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NY Jets: Comparing Zach Wilson's preseason debut to other notable QBs of the past

NY Jets, Zach Wilson
NY Jets, Zach Wilson / Dustin Satloff/Getty Images
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There's no getting around it. From here on out, NY Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, for the rest of his career, because of his draft status, will be held to a high standard and compared to not only quarterbacks from his draft class but other high-profile signal-callers currently in the league.

Wilson will also be fighting against Jets history. Can he deliver as a first-round quarterback like Chad Pennington and Ken O'Brien did in their careers? Or will he surpass them and become the megastar that Joe Namath was many moons ago.

The latter is the hope and expectation attached to the BYU standout.

There's always pressure involved for players drafted as high as Zach Wilson was. But being the Jets' next chosen one comes with added scrutiny. Especially considering the team's history at the QB position.

It comes with the territory of being a high-profile draft pick. Wilson's weekly performances will be measured and compared to Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, and Trey Lance for the rest of his career.

And beyond Wilson's contemporaries from the 2021 rookie class or any other top drafted quarterbacks who have come before him, many will also measure up Wilson to the franchise quarterback he just replaced in Sam Darnold.

The Wilson versus Darnold debate didn't die when the Jets traded the former USC quarterback to Carolina this spring. It has only just begun. It will be the main storyline before, during, and after the Jets' Week 1 opener against Carolina.

You got the sense from Jets fans, going into Wilson's NFL debut on Saturday night, that the fanbase was more nervous than the former BYU quarterback.

Social media was filled with messages from Jets supporters telling others to temper their expectations and pleading with fans to take it easy on the rookie quarterback, almost in anticipation of Wilson potentially having a rough night in his preseason debut.

The worries for some Jets fans of how Wilson would perform only intensified after Mac Jones opened with a solid outing for the Patriots the night prior.

And then it grew on Saturday afternoon when Justin Fields had some flashy plays and scored two touchdowns for the Chicago Bears in his debut.

Before Wilson had even taken his first snap on Saturday night, people were already questioning the Jets' decision to draft the 21-year old. Welcome to the year 2021, where almost everyone falls victim to being prisoners of the moment.

So how did Zach Wilson fare against the New York Giants? Much to the satisfaction and relief of Jets followers, the neophyte NFL quarterback had a solid debut in his first league action.

Zach Wilson had a very successful preseason debut with the NY Jets

Wilson was 6-of-9 for 63 yards passing in limited duty. He didn't set the world on fire, not that anyone should've expected him to, but the rookie quarterback looked calm and poised and made some strong throws in tight windows.

A hallmark trait of Wilson's and the reason why he was drafted so high is the ease at which he can make difficult throws. It was a brief sample against the Giants, but that skill set was immediately on display.

The reaction and overreaction to how these rookie NFL quarterbacks performed during their first preseason games had me looking back to other high-profile quarterback debuts from the past.

The problem with studying something like this is that, like most subjects, not everything is black and white. There are grey areas when making these comparisons. The apple to apple comps don't exist.

Some of these quarterbacks played with second and third stringers and against the same caliber of players. Some were thrown right into the fire as starters. But in all cases, because these are preseason games, there isn't a game-planning aspect involved.

Offenses and defenses are as generic as they come during exhibition games. Especially when it pertains to Week 1 of the preseason — it's a feeling-out process more than anything else.

And the real test for these types of quarterbacks will come next week in the dress rehearsal games and then, of course, when the bullets start flying for real in the regular season.

So with that in mind, here's a quick look at how some other current high-profile quarterbacks performed in their first NFL action in the preseason.

Some were surprisingly great right out the gate, while others had some struggles or had modest numbers. Some of these quarterbacks lived up to their billing, while others didn't or haven't yet.

  • Aaron Rodgers vs. San Diego, (8/11/2005): 2-for-7, 6 passing yards
  • Tom Brady vs. San Francisco, (7/31/2000): 3-for-4, 28 passing yards (ironically enough, debuted playing in Canton at the Hall of Fame Game against the team he grew up idolizing)
  • Jared Goff vs. Dallas, (8/13/2016); 4-for-9, 38 passing yards and an interception
  • Carson Wentz vs. Tampa Bay, (8/11/2016): 12-for-24, 89 passing yards, 1 interception, 15 rushing yards
  • Dak Prescott vs. Rams, (8/13/2016): 10-for-12, 139 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 13 rushing yards
  • Paxton Lynch vs. Chicago, (8/11/2016): 6-for-7, 74 passing yards, 5 rushing yards
  • Patrick Mahomes vs. San Francisco, (8/11/2017): 7-for-9, 49 passing yards, 1 touchdown
  • Deshaun Watson vs. Carolina, (8/9/2017): 15-for-25, 179 passing yards, 24 rushing yards, 1 touchdown
  • Mitch Trubisky vs. Denver, (8/10/2017): 18-for-25, 166 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 33 rushing yards
  • Lamar Jackson vs. Chicago, (8/2/2018): 4-for-10, 33 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 25 rushing yards
  • Josh Allen vs. Carolina, (8/9/2018); 9-for-19, 116 passing yards, 1 touchdown, 29 rushing yards
  • Sam Darnold vs. Atlanta, (8/10/2018); 13-for-18, 96 passing yards, 1 touchdown
  • Josh Rosen vs. Chargers, (8/11/2018): 6-for-13, 49 passing yards
  • Baker Mayfield vs. Giants, (8/9/2018): 11-for-20, 212 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 13 rushing
  • yards

  • Dwayne Haskins vs. Cleveland, (8/8/2019): 8-for-14, 117 passing, 2 interceptions, 17 rushing
  • yards

  • Daniel Jones vs. Jets, (8/8/2019): 5-for-5, 67 passing yards, 1 touchdown (in the same game, Alex Tanney was 14-for-19 for 190 yards and a touchdown)
  • Kyler Murray vs. Chargers, (8/8/2019): 6-for7, 44 passing yards

As you can see, there's no exact science to this. And while it's true that the debut game for these quarterbacks can provide a hint towards a player's overall potential, the truth is that the next steps in a quarterback's career are more important than the first one.

Mitch Trubisky and Sam Darnold looked like potential stars on day one, and it didn't work out for them for varying circumstances. At the same time, players like Deshaun Watson looked like superstars immediately and lived up to the hype while silencing their doubters.

Zach Wilson is on page one of his first chapter as a rookie quarterback for the NY Jets. It's a story that will include so many of his peers at quarterback. But ultimately, it's Wilson that gets to shape his own history and the narrative moving forward.

dark. Next. NY Jets: 8 stars from preseason victory over the NY Giants

On to the next chapter. Welcome to your new world, Zach, as a high-profile quarterback in the NFL.

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