He was called the Disney quarterback by an ESPN panel Thursday night.
It’s perhaps a fitting description of the youthful looking former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, who’d assuredly be happy with engineering a Disney-esque storybook ending during his tenure with the New York Jets.
One thing is for certain: the Jets’ selection of Wilson at the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft will be long scrutinized and analyzed. It’s the nature of the beast, especially in the New York media market.
What’s some of the initial analysis of the pick?
The back page treatment
New York papers are known for their creative headlines and over-the-top imagery. Here’s how the Wilson selection was treated by the print product.
From the New York Daily News:
And the New York Post:
How adding an offensive lineman improved the day
The Jets also had the No. 23 pick heading into the night, but traded up nine spots with Minnesota. With the No. 14 overall pick, New York took USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker to bolster a Jets offensive line that gave up 43 sacks in 2020.
“After taking BYU signal-caller Zach Wilson at No. 2, the Jets immediately committed to building around him, sliding up to No. 14 to take USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said. “They took advantage of their stockpile of draft picks over the next few years and targeted the top guard in the class to shore up the offensive line. I think Vera-Tucker can quickly become a Pro Bowl-caliber interior lineman.”
USA Today’s Nate Davis called Jets general manager Joe Douglas one of the winners of the night, and the move for Vera-Tucker was a key part to that.
“(Douglas’) first draft came in 2020, so you could argue he didn’t have requisite time to save the previous face of the franchise, departed QB Sam Darnold, whom Douglas didn’t choose,” Davis wrote. “But after deciding on a fresh start under center with BYU’s Wilson at No. 2, Douglas immediately went to work protecting his new investment — trading up for USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, who should team with 2020 first-round LT Mekhi Becton to give the Jets the makings of an ascendant offensive line in front of their baby-faced passer.”
Grading the Wilson pick
CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco gave the selection a B grade: “I like him as a player, but I would have taken Justin Fields in this spot. Fields will be a better quarterback.”
NFL.com’s Chad Reuter rated the Jets’ Day 1 haul a B+, praising Wilson’s skills while also questioning how he stacks up against the rest of the quarterbacks in this year’s class.
“Wilson’s athleticism, accuracy and competitive fire are worthy of the No. 2 pick. He seems like a great fit in the “Shanahan East” offense Mike LaFleur, who came over from the 49ers with (Robert) Saleh, is expected to run,” Reuter wrote. “... But will he be better than Justin Fields or Trey Lance? Is Wilson’s feel for the passing game, his ability to find secondary targets in and out of structure, really better than the other two? Only time will tell whether any (or all) of the three passers becomes the all-around talent the Jets desired at this pick.”
Reuter also liked New York’s trade up for Vera-Tucker, while critiquing what the team gave up in the trade — the Jets sent the No. 23, 66 and 86 picks to the Vikings for the No. 14 and 143 to Minnesota to get Vera-Tucker, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. “I had to mark this trade down a bit, though, because giving up two third-round selections, even though they’re receiving a fourth-rounder in return, was a bit much,” Reuter wrote.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. wasn’t a big fan of the Wilson selection. He instead contended that Wilson hasn’t shown he is significantly better than Sam Darnold, who New York drafted No. 3 overall in 2018 but traded to Carolina this offseason. That move paved the way for Wilson to head to the Big Apple.
“We’ve known the Jets’ pick at No. 2 for weeks, but that doesn’t mean it is the right pick. Look, I like Wilson, and he has elite arm talent, but for the Jets to trade away Sam Darnold, they have to know for sure that Wilson is an upgrade. How can we say that for sure?,” Kiper wrote.
“Darnold got very little help in his three seasons in New York, and he’s still only 23. He hasn’t come even close to reaching his ceiling yet. The Jets could have used this pick on a massive upgrade around Darnold — most likely tight end Kyle Pitts — but instead they’re starting over with another young quarterback. In fact, the Jets have now taken seven first- or second-round signal-callers since 2000, two more than any other franchise in that span.”
Why this pick has to work out for the Jets, and for Wilson
There’s one prevailing theme after New York selected its latest hope for a franchise quarterback: for Douglas, his legacy as Jets GM will be tied to how Wilson’s career pans out, especially after the team traded away Darnold.
“After emerging seemingly in a flash this past year, Wilson is being hurled into what will be the most intense environment for any rookie QB this season,” The Ringer’s Kaelen Jones wrote. “If Wilson lives up to the hype, it wouldn’t be the first time in his career he’s defied long odds. But history suggests it’ll be an uphill climb to become New York’s long-awaited savior.”
Jones ran an evaluation of when quarterbacks were chosen with the top two picks in the draft, comparing how picks at each spot performed in their careers. Nearly across the board, finding success with a quarterback at the No. 2 pick, like Wilson was Thursday night, was a bigger crapshoot than using the top pick on a signal-caller.
“No rookie QB situation is exactly the same. In assessing the Jets, it’s easy to see cases for why Wilson might or might not succeed. The bad news for Wilson: The Jets have looked startlingly inept over the past decade and the pressure is on him to perform at a high level,” Jones wrote.
“Amid all the hype, there’s at least some concern about how well Wilson will transition to New York, which has been a tough place for QBs to succeed. Zero Jets passers amassed 4,000 yards in a single season during the 16-game era — this fan base is desperate for a quarterback to break through.”
It’s that decadeslong failure to find a franchise quarterback that haunts the Jets franchise, The Athletic’s Connor Hughes explains, and one giant shadow that Wilson is stepping into.
“Broadway Vinny … Chad … Mark … Geno … and Sam are among the many to come before Zach. All tried, but ultimately failed, to fit in Joe Namath’s fur coat,” Hughes wrote. “For some, injuries played a role in their misfortune. It’s the NFL: You can’t control that. For others, it was the Jets’ own misevaluation. It’s the NFL draft: That happens. But the reason this draft night feels a little off is that it wasn’t injuries or misfortune that ended Sam Darnold’s run as savior. The Jets drafted a quarterback second overall, four years after drafting a quarterback third overall, because they failed Darnold as much as he failed them.”
Leave it to the New York Post to summarize the task ahead for Wilson, a Utah native who excelled at Corner Canyon High, well away from the bright lights of NYC.
“Zach Wilson is on the clock. He can’t wait,” the Post’s Steve Serby wrote. “And neither can the Jets and their fans, who have been tormented by too many quarterbacks who followed Broadway Joe. Let another honeymoon begin.”