Zach Wilson was much overlooked compared to Trevor Lawrence before the 2021 draft. When Trevor Lawrence put 44 points on Alabama's defense in the National Championship three years ago, everybody knew he’d one day be the first overall pick. Zach Wilson took a different path, as he wasn’t even looked at as a guy to come out as a junior in 2021. But that was before his breakout season with BYU.
The hype got so large that he shot all the way up to the number two pick, which is where the New York Jets selected him in the 2021 draft. Looking at the stat line Wilson put up in his rookie season, he certainly didn’t have the greatest debut campaign. He had a 55.6% completion percentage, 2,334 yards, nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions (13 games).
Among the quarterbacks with at least 200 passing attempts, he finished 32nd or 33rd in passer rating, QBR, net yards per attempt, DVOA and EPA. The numbers certainly don't lie, but we have to give them some context.
Here are seven reasons why Wilson will have a breakout year in 2022.
#1- The Jets season was disrupted by injuries
To start on a very serious note. Sadly, Wilson’ quarterback coach Greg Knapp was struck by a car and died just days before the 2021 training camp started. For a 21-year old going from Utah to New York, losing the guy working closest to him should not be underestimated.
During the regular season, the Jets were second by a significant margin (with only the Ravens ahead of them) in adjusted games lost (158.5). This estimates the impact of injuries on teams in a more integrated capacity, including the rookie quarterback himself.
Wilson missed four games in the middle of the season with a PCL sprain and took one more game to get back into the groove. From there, Wilson scored eight touchdowns against two interceptions over the final six weeks. That’s despite his top two receivers in Corey Davis and Elijah Moore having injuries and facing three of the top five scoring defenses.
#2- Zach Wilson was unlucky in 2021
Zach Wilson had one truly horrific performance in his second game as a pro. He tossed four interceptions and no touchdowns against the Patriots. But as you look through his interceptions, the majority of those came on tipped passes. Some of that was probably due to pre-determining where he wanted to go before the snap or blindly transitioning to his second target. But some bad luck was a part of it as well.
#3- The Jets offense was underwhelming in 2021
Wilson was comfortably dead-last in EPA versus man coverage and took seven more sacks than anybody else in the league (25). This is despite facing the 18th-most man-coverage snaps (16.8 percent sack rate versus man). But this was largely about the lack of receiving talent in New York.
You actively saw the quarterback having to pull the ball down, his feet getting antsy and being forced to create secondary plays. Wilson was a lot better versus more static zone looks and even finding quick solutions against coverage rotations. We should see more of this as teams have to respect the run on early downs. The Jets also have the weapons to win one-on-one more consistently in 2022.
#4- The Jets will have a more balanced offense in 2021
Nobody in the league had fewer than the Jets’ 380 rushing attempts in 2021. Michael Carter Jr. was the only reliable player in the backfield and had a strong stretch midway through the season. But then he got banged up and was only used sporadically over the last month.
They have now added an early second-round pick in Breece Hall from Iowa State. Hall should give them a much more potent backfield under Mike LaFleur. He will also bring along the Shanahan-style offensive scheme.
#5- Zach Wilson is better than people think
Zach Wilson is typically right on the money. He showed impressive anticipatory skills versus zone coverage. He was able to hit wideouts on deep curls/comebacks against off corners perfectly out of their breaks. He could also drill the ball into windows between the second and third levels, with a bunch of dagger and double-dig concepts.
He loves working from those reduced splits or stacks and finding leverage advantages. He can make those quick reads on underneath defenders, while protecting receivers from big hits with ball-placement. His passer rating in the red-zone was 105.4 (fourth-highest among all quarterbacks), illustrating that confidence to attack tight windows.
Wilson has that Aaron Rodgers-esque flick of the wrist and can sort of side-arm throws. This makes him one of the best screen throwers already. He is deceptive at backing it up and flipping it with his eyes before getting to the target at the last second. Coming from a play-action-heavy BYU offense, he’s not afraid to hang deep with those longer-developing concepts off those hard play-fakes. He got much better at finding his checkdowns, knowing where that target would be and rapidly getting it out there to bail out the offense late into reps.
The difference in the amount of clean pockets from playing behind one of college’s top offensive lines was drastic for the young signal-caller. He has an innate feel for rush angles and how to extend plays. He can reduce that shoulder and navigate around pressure-points with quick feet inside the pocket. When he does decide to tuck the ball and get upfield, he’s pretty elusive. His Pro Football Focus rushing grade of 86.8 speaks to that underrated athleticism.
#6- Zach Wilson will learn from last year's mistakes
The biggest areas of improvement for Wilson are largely based on adjusting to what he will have around him compared to his first season. His feet got happy on too many occasions when that first read versus man-coverage wasn’t there and he has to show more of a plan versus the blitz.
In his second year in the system, he will improve by having that solution ready instead of just coming up with one on the fly. He lacks some maturity late into plays and he needs to understand when to throw the ball away as the rush is closing in. He needs to be vigilant with his mechanics and avoid being lazy, which you also see with such naturally gifted throwers like Rodgers too.
#7- The Jets have majorly improved on offense
With the tenth overall pick, the Jets selected Garrett Wilson from Ohio State. He was one of the best one-on-one route-runners coming out of college. Along with their top two receivers from last year, they have a good receiving corps. Denzel Mims might finally find his feet in 2022, after we hear him get praised for how he practices constantly. The Jets have a completely rehauled tight-end room and their aerial weaponry is on a completely different level now.
With a healthy Mekhi Becton, the Jets will see improvements in 2022. Especially with how good Alijah Vera-Tucker looked at left guard as a rookie and with Pro Bowler Laken Tomlinson sliding into that opposite guard spot. N.Y. have assembled a group of ass-kickers in the run game. Gang Green all of a sudden have the protection needed to confidently access the depths of their play-book.
Wilson himself has been described as “beefy” by his head coach Robert Saleh, after adding 13 pounds of “healthy weight“ (now at 221). He now has a full year to mentally comprehend a wordy and rather complicated playbook.
The Jets face a brutal opening stretch to their season. But if they can come out of their bye week with a positive record, they could at least be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Zach Wilson may also account for 25+ touchdowns.