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Quarterback Zach Wilson benched by New York Jets after week 10

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since the days of Joe Namath, the New York Jets have been searching for their next star, franchise-changing quarterback. 

Many have been tapped for the role. Some, like Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington, found moderate success, while others, like Sam Darnold and Geno Smith, were immediate failures. 

Zach Wilson was the latest quarterback called upon by the Jets to fill that role. Taken with the second pick in the 2021 draft out of Brigham Young University, 6’2’’ Wilson had sky-high expectations entering the league. 

Wilson’s college career was nothing to write home about – certainly not second-pick-worthy – until his junior (and final) season, in which he threw for over 3,600 yards and 33 touchdowns, more than doubling the total from his freshman season. 

This season was compounded by an astounding pro day where Wilson made breathtaking throw after breathtaking throw, wowing NFL scouts and executives who saw shades of NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes in him. 

After his pro day, NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler received a text from an anonymous NFL scout that contained a simple message – “Draft starts at 3. Wilson going 2.” 

Not everyone was so positive about Wilson, however. A prominent figure who was not high on Wilson, to put it lightly, was Jets scout Daniel Kelly.

His pre-draft analysis on Wilson included barbs such as, “There is a lot of hype surrounding this kid, but in reality, he looks like a glorified high school quarterback who excels at sandlot football. He will be an interception machine in the NFL,” and “His uncle owns JetBlue airlines. I would need to get a clear understanding and feel for his level of entitlement, whether it is low or high. That would be a must.” 

Kelly received widespread criticism for these comments, especially when his former employer selected Wilson with the second pick in the NFL Draft. Unfortunately for Jets fans, Kelly’s appraisal of Wilson has proved to be very accurate through Wilson’s first two years in the league. 

Wilson finished his first season starting 13 games with a record of 3-10. In those 13 games, he threw for 2,334 yards, nine touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, and was widely considered one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. In a 25-6 loss to the New England Patriots, Wilson threw zero touchdowns and four interceptions, a clear low point for the young quarterback. 

However, one season is not a career. Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, had a notoriously poor start to his NFL campaign. The Jets, and pragmatic head coach Robert Saleh, were not giving up on Wilson yet.

While the Jets remained positive towards Wilson, entering his second season, the leash was undoubtedly tightened. After missing the first three games with an injury sustained in the preseason, Wilson came back, and the 1-2 Jets reeled off four straight wins.

These wins were no thanks to Wilson, though. Popular opinion, as well as the eye test, indicated the Jets were winning games in spite of Wilson’s poor play and instead because of a stifling defense led by Quinnen Williams and rookie Sauce Gardner. 

The breaking point for Wilson came after a 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots. Wilson finished the game, completing nine passes in 22 attempts for a grand total of 77 yards. 

The moment that doomed Wilson was not an overthrown pass or inexcusable interception, however. Asked in a postgame press conference if he felt he let his defense down, he simply stated “No.” This blatant lack of accountability all but confirmed Kelly’s estimation of Wilson’s entitlement level.  

In response, Jets head coach Robert Saleh benched Wilson for the foreseeable future, stating, “Some basic, fundamental things have gotten really out of whack for him,” but did not eliminate the chance of Wilson playing for the Jets again.

Zach’s career here is not over,” Saleh said. “I know that’s going to be the narrative and I know that’s what everybody wants to shout out, but that’s not even close to the case.” 

To Wilson’s credit, he accepted responsibility for his mistake in front of the entire Jets team, apologizing for his lack of accountability. In a press conference following the apology, he stated, “It was the only thing I could think of the last couple of days. I wanted the opportunity to talk to those guys and really make it from the heart.”

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