Two years ago the New York Jets drafted quarterback Zach Wilson 2nd overall. Given the draft slot, expectations were high, and Zach was supposed to be ‘the guy’ who played QB at a high enough level to lead the Jets out of their decade of misery.
However, much like the decade preceding Zach’s arrival in New York, this plan did not come to fruition for the Jets. Instead, Zach showed some flashes of good and bad in year 1 before struggling enough in year 2 to be benched outright not once, but twice.
In light of the seeming ‘draft bust’ label that Zach is acquiring in short order, some have begun trumpeting their draft acumen pointing out how ‘dumb’ the Jets were for ‘falling’ for the Zach Wilson ‘mirage.’ This narrative is kind of fun as it paints the Jets as some kind of comedically stupid, buffoonish character that saw Zach Wilson’s pro day throws and said “WOO. ARM TALENT” based on throws like the one below and wrapped up their search for a QB early on.
Can’t wait for the 30 for 30 doc on how zach Wilson got drafted top 3 for making one off platform throw at a pro day pic.twitter.com/ZocEvUCxxr— John (@iam_johnw) December 23, 2022
However, this isn’t really what happened. In reality, we may be able to better characterize this narrative of Zach as unworthy of the #2 pick as an example of hindsight bias. For simplicity purposes, we can think of hindsight bias as the human tendency to look back on past events and view the eventual outcome as obvious; as humans, we’re pretty good at doing this because memory is so fragile and easy to rewrite over time.
Thankfully though, we can test this ‘fact or fiction’ argument because the internet (much like Jets Head Coach Robert Saleh) keeps receipts.
Will publish my Week 16 Review after SNF, but this snippet is worth sharing. @ArifHasanNFL's consensus big board re. Zach Wilson's worthiness as a top pick:— Kevin Cole (@KevinCole___) December 25, 2022
"24/71 had him in their top five overall players.
Only 16 had him outside of their top ten. Only 4 outside of top 25." pic.twitter.com/Dm0fqPrXbK
Overall, this paints a pretty clear picture that among draft analysts who crafted a Big Board in 2021, almost everyone thought highly of Zach. How highly varied to some degree, but as the tweet says “Only 16 had him outside of their top ten. Only 4 outside of top 25,” which paints the picture of a near consensus high value player. This makes sense when you consider that Zach’s final season consisted of 11 yards per attempt, and an 38:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Moreover, this wasn’t strictly a “Twitter trend” as Zach Wilson was highly thought of by NFL personnel evaluators as well. As written by Bob McGinn of The Athletic who conducted an according to an anonymous poll o NFL personnel evaluators (https://theathletic.com/2537509/2021/04/28/ranking-the-top-quarterbacks-in-the-2021-nfl-draft-bob-mcginns-grades-are-in/):
In my poll of 18 [NFL] personnel evaluators, 14 rated Lawrence as the best quarterback. Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson drew three first-place votes and Ohio State’s Justin Fields had the other.
With a first-place vote worth five points, a second worth four and so on, Lawrence led with 84 points followed by Wilson with 64, Fields with 53, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance with 38 and Alabama’s Mac Jones with 30. One point went to Florida’s Kyle Trask.
Perhaps more interesting was the fact not one scout picked Lawrence as the quarterback with the best chance to bust. With 16 scouts willing to toss a dart, the bust count showed 7½ hits for Lance, 3½ for Wilson, three for Fields and two for Jones.
So, overall, we’re left with evidence that Zach was qualified to be drafted where he was based on his body of work in college. In the end, he just didn’t work out. Many will attribute this to a overarching scouting issue but that ignores that role that development plays in the success of draft selections, which may also have played a role in Zach’s failures.
So what do you think? Did Zach simply not live up to his pedigree or was the pedigree always backed by smoke and mirrors?