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The Company Zach Wilson Keeps

NFL: New York Jets at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Wilson’s NFL career is off to a rough start. The rookie has seven interceptions in his first three games as a pro.

Just to get a sense of how to put this in context, I went to the Stathead database and searched for first year quarterbacks who started from day one and had seven picks in their first three games.

In the last twenty-five years there have only been three other players. One was Peyton Manning. One was Deshone Kizer. The last was Wilson’s fellow rookie Trevor Lawrence.

This clearly doesn’t tell us much about implications for the future. You couldn’t have career outcomes more different from Manning and Kizer. Peyton is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play. Kizer was so bad that he never started a game after his rookie season. (Of course Lawrence is at the exact same point in his career as Wilson making any final judgment on his outcome impossible.)

If you expand the search further back, two more quarterbacks make the list. They are Bert Jones and Steve DeBerg. Jones went on to win the NFL MVP in 1976 while DeBerg started 140 games across 18 seasons. (DeBerg retired in 1993 then came out of retirement five years later at age 44. He made one start for the eventual NFC Champion Falcons, a blowout loss to a Bill Parcells coached Jets team that lost the AFC Championship Game in Denver.)

We can expand the search by looking at quarterbacks with six interceptions in their first three games. After all, Wilson’s second interception yesterday wasn’t really his fault in any way.

This list gives us Troy Aikman, Dieter Brock, Kyle Orton, Jim Zorn, Brandon Weeden, and Geno Smith.

This is a fairly wide range of outcomes. Aikman won three Super Bowls in Dallas and ended up in the Hall of Fame. Zorn started 106 games over 11 seasons and in his best season earned Second Team All Pro. Brock’s inclusion on this list is debatable since he had eleven years of professional experience in the CFL. Orton turned into a quality spot starter/backup. Weeden and Smith were early round failures.

And if you are looking for team success, it shouldn’t be surprising that these quarterbacks throwing a lot of interceptions didn’t win many games. Brock (3-0) and Smith (2-1) were the only players from this group to post winning records. Brock never played in the NFL again after that first season, while Geno Smith developed into...Geno Smith.

What can this tell us? It’s difficult to say. This isn’t a great sample size. It also isn’t a list you want to find yourself on.

But maybe the lack of trend could be considered a positive thing. Perhaps the lesson is that there is little correlation between throwing a lot of interceptions in your first few starts and the player you will eventually develop into. Anything is still possible.