Zach Wilson, the New York Jets’ rookie quarterback from BYU and Draper, had a bad day at the office last Sunday, throwing four interceptions (including his first two passes) in a 25-6 loss to the New England Patriots and fellow rookie quarterback Mac Jones. That’s one more interception than Wilson threw in 12 games last season at BYU.
So much for his NFL home debut, which ended with boos. “They should be booing, right?” Wilson said when asked about it afterward.
Welcome to New York and the NFL.
For the Jets, it was a repeat of another game against the Patriots just two years ago in which Wilson’s predecessor, Sam Darnold, threw four picks in a 33-0 loss.
Darnold is now thriving with the Carolina Panthers.
It’s almost as if the Jets are the problem.
The Jets said they would take steps to protect their rookie. Wilson has been sacked 10 times in two games. Wilson can pass effectively from many angles, but flat on his back isn’t one of them. Darnold was sacked 98 times in three seasons as the Jets’ quarterback.
This seems like a good time to mention that the Jets have drafted 12 quarterbacks in the last 16 years, five in the first two rounds. They made Darnold the third overall pick of the 2018 draft and they dumped him after three seasons and nabbed Wilson with the second pick.
Well, it’s not as if Wilson is the only rookie quarterback who has struggled to adapt to the lightning fast NFL world. Going from the college game to the pros is like stepping off one of those moving airport sidewalks onto I-15 during rush hour. And quarterback is the most difficult position in sports.
A quick look at the five quarterbacks who were taken in the first round of last spring’s NFL draft tells the story. The simple way to quantify a quarterback’s effectiveness is to look at the touchdown-to-interception ratio and the yards per attempt. Wilson has two TD passes to five interceptions and averages 6.7 yards per attempt. An average YPA is 6.8-6.9. Justin Fields is 0:1 and 4.7. Trevor Lawrence, the first pick of the draft, just ahead of Wilson, is 4:5 and 6.8. Mac Jones is 1:0 and 6.8 and has a passer rating of 96.7 — about 40 points better than his nearest rookie rivals. Trey Lance hasn’t played enough to warrant a ranking.
How rough is it for young quarterbacks breaking into the league? As noted by Pro Football Talk, of the 22 quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 2009 and 2016, none is still playing for his original team this season and several are out of football.
The draftees: Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, EJ Manuel, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz,and Paxton Lynch.
Here’s a look at some of the the quarterbacks who weathered the break-in period:
Matt Ryan, the great Falcons quarterback, threw 16 TD passes and 11 interceptions and averaged 7.9 yards per attempt. Not bad.
Matt Stafford, who has had a long, successful career, threw 13 touchdowns and 20 interceptions and averaged only 6 yards per attempt. Not good.
Peyton Manning, the Hall of Famer, threw 26 TDs and 28 interceptions, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt.
Tom Brady and Drew Brees played in only one game as rookies.
Josh Allen, the great young Bills quarterback, wasn’t so great as a rookie — 10 TD passes, 12 interceptions, a paltry 5.4 yards per attempt.
Ben Roethlisberger, Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson, on the other hand, had fabulous rookie seasons — Roethlisberger 17 TDs, 11 interceptions, 8.9 yards per attempt; Prescott 23 TDs, 4 interceptions, 8 yards per attempt; Wilson 26/10/8.1.
It’s difficult enough for young quarterbacks to adapt to the NFL game, but then they also face the added pressure of media scrutiny. The media follows rookie quarterbacks the way “Entertainment Tonight” follows the Kardashians. There are weekly rookie quarterback rankings all over the internet.
Headline on CBS: “Zach Wilson tumbles, Mac Jones on right track.” Headline in The Sporting News: “NFL Week 2 rookie QB grades: Zach Wilson flunks, Justin Fields flashes and Trevor Lawrence flounders.” The story graded each quarterback’s performance that week — Jones received a B, Fields a C+, Trevor Lawrence a D, Zach Wilson an F, Trey Lance an “incomplete.”
Only a week earlier, Wilson had won praise for his first game in the league, completing 20 of 37 passes for 258 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. In Week 2, he completed 19 of 33 passes for 210 yards, four picks and no touchdowns.
“ … we’ve just got to execute better across the board,” he told reporters afterward. “I’m going to take that this week and it’s on my shoulders. I’ve got to do better.”
At least the rookie knows the right things to say.