The narrative for Zach Wilson’s sophomore season took a turn last Friday, when the New York Jets starting quarterback left the team’s preseason opener with a knee injury.

While it wasn’t a season-ending injury, it could have an impact on his development, and there are still questions when the former BYU QB will return to the field.

ESPN NFL draft expert Todd McShay took an extended look at what Wilson, and five other quarterbacks who started multiple games last year as rookies, could improve on in the 2022 season.

That list includes the five QBs who were taken in the 2021 draft’s top 15 picks — Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, Wilson, San Francisco’s Trey Lance, Chicago’s Justin Fields and New England’s Mac Jones — as well as Houston’s Davis Mills, a third-round selection.

Will Zach Wilson be back for the start of the regular season?
Zach Wilson will reportedly miss 2-4 weeks with bone bruise and meniscus tear

For Wilson, McShay sees several areas for the quarterback to further develop his skills after the Utah native endured a challenging rookie campaign.

In reviewing Wilson’s 2021 season, McShay noted that he “was swimming a bit” to start the year and, as a result, had four touchdown passes to nine interceptions through seven weeks, when a knee injury sidelined for a few weeks.

When Wilson returned to the field, though, he showed a bit more poise and decisiveness, McShay said, while putting up five touchdown passes and just two interceptions over his final seven games.

“Wilson’s off-platform ability and arm strength were big parts of his scouting report coming out of BYU, and they are both still there,” McShay wrote. “But he’ll likely have to ease back into things when moving outside the pocket once he recovers from his bone bruise and meniscus tear. He is expected to miss two to four weeks.”

So, what can fans hope to see refined in Wilson’s game when he returns?

McShay believes there are a few areas of improvement that need to happen with Wilson, among them getting the ball out faster, as well as improving his completion rate on shorter throws, or “layups.”

“Wilson averaged 3.0 seconds before getting rid of the ball, second worst in the NFL behind Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. His 9.9% sack rate was 30th, but the offensive line was 17th in pass block win rate at 60.5%,” McShay wrote.

He added: “Wilson’s completion percentage when targeting running backs was 57.1% last season, worst in the NFL. His 57.0% rate when targeting any receiver behind the line of scrimmage (49 of 86) was also the bottom of the league. … Hitting those easy ones will also help a great deal in letting Wilson do what he does best. 

“Picking up a few yards on first down with a swing pass makes for a better setup on second down — and builds confidence.” 

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There is some optimism regarding Wilson’s development that isn’t just about him, though. It’s tied to the young talent the franchise is surrounding him with.

The Athletic’s Nick Baumgartner identified two of Wilson’s fellow second-year skill position teammates who could have a breakout season — running back Michael Carter and wide receiver Elijah Moore.

“The Jets didn’t overload Carter last year, instead having him split carries with Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson. He’ll share a workload with Breece Hall this season,” Baumgartner wrote.

As for Moore, “The second-rounder out of Ole Miss plays with great body control in the air and will finish on difficult throws. He’ll be a problem for NFL defenses if he stays healthy.”

McShay cited the Jets’ offseason additions as a reason for optimism as well.

Other players New York has added on offense include receiver Garrett Willson, the No. 10 overall draft pick back in April, tight end C.J. Uzomah, Hall (a Day 2 draft pick) and veteran linemen like guard Laken Tomlinson and tackle Duane Brown.

“All of this is to say that the Jets are making an effort to give Wilson what he needs to be successful,” McShay said.