We’ve waited all offseason to see the debuts of some of the most hyped rookie quarterback prospects we’ve seen in years. Among those rookies was the New York Jets’ new QB1: Zach Wilson out of BYU. New York couldn’t quite find their first “W” in Carolina, but Wilson gave the Jets reasons to believe they made the right choice when they took him second overall in this year’s draft.
Looking at the box score alone, Wilson’s debut didn’t look all that flashy. He finished 20-of-37 (54.1%) for 258 yards with a couple of touchdowns and an interception. Wilson had a tough first half (6-of-16 on pass attempts) that dragged down some of his numbers, but he managed to improve his completion rate in the second half and eat away at the Jets’ 16-0 halftime deficit.
Outside of just his numbers, it was clear that much of the fault for the loss didn’t lie with Wilson. The lack of consistent pass protection on the offensive line was a far bigger problem. Even then, it didn’t take away from everything there was to like in Wilson’s raw talent. In 19 first-half dropbacks, the Panthers defense pressured Wilson on 10 of them. On those 10 pressures, the rookie went 0-of-7 and was sacked three times. Despite disappointing numbers on those pressures, Wilson showed that he was mobile inside the pocket and able to keep his eyes downfield.
Wilson’s receivers shared in some of the blame for the Jets’ offensive woes as well, with several catchable passes dropped in key moments. Even the interception was more of a defensive highlight than a Wilson lowlight.
He made a good read, looking for Ryan Griffin on a post route up the middle. When he tried to squeeze his throw between fellow first-rounder Jaycee Horn and outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, he didn’t quite get the height he needed. Thompson got a hand on it and tipped it to himself to finish the highlight-reel pick.
The second half saw the biggest flashes of Wilson’s talent, and his line in the latter two quarters—14-of-21 for 174 yards, both touchdowns, and a two-point conversion—reflected it. He began the third quarter with a few bad throws that were unforced errors, but he finished it with a solid eight-play, 70-yard touchdown drive. That first scoring drive for the Jets included an impressive pass across his body to convert on third down and a pressure-induced rollout a few plays later that Wilson turned into a 22-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis.
His good read to keep the ball on the subsequent option play gave the Jets two more points and cut their 16-point deficit in half.
Toward the end of the fourth quarter, Wilson led the Jets on a 90-yard drive for a second score, with the highlight of the drive coming on a beautiful conversion on 4th-and-8. After a deep incompletion on the previous play, Wilson found Braxton Berrios in a hole in the Panthers’ zone coverage for 25 yards and the first down. A few plays later, he zipped a pass to Davis to beat Horn’s coverage on an out route for the tandem’s second touchdown of the day.
Though he made a few unforced errors in his first game, that’s really to be expected of any quarterback—especially a rookie—once in a while. It was clear that Wilson’s biggest detriment was the last of protection up front. When he had more time in the pocket, he was able to go through his reads and take advantage of what the defense gave him. Even under pressure, Wilson showed mobility in the pocket while consistently keeping his eyes downfield.
Through one start, the second overall pick has done more than enough to prove the Jets can build around him in the coming years.