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The burden of expectations: Quarterback Zach Wilson and his perceived level of performance

Are we being too hard on Zach Wilson?

NFL: New York Jets at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

New York Jets Quarterback Zach Wilson was expected to hold a clipboard for the 2023 season. However, that plan changed when quarterback Aaron Rodgers got hurt in the first drive of the New York Jets first game.

Since then, Wilson’s performance has been hit and miss.

More specifically, his first 3 games were rather “miss” as he put together a stat line of 44 for 84 (52% completion rating) with 467 yards (5.56 yards per attempt and ~155 yards per game), 4 interceptions, and only two touchdowns. After these games, the calls for Wilson to be benched got pretty loud as evidenced by the Jets’ signing of mediocre-at-best QB Trevor Siemian.

Then, however, he bounced back against the Kansas City Chiefs as he went 28 for 39 (71.8% completion rating) with 245 yards (6.3 yards per attempt), 0 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns in a game that was most certainly a “hit.” After this game, the praise was palpable and for good reason as he outproduced reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes.

This week though was a bit different. Statistically Zach was really good with a stat line of 19 for 26 (73.1% completion rating) with 200 yards (7.7 yards per attempt), 1 interception, and 0 touchdowns. However, despite that, the general feeling around Zach’s performance is pretty lukewarm (at best).

I guess my question is “why?”

Generally speaking, a 60% completion rating is considered good and 7.0 yards per attempt is good... and he clearly passed both thresholds. He even had 26 yards on the ground on 3 carries, which is a nice add, and his team won the game, so what’s the issue? The one interception? Really? Tough crowd, especially when there’s an argument to be made that the interception was more on the wideout than it was the quarterback.

While I ask the question, I already know the answer in reality. It’s because it’s year 3 and Zach was taken with the second overall pick in the draft and a game without any touchdowns is among his better starts. I get the frustration. It’s a tough sell as a reason for optimism given Zach’s career to date and I’ll acknowledge as much.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that Zach isn’t a conventional third year player. Through two 17 game seasons and then 5 weeks of this season, he’s only played in 27 games due to injuries and being benched. If we want to view that from a development lens, he’s really only in the second half of year 2 from a snaps on the field perspective... and if we want to get really down in the weeds, that’s right about the point where Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback and Zach’s draft classmate Trevor Lawrence started to put it together before ascending safely into the top 10 quarterback conversation.

Of note, Wilson’s 25th game was the game against the New England Patriots in Week 3... which was then proceeded by significantly better performances in his 26th and 27th games against the Kansas Chiefs Chiefs and the Denver Broncos, respectively. Is it a coincidence? Probably. However, we might’ve said the same about Trevor Lawrence’s 26th and 27th games all the same and we would’ve been wrong.

Additionally, we don’t need to hold him to the second overall pick standard anymore. He isn’t supposed to be the franchise QB. That’s supposed to be Aaron Rodgers. He isn’t supposed to carry this team to victory. That’s supposed to be on the defense. In reality, he’s a backup QB thrust into a starting role and I can’t imagine too many teams would be upset about a backup QB who had a 70% completion rating, over 7.5 yards per attempt, and minimal turnovers. Within that context, he’s been nothing short of exceptional the last 2 weeks and we can praise that even if it isn’t the Hall of Fame caliber QB that we all dreamed of when he was drafted.

And who knows? Maybe in a few more weeks we’ll be talking about how everything seemed to click for Zach Wilson after game 25 like it seems to have happened for Trevor Lawrence. At that point, we might have yet another QB controversy, but for a change it would be which of the good options to play instead of which of the bad... now wouldn’t that be nice?