The Jets will have a new starting quarterback in 2021. Sam Darnold, who started in each of the three previous season openers, was traded to Carolina in April in exchange for three draft picks. Darnold was 13-25 as a starter with the Jets after being taken with the No. 3 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Last season, he completed 59.6% of his passes for 2,208 yards with 9 TDs and 11 INTs. Following the deal, the Jets quickly addressed the QB position at the top of the draft with the No. 2 overall selection of BYU signal-caller Zach Wilson.
Jets GM Joe Douglas said of Wilson: "Love the confidence. Love the energy. Love the passion. You see, just in our zoom calls, one of the things that really stood out was just his intensity. He was on the edge of his seat. He was close to the camera. You could tell how intensely focused he was and then on top of it, just his mental horsepower, the recall going through these plays and knowing exactly the situation, the play call, the audibles, how the defense was going to react. So, just really impressive. Every hurdle that we had in our pre-draft process, we felt like he cleared."
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Wilson might have been taken one spot after Trevor Lawrence, who went No. 1 overall to Jacksonville, but the former was the most productive player in college football last season. Leading BYU to an 11-1 record and their second bowl win with him leading the way, Wilson connected on 73.5% of his passes for 3,692 yards with 33 TDs. Despite being known as a gunslinger, he protected the football and had only 3 INTs. A good athlete, Wilson is accurate from the pocket but can create in chaos. He can throw from different arm angles while moving in any direction and get it there on time despite being off platform.
Head Coach Robert Saleh said of Wilson: "The things we value out of our quarterback play, he checks every box," Arm strength and accuracy? Check. Making off-schedule plays? Check. Making right decisions of where he needs to go without turning the ball over? Check. He's a special young man. His mental horsepower is through the roof."
The headband-wearing Wilson, who will wear No. 2 for the Jets, plays the game with moxie and carries himself with confidence. And make no mistake — the Jets love his intangibles.
"I'm a big believer in bringing the guys around you together, having a strong connection with them, so that's the leader I'm going to be," the QB said. "I'm going to be the man they can look up to and call for any advice, any help they ever need. And as a player I'm going to make sure I'm in the facility every single day giving it everything I have, because I want to do whatever I can to make sure this team is on the right track and we're getting all the right things done."
The Jets have three quarterbacks on the roster — Wilson, third-year pro Mike White and 2020 fourth-round pick James Morgan — and the trio have combined for no snaps in the NFL. If Wilson, who will turn 22 on Aug. 3, starts on opening day, he will become the second-youngest QB to start for the Jets. (Coincidentally, the Jets will see the youngest, Darnold, when they matchup with the Panthers on Sunday, Sept. 12.)
"I can go in the film room and try to grind and learn the offense as quick as I can, but I don't think I have any extra pressure on myself to do more than I'm supposed to," Wilson said this spring. "Simplify my reads, make quick decisions, get the ball out of my hand, and let the playmakers around me make the plays. I really don't have to put more thought into it than that."
Will the Jets add a veteran QB to the room? They hosted Brian Hoyer for a visit in April, but the veteran signed a deal in May to return to the Patriots. Nick Mullens, who played for Mike LaFleur in San Francisco and started eight games last season, is still on the market. Joe Douglas could hold steady or wait to see who springs free later in the summer.
Wilson already impressed his rookie teammates with his energy and positivity. He likes the QB-friendly offense Mike LaFleur is employing and this is the place he wanted to be.
"When you can be a key piece that actually flips an organization around, I think that's so special," Wilson said. "So I'm excited, me along with this new coaching staff as well, to go in there and try to do the best we can to flip this thing around."
See the Jets QBs Leading Up to the 2021 Season