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What Will Zach Wilson’s Year Two Look Like When He Returns?

What determines growth for a young QB?

New York Jets v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Many people are wondering what would be a successful 2nd year performance by QB Zach Wilson once he returns from injury. How would you judge that? What criteria do you use to determine whether Zach is progressing, stalemating or regressing? Do you look for a playoff spot, a certain amount of passing yardage, a win total or acclaim from the media throng?

There is no simple answer to this question. The way you perceive development is your concept alone. There is no standardized method of determining the growth of NFL QBs from year one to year five. Many factors go into such a determination, and any determinations are all subjective to some extent. Who is elite as opposed to good or just OK is in the eye of the beholder. This is why football fans often argue about young QBs, with some praising them while others disparage them because of their own subjective beliefs.

This question of a QB’s effectiveness can be best defined the way Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart once defined obscenity. He said “I know it when I see it.” The quote from Potter Stewart has been reduced over the years by the media. His actual statement about the movie involved in the case read as “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Whether you are a super scout or just a fan of the NFL, you have the ultimate say in how you define the way a QB’s development has or hasn’t progressed. Nonetheless there are certain factors that can be relevant to the success or failure of a young QB. Let’s take a look at those factors and how they can affect the New York Jets and Zach Wilson.

Offensive Line

The offensive line is a generic term since it doesn’t actually describe the line itself in terms of how it affects the young QB. A dominant line can both pass protect their QB as well as open holes for the running game. This is the ideal situation for a young QB, as he doesn’t have to be the pivotal aspect of the offense. With an outstanding offensive line you can open holes in the running game while allowing the QB to make throws in the flow of the offense. A game plan is always easier when you have the run/pass option. For a young QB it is a path to success as he grows in comfort with the offense, which allows him to gain confidence.

This doesn’t mean all QBs with great lines become great QBs, but it helps those with talent to establish a rhythm as a QB. Sometimes a great line can hinder the development of a QB because it doesn’t force him to make the plays under pressure that he needs to evolve as a player.

Surrounding Talent

The talent surrounding a young QB is an important factor in his development. A great running back, a great offensive line and talented receivers who can get open quickly can be a huge boon for a fledgling signal caller. The ability to gain first downs which keep drives alive gives the QB more snaps under a variety of situations. Those extra snaps aid in development. Better surrounding talent means better chances of a QB being put in game winning situations, making plays that determine outcomes of games. Success in these situations increases a team’s trust in a QB, which gives him more confidence as he continues to grow. This doesn’t ensure that the QB will develop into a star, since he might not have that type of upside, but it does allow him to reach his ceiling more quickly than if he is on a team with little talent.

Offensive System/Offensive Coordinator

This combination is a critical factor for the success of a young QB. Kyle Shanahan made Kirk Cousins a star in Washington and took Jimmy Garoppolo to within a whisker of becoming a world champion. Cousins spoke about why Shanahan does such a great job with young QBs.

I think he does a great job first of all running the football. And I think he does a great job being multiple in how he presents his offense to a defense with motions and shifts and fly motions, personnel groupings and I think he can just do a good job in staying very multiple. Ultimately, he’s being creative with the plan to keep people off balance.

Cousins and Garoppolo may not be top ten QBs, but the success that Shanahan has had with them proves that an OC has great influence on the success of young QBs. Of course you need talent to work with. Whereas Garoppolo is 31-14 as a starter in San Francisco, Nick Mullens was 5-11, C. J. Beathard was 2-10 and Brian Hoyer was 0-6. A good coordinator can make a difference, but he is not a guarantee of success. Hopefully with Shanahan disciple Mike LaFleur as OC, Zach Wilson will maximize his chances of success.

QB Talent

Just like a receiver has to have a certain amount of speed or a running back has to have enough quickness/power/speed/vision to succeed, a QB has to have enough talent. The problem is that everyone in the NFL defines talent a different way. Is talent intelligence, arm strength, accuracy, leadership, mobility or something else? If you ask 10 scouts you might get 15 answers.

This is why the QB position is the hardest position to scout in the NFL. I have studied college QBs for decades and I don’t have a crystal ball to determine their future sucess, but I have criteria I look for in a signal caller.

Every team has a hierarchy of traits they look for with arm talent, leadership, mobility, intelligence, confidence and work ethic listed in different orders. Let’s look at these and how Zach Wilson measures up to these traits.

Work Ethic

Nothing replaces a quality work ethic for growth in a QB. Any QB, no matter how talented, will fail as an NFL QB if he doesn’t work hard. A QB has to not only learn but absorb an offense. He needs to be able to tell every offensive player what he needs to do on every play. He has to gain a working relationship with a wide variety of receivers. Every receiver has his own idea where he likes the ball placed and what speed he likes on the throw. The QB has the same relationship (albeit a little different) with his RBs too. How they like the ball given to them, when they get it so they can read a defense in front of them and so on.

The QB has the entire offense on his back every series, he is the motor that drives the offense. He has to study the defense, then be able to get his team out of bad situations by changing the play into something that will work. He has to work on his own game, his technique and continue growth from year to year.

I remember watching Peyton Manning at Tennessee doing drills that worked on his footwork to keep him at least semi mobile in the pocket. Manning was never a running QB, but he could avoid rushes and continue the play. I saw Peyton Manning in training camp in 2015 (his last year in the league) doing the same footwork drills he did at Tennessee. He never stopped trying to give himself a little edge.

Zach Wilson is said to be maniacal in his work ethic and in working on his technique. This bodes well for his future if this is true.


A QB has to be the leader of an offense. He can get help at times from some of the big uglies, but he still has to have great leadership. The NFL season is a long and arduous journey that tries men’s souls. Players can pull it together through it all and work as a team if they have a belief in their leader. A Brett Favre or Tom Brady gives the team hope even if they are down big late in a game. A rally or two for a win would be significant if Zach Wilson can do it. Players don’t forget those comebacks, they build faith throughout the team.

Zach Wilson has not shown that quality as of yet. We will be looking for that aspect of his game this season. If he leads his team throughout this season and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat once or twice we will witness the birth of a leader. A leader is born on the field against an enemy.


Zach has more than enough mobility to be effective as an NFL QB. He will learn more about how to use his mobility the more he plays. Obviously some will point to the injury he suffered on his scramble against the Eagles, but the goal is still for Wilson to be an effective threat to run, which keeps linebackers from gaining enough depth to stop intermediate crossing routes. If Zach can get two or three first downs a game with his feet he can keep the chains moving, increasing the chances of scoring. If we presume no lingering issues after returning from injury, Zach has the necessary mobility. He just has to learn how to use it smartly to help the offense while staying healthy all year.


Zack has shown the intelligence to learn a playbook quickly. I am sure the Jets chose to spoon feed Zach his first year, but now after a year with the playbook he should be well versed in most of the sets and plays. What is going to be a learning curve is checking out of plays due to the defensive alignment and into better plays for the situation.

Where Wilson needs to grow is game day intelligence. He needs to improve his ability to move safeties with his eyes and understand where his best options in the passing game are pre-snap. Once he figures out better game day intelligence his confidence will soar and his effectiveness will skyrocket.


Confidence is something earned, not given, and it comes from inside a player. Wilson’s knowledge of the offense should be greater this year, but confidence comes with success, so he would benefit greatly from some early season wins against quality competition. If that were to happen his confidence would grow exponentially with each win.


Does a player grow from year to year? From college to the pro game different factors can affect growth. It was in year three at BYU where Zach saw his biggest growth. Part of that is a better understanding of the offense plus more familiarity with teammates, but his work in the offseason with John Beck was the biggest factor in his growth. This year Zach doesn’t have to be a star, but he needs to show some growth in year two across the board to show he is moving in the right direction.

That growth will need to be in all aspects of the game: understanding the offense, leadership, making smart decisions, reading defenses, making off script plays, better movement and being smart with his legs. The growth may be subtle at times, but you should see an overall better product from Zach.

It was year three that Josh Allen became a top ten QB and that growth came with offseason work on his mechanics. If Zach doesn’t have that great sophomore leap in 2022 all is not necessarily lost. Every QB needs to work on mechanics in the offseason, it’s how they stay on top of their game. Zach works on his mechanics with John Beck so hopefully he has increased his effectiveness with better mechanics.

There are many different factors that will define the 2022 season for the Jets and Zach Wilson. Since Zach is still an NFL neophyte it may take a little time to get to where the Jets want to be. Whether or not Wilson grows sufficiently in his game will be in your eyes. You will have to determine his status and it should be plain to see. Just don’t get overanxious, let it come naturally. If the progression is there you will see it, if is not enough for your liking I would give it time. It can’t be rushed.

The Jets have a destination they want to finally get to. Once there it will be glorious. But remember to enjoy the journey!