Why the NY Jets should trade down instead of taking Zach Wilson

NY Jets, Zach Wilson (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
NY Jets, Zach Wilson (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images) /

We’ve been here before. 2009: The NY Jets traded several assets to move up to No. 5 and get their guy, Mark Sanchez. 2018: They gave up three second-rounders to get Sam Darnold. We all know how those turned out.

It is easy to look at a deal in hindsight and have 20/20 vision, especially with drafting NFL players. Yet, this is unfair. Many draft picks miss, injuries can occur randomly, and coach/scheme can be just as important as the player’s talent for a successful career.

One might think I am then saying to ignore how Darnold and Sanchez turned out, no one is right 100 percent of the time, so take the quarterback you think is best. Yet I am going to use this data to argue exactly the opposite.

Trevor Lawrence is so ingrained as the top pick he is literally receiving wedding gifts from Jaguars fans. Consequently, the Jets No. 2 pick has become a pseudo No. 1, with much intrigue.

Slowly, but surely, Zach Wilson has come to implant himself as the No. 2 pick, the next with the chance to label himself with the hopefully prophetic title, ‘Broadway Zach.’

Why the NY Jets could consider passing on Zach Wilson

It is easy to argue that Zach Wilson does indeed have the best chance to succeed over Justin Fields, Mac Jones, and Trey Lance, yet one can reasonably argue this both ways, leading to acontrarian idea.

The refrain I have consistently heard is “if you think Wilson is the best guy, you go and get him.” However, this thought is fool’s gold.

Nearly everyone thought Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston were franchise QBs, no one argued for Mitchell Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes, and I myself was the biggest believer that Darnold over Josh Allen was a no-brainer.

We all like surety, and so we talk in absolutes. “Zach Wilson will be the franchise” or “Fields is a definite bust”. Yet, the truth is we can only vaguely estimate the chances that any specific outcome might occur.

We now know Mahomes is an MVP-caliber QB, but when he was drafted, for argument’s sake he was 45 percent likely to be a solid starter, 15 percent an MVP, 20 percent a backup, and 20 percent a complete bust.

If he was a surefire MVP he would’ve gone No. 1, with zero questions asked.

A clear response to this is if it’s all a crapshoot what is there to do? However, that isoversimplifying our lack of certainty.

From 2012-2018, 21 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round and 12 became long-term starters* (57 percent). Comparatively, this was much lower for second and third-round picks, as less than 20 percent (3-out-of-16) of those selected in the second and third rounds became long-term starters.

*I measured starting quarterbacks by those who were consistently starters after their rookie deals. There are debates to be had here over the categorization, especially for the younger players (ex. Sam Darnold), as well as some journeymen (ex. Nick Foles). Yet, even with some gray areas, overall one can see clear patterns.

Additionally, of these 21, the nine taken with the top three picks had remarkably similar levels of success to those selected later in the first round. 55 percent of those in the top three were long-term starters compared to 58 percent of those after the third pick.

The quarterbacks selected in the top three had an average passer rating of 86.6, almost identical to the 86.8 average rating of those taken later in the first round.

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Furthermore, quarterbacks taken in the second and third rounds had a big drop-off, with an average passer rating of 81, despite this being kept artificially high since three of these players never threw an NFL pass.

Rather than assuming they know for sure they are getting the next Andrew Luck and not Mitchell Trubisky, the Jets should be honest that these are all percentage bets.

Rather than take Zach Wilson who for argument’s sake they may feel has a 60-70 percent chance of success, trade down, add assets, and grab Fields or Lance who have a 50-60 percent chance to succeed.

The Dolphins through two trades moved down from three to six acquiring an extra first and third-rounder. Would it not be worthwhile for the Jets, still looking to build their future offensive line and having needs at cornerback and linebacker, to try a move like two to five to add these extra picks?

Next. NY Jets: 3 players to trade up for in the 2021 NFL Draft

All of this is likely for naught as Adam Schefter and the Vegas books believe Zach Wilson at No. 2 is a done deal. Yet, I do believe this probabilistic draft thinking can be relevant to all picks as well as future drafts, and lead to more efficient team building around what will likely be Broadway Zach.