for 45 yards (with three interceptions) in the first half. And then he threw his fourth interception on his second pass of the second half.

That pick led to a Patriots touchdown that put them up, 19-3, with 10:24 left in the third quarter. After that, though, Wilson did find a bit of a “groove." He went 15-of-24 for 156 yards with no turnovers over his next five drives – though 71 of those passing yards came on the final, meaningless drive with two minutes left in the game.

Yes, all his good stuff came when the game was mostly out of reach. But that didn’t matter much to the scouts.

“I don’t care if it was ‘garbage time’ or if the defense was just sitting back,” the NFL scout said. “He calmed down. That’s what you want. Early in the fourth quarter, he threw a couple of passes to absolutely nowhere, way over his intended receivers. But then look what he does on the next drive.”

Wilson did badly overthrow a couple of receivers early in the fourth quarter, including one where he missed wide-open running back Michael Carter with 14:12 remaining, leading to a chorus of boos from what was left of the home crowd.

But on the next drive, he threw his best pass of the day – a 27-yard rainbow that dropped right into the hands of well-covered Braxton Berrios on the sidelines.

“A scared quarterback doesn’t make a throw like that,” said another AFC scout. “That’s the thing I liked about this kid. By that point, you’d think he would’ve been afraid to put a ball in a spot like that, or maybe incapable of it. But he settled down and played. That’s what you want.”

What you don’t want, of course, is four interceptions – including the last two that were “just stupid,” as one of the scouts said. “I have no idea what he was thinking. Nobody was there.”

But they all agreed that Wilson probably only deserved to have three interceptions on the day. “If (Corey Davis) catches that ball (on the second interception) maybe the whole day is different,” said the NFL scout. “I mean, it was right in his hands.”

That throw was actually one of several the scouts pointed to that showed them Wilson has the tools to be a good quarterback, once he gets the typical rookie struggles out of the way. More importantly, they all seemed to agree with Jets head coach Robert Saleh, who said there was no sign that Wilson lost confidence during the game.

“He had a great look in his eyes,” Saleh said. “It wasn’t like he was overwhelmed.”

“He didn’t look overwhelmed,” said the NFL scout. “He looked like he was desperately trying to make something happen – forcing it after that bad start. I read that Saleh wants him to play ‘boring.’ I’m not sure he can, and he certainly wasn’t trying to do that (on Sunday). He clearly wanted to be the hero and he wasn’t going to stop slinging it downfield until he was.”

“That’s not a bad thing,” said the first AFC scout. “He can throw and he knows it. He’s just got to make some better decisions about where to go with the ball. Not every pitch can be a home run. He’ll learn that the more he plays.”