Don’t compare Zach Wilson to Justin Fields (or Sam Darnold)

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By: Ian Roddy

NY Jets QB Zach Wilson should be allowed to develop at his own pace

It might be a hard pill to swallow for New York Jets fans, but Justin Fields has arrived, and the emergence of the Chicago Bears’ second-year signal-caller in recent weeks has been a sight to behold.

In a Week 9 game against the Miami Dolphins, Fields, 23, set the regular season record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game with 178. This broke the previous mark of 173, set by Michael Vick in 2002. Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards in a playoff victory over Green Bay during the 2012 season.

Even before his explosion against Miami, Fields had been steadily trending upwards over the previous few games. That has been due, in large part, to the offensive coaching staff, led by Luke Getsy, utilizing Fields’ legs and athleticism more. In the three games preceding his explosion vs. Miami, Fields registered rushing-yardage totals of 60, 82 and 88, also logging two rushing touchdowns during that time.

The purpose of all of this isn’t to dog on Zach Wilson or to discourage Jets fans — in fact, Wilson has probably been the next best quarterback from the 2021 class so far this season, and that truly bodes well for the future.

Rewind to 2019, when Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen were all in their second year. It was that season that really started to reveal who the good and bad quarterbacks were from that class.

Jackson, in just his second year in the league, won MVP. It was inarguably his breakout year.

For Allen, it was an up and down season, but the important thing was that he showed promise and was progressing in his development.

Darnold was the concerning one. Whether it was the mono, the “seeing ghosts” game, or even just his turnovers week after week (after week), that was really the year where it started to become apparent (or at least it should have) that Darnold wasn’t the answer for the Jets.

The 2022 Bears, like the Ravens in 2019, are quickly discovering that their gamble on a run-first quarterback was a smart one. Fields, like Jackson, is already setting NFL records in just his second season. He probably won’t win the MVP like Jackson, but he’s certainly proven himself an impressive, dynamic NFL signal caller.

But don’t let Fields’ year 2 similarities to Jackson convince you Wilson must be another Darnold.

People progress at different rates, and one of the most encouraging things we’ve seen out of the 23-year-old Wilson is his ability to take direction — something Darnold seemed to struggle mightily with. A perfect example of this for Wilson could be seen just last week against the Buffalo Bills.

After Wilson’s horrific showing against the Patriots, the consensus came down to a couple of things: first, he needed to get rid of the ball quicker — his average time to throw against New England was 3.51 seconds, comfortably the highest in the league. And second, he needed to take off and use his legs more — he had one rush attempt for two yards in the loss.

The very next week, against arguably the best defense in football in the Buffalo Bills, Wilson’s average time to throw was down to 2.31 seconds — significantly faster by football standards. He also rushed five times for 24 yards and protected the football, finishing with no interceptions. Most importantly, though, he got the win.

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And before knocking Wilson too hard for his performance against New England, remember that Bill Belichick is one of the smartest football minds in the history of the sport. Belichick, more than any other coach in the league, knows how to mess with young quarterbacks and get in their head with defensive tricks. Look no further than his stout record of 42-4 against rookie and second-year quarterbacks at home.

That’s why, when you add in the additional context of how much Belichick hates the Jets, it really isn’t all that surprising that he came out with a particularly strong gameplan to mess with the young Wilson’s head.

But hold up Wilson’s Year 2 Patriots disaster next to Darnold’s, who threw for 86 yards and four interceptions. Darnold was so bad in fact, that his “seeing ghosts” quote (caught by ESPN’s broadcast during the game) has since become an entirely new saying to represent poor QB play.

Wilson on the other hand, as bad as he was with his decision making and the three picks, threw for a career high 355 yards to go with two touchdowns — there’s absolutely no comparison.

It’s also worth noting how each QB responded the following week.

Darnold, in a losing effort against Jacksonville, threw another three interceptions. Wilson, against the big bad Bills, got the win for his team, while also improving dramatically in the areas he struggled most in.

Yes, Wilson had three awful interceptions against New England. So did Josh Allen in his second year. Lamar Jackson threw four picks against the Browns last year. Joe Burrow threw four against Pittsburgh in Week 1 of this year. The point is, a bad game doesn’t make or break a career. It’s about how you bounce back.

Jets fans can’t allow Fields’ rapid ascension to speed up their clock on Wilson. Human beings progress in different areas at different rates, and Wilson is still in only his second year, showing an impressive ability to take direction. He’s head and shoulders above where Darnold was by this point and is leading an arguably playoff-caliber football team.

Wilson gets another crack at the Patriots defense following this week’s bye.

Next Article: Film review of Zach Wilson’s confident, decisive performance vs. Bills 

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