NY Jets: What If Zach Wilson turns into Sam Darnold 2.0?

NY Jets, Zach Wilson Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
NY Jets, Zach Wilson Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2021 NFL Draft is one week away, and once again, the NY Jets will be selecting a quarterback with a top-five pick.

Three years ago, the Jets, and many of their fans, myself included, thought that Sam Darnold was the savior. After Baker Mayfield was selected as the first quarterback off the board, followed by the NY Giants selecting a running back, it felt like the Jets were gifted a franchise quarterback in Darnold.

Many scouts and analysts had Darnold as the best quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft class. Rated ahead of Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Rosen, many felt that Darnold was exactly what the Jets needed to be relevant again.

Fast-forward to the 2021 NFL Draft and the exact same thing is happening with the Jets and the No. 2 overall selection.

Unless something crazy happens, New York is going to draft Zach Wilson second overall and he’s going to be the starting quarterback for the Jets next year. For what feels like the 1,000th time, the Jets are going to have a rookie quarterback under center to start the season.

Whether it was Darnold, Geno Smith, or Mark Sanchez, the team has continued this cycle of rookie quarterbacks and nobody has yet to stick.

Sure, Sanchez made it to two AFC Championship games, but that team was built on defense and rushing, so any game-managers would have been able to get the Jets to that situation.

In fact, if they had a better quarterback, we could be talking about the Jets as Super Bowl champions.

What if Zach Wilson becomes another Sam Darnold?

It’s quite possible that Darnold will become a top-15 quarterback in the NFL and will shine with the Carolina Panthers. Now that he has a better coach and superior weapons, he could very well make the Jets regret their decision.

Regardless of what the future holds, there was too much baggage for Darnold in New York. Since the Jets hold the No. 2 overall selection, the most logical decision was to draft at that position and start over.

However, it’s certainly possible that Wilson is just going to be another version of Darnold. Although teams continue to draft quarterbacks with their top pick, it feels like it’s really only a 50/50 chance of whether or not the prospect turns into a reliable starter.

From looking at Darnold pre-NFL and comparing him to Wilson today, both quarterbacks, unfortunately, share a lot of similarities.

Both were very raw heading into the NFL Draft, and both had very high passing percentages. Darnold had a lot more turnovers than Wilson, which has followed him in the NFL, but Wilson was also playing against inferior opponents in college.

Although Wilson had an impressive 2020 season where he threw for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns, three interceptions, and completed 73.5 percent of his passes, he didn’t play many big-name schools.

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When you watch the tape, you can clearly see the intangibles of why he should be a top pick in the draft, but at the same time, he was playing against mid-level college players.

Wilson throws a better ball and is known for his gun-slinging ability, unlike Darnold, but both players were known for their mobility and athleticism in college.

Although those traits are great, it’s a lot easier running around a brutal college defense than it is against some of the best defensive linemen in the NFL, which Darnold has struggled with at the pro level.

The NFL has swallowed up Darnold and has made him “see ghosts,” so although Wilson looks like the real deal, it’s quite possible that this league will overwhelm him and he’ll be another 50/50 quarterback that didn’t work out.

After putting all of this negative energy in the air, even if Wilson is another version of Darnold, it won’t hurt the team as much as it did it three years ago.

The coaching staff and front office are much more stable than they were during Darnold’s tenure and Wilson won’t have to worry about having two different coaches in three seasons.

With so much draft capital and salary cap space, the Jets are on the rise, even if Wilson is just OK.

Although Wilson may struggle in his first season and may not win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the stability of Robert Saleh and the rest of the coaching staff will continue to make Wilson a better quarterback.

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Darnold was lost and the organization was in shambles immediately upon his arrival, so even if Wilson looks like another version of Darnold, it won’t be the end of the world.

Wilson is joining the Jets at the perfect moment, so he can take his time to develop into a franchise quarterback, instead of being rushed into the spotlight and kicked out of town in three years.