The New York Jets have had some rough seasons over the last 20 years. Whether their final record has been 4-12, 5-11, or 6-10, the Jets have struggled to put together a sustainable level of success and have faced several disappointing finishes along the way.
However, last year the Jets hit a new all-time low that this franchise hasn’t endured since its nightmare 1-15, 1996 season, illustrating a level of despair and ineptitude that many of their young fans have never experienced before. Finishing 2020 with a dismal 2-14 record, the Jets ended up having to offload most of their core talent midseason to free up cap space, and in the process, began their next rebuild endeavor by securing the 2nd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Though the Jets might have missed out on selecting wonder kid Trevor Lawrence at first overall, they selected debatably the next best option at quarterback in the young protégé out of BYU, Zach Wilson. With a big arm, pinpoint accuracy, and impressive pocket mobility, Wilson brings everything the Jets need from their new franchise quarterback and, along with it, really bright potential. That being said, Wilson also enters a big, new role that is laden with immense pressure as the Jets desperately aim to achieve a significantly better record than their last. And with a tough and imposing division, as is, the Jets will need to rise to the occasion big time this season, and it all starts with Zach Wilson.
When a team suffers a setback as great as the Jets have, there’s a lot of different variables that come into play, be it the offense, defense, special teams, or coaching. And despite the fact that all of these components influenced the poor season the Jets underwent to some degree, the greatest and biggest problem for this franchise was nothing but its ailing offense. Placing last in the league in total yards, yards per game, and points per game, the Jets offense reached a rock bottom level of ineffectiveness that would present even the best quarterback talents in the league, an overwhelmingly great deal of pressure and intimidation to endure and overcome (ESPN).
But despite all the weight and responsibility that comes along with this highly important role, the Jets spent a lot of time and money over the offseason to not only establish a culture change in their locker room but also revamp their offense in several key areas.
For starters, hiring head coach Robert Saleh was a big step in the right direction. With plenty of experience as a defensive coordinator under the San Francisco 49ers for four seasons (that included a Super Bowl visit in 2019), Saleh also brings excellent leadership, insight, passion, and dedication to a team that’s in desperate need of just about all of that. After undergoing a brutal, confidence-draining season, the Jets will really benefit from the positive energy and motivating commitment to excellence Saleh brings to the table.
However, with Wilson in mind, the Jets also splurged on not only bright talents at the wide receiver position in both Corey Davis and Keelan Cole. They also invested in new running back Tevin Coleman and boosted their depth at the tight position by acquiring Tyler Kroft. But the Jets didn’t stop there. After selecting Wilson second overall in the draft, the Jets also went after the bright and dominant USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker with their 14th overall pick, selected Elijah Moore out of Ole Miss with their first, second-round pick, and then proceeded to draft the strong and evasive running back out of UNC in Michael Carter with their fourth pick (ESPN). From running backs to wide receivers to offensive linemen, the Jets went on a tear over the offseason to provide Wilson with just about everything he needs to succeed.
But even with all of this talent, the greatest test for Wilson is whether he has what it takes to spearhead the production needed offensively to put this Jets team back on track. Wilson produced an immaculate 2020 season in what would be his last for BYU, throwing for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns, and only three interceptions whilst running for an additional ten more touchdowns (ESPN). That said, can Wilson recreate that kind of magic to some degree in his NFL rookie campaign, despite so many new pieces that he has yet to get fully acquainted with?
Though it might be hard to believe, the answer is a big, fat yes. Is it audacious to think so? Maybe. But Wilson is about as prepared and gifted as any coming out of this draft class, who comes with not only this resiliently poised and calm demeanor, but who also has the complete skill set and potential the Jets need from their next franchise quarterback.
A good way to break down Wilson’s first season outlook is to take a hard look at the first season Baker Mayfield accomplished after joining a Cleveland Browns team that went 0-16 the season before. Naturally, it’s very important to keep in mind that Mayfield was a Heisman Trophy winner over his collegiate career and possessed an edge to his game that led him to throw for 40 or more touchdowns in each of his last two seasons at the University of Oklahoma (ESPN). But the biggest similarity to keep an eye for here is the impact that Wilson can generate this season for the Jets, similarly to how Mayfield did in Cleveland in his first season.
Back in 2018, Mayfield transformed a winless Browns team into a playoff-contending one that finished their season with a 7-8-1 record, throwing for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns, and posting a 63.8 completion percentage in the process (ESPN). For Wilson to achieve these kind of numbers, more or less that kind of result with this team in his rookie season, is certainly a hefty challenge. But he has that same kind of potential and the full package of pristine skills to execute this newly-built offense the same way Mayfield did with his Browns. In 2018, Mayfield came into a situation where the Browns had a handful of strong pieces already in place, with guys like Jarvis Landry, Reshard Higgins, Kevin Zeitler, and Greg Robinson. But they also had several rookies and second-year players on that offensive unit as well, which included Nick Chubb (rookie), Antonio Callaway (rookie), and David Njoku (sophomore year). Though it wasn’t the strongest supporting cast, it was still a robust one that allowed Mayfield to thrive and perform at a very high level.
Well, lo and behold, Wilson is also entering a team that has plenty of good vets, rookie starlets, and young players, with plenty of talent in all the areas he needs to succeed. The similarities don’t stop here though: Mayfield is an excellent pocket passer, Wilson is a great one too. Mayfield brought sharp and astute mobility, Wilson has elite vision and is elusive on the ground. Mayfield had a bright rookie running back and wide receiver, Wilson has an exciting rookie running back and wide receiver as well. Mayfield was blessed with a sturdy offensive line, Wilson has a solid one as well.
In short, history tends to repeat itself in unique ways, and with so many parallels between the two, it can certainly make you wonder about the potential and impact Wilson will have on this Jets team. And considering how much talent the Jets surrounded him with on top of the fact that he’s so gifted and dedicated to his craft as is, Wilson is poised to have a very big rookie season, and don’t be surprised if you get flashbacks to Mayfield’s breakout success in 2018.