On Thursday, the New York Jets will face off against the Jacksonville Jaguars. During most years of the past decade, this game would have been filled with whatever the opposite of intrigue was as both teams struggled year in and year out. However, this year, this matchup not only features two playoff contenders, but also an opportunity to evaluate the trajectory of the first and second overall picks from last year’s draft: Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence and Jets QB Zach Wilson, respectively.
To say the career trajectories of the two QBs have diverged since draft day is to put it lightly. While Jets QB Zach Wilson was benched after the Jets Week 11 loss to the New England Patriots and only reinserted after Jets third-string turned starting QB Mike White was injured, Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence has donned a Superman cape and performed as an upper echelon QB since Week 9.
Trevor Lawrence since Wk 9 (among QBs with 6+ starts w/ NFL rank):— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) December 19, 2022
Pass Rtg: 111.2 | 1st
Comp %: 70.4 | 1st
TD-INT: 14-1 | 1st
"He's been THE best QB in football for a month now. ... The Jags are going to make the playoffs." — @getnickwright pic.twitter.com/lp0OhvuIse
However, lost in the discussion of Trevor Lawrence’s rise is that the heralded prospect had been struggling prior to this breakthrough. Specifically, the game before this Week 9 breakthrough was arguably his worst NFL game with ESPN crediting him with a QBR of 12 against the Denver Broncos. Importantly, this struggle was not an isolated incident as his aggregate career numbers reflected a struggling QB.
Trevor Lawrence has been on a tear over the last 6 weeks. 14 TDs: 1 INT.— Luke Grant (@LukeGrant7) December 20, 2022
He’s also started 31 games now.
Through his first 25 games, he had 22 TDs and 23 INT (ohh plus 12 fumbles lost).
Maybe, just maybe, it isn’t over for Zach after 21 starts.
As also noted by the above tweet, Zach Wilson has yet to reach this 25 start mark where things seemed to ‘click’ for Trevor Lawrence. An optimistic Jets fan could use this information to provide some rationale for why more game experience may allow for some breakthrough from the struggling Jets QB in due time.
Additionally, out of curiosity, I tallied the number of pass attempts for Trevor Lawrence through his first 25 games following the rationale that pass attempts could act as a variable reflecting in-game passing experience. Through 25 games, Trevor threw the ball 879 times, for an average of ~35 times per game. By comparison, through 21 games, Zach Wilson has thrown the ball 607 times for an average of ~29 times per game. While 7 attempts may not seem like a huge amount, it reflects that Trevor Lawrence has received an approximately 25% more in-game passing opportunities from which he can learn from than Zach Wilson has on a per-game basis. In theory, to reach the same number of passing attempts that preceded the Trevor Lawrence breakthrough at 879 passes (reached in 25 games for Trevor), Zach would have to play in 30 games (assuming the number of passes per game remained consistent), a figure nearly 50% more than his number of career starts to date. An optimistic Jets fan could also use this information to provide some rationale for why more game experience may allow for some breakthrough from the struggling Jets QB in due time.
Notably, however, the title of this article is “A quasi-defense of Zach.” The reason it is a ‘quasi-defense’ rather than a simple ‘defense’ is because while Trevor Lawrence’s career trajectory provides some rationale for why a breakthrough could happen for Zach Wilson, development is rarely linear and we should never assume it would be consistent across two people. To put it simply, just because something ‘clicked’ for Trevor Lawrence does not mean that something is destined to click for Zach Wilson if given more time. So while Trevor’s career skyrocketed after the 25 game mark, Zach Wilson’s could just as easily could stagnate or worsen... or maybe... just maybe (if some stroke of luck decides to cut Jets fans a break)... even improve like Trevor Lawrence’s has.
So what do you think? Is it remotely possible that Zach Wilson turns his career around?