Coach Robert Saleh stated ahead of the New York Jets’ second preseason game that rookie quarterback Zach Wilson would play one or two more series than the two he saw in his debut last week.
Wilson took advantage of his enhanced exposure on Saturday afternoon in front of a national audience.
Wilson had four drives against the Green Bay Packers in the first half, three of which resulted in points. Wilson completed his third and fourth marches with touchdown passes to fellow first-year Jets player Tyler Kroft. His first drive ended with a Matt Ammendola 53-yard field goal, and his second ended with a punt near Packers territory after Saleh took the ball away from Wilson on third- and fourth-and-1.
In the 23-14 win over the Packers, the No. 2 overall pick completed 9 of 11 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns, enough for a 154.7 passer rating. According to NFL Research, all of those numbers are higher than what former Jets top-three choice and “franchise quarterback” Sam Darnold put up in a preseason game with the Jets in 2018 and 2019.
Although it was only a mid-afternoon preseason start against a Packers defense stacked with second-stringers, Wilson’s second strong performance in as many weeks is welcome news for a team that has only received awful injury news this week with the loss of Carl Lawson.
Wilson’s performance on Saturday made it easy to forget about that departure and dismiss any notion that the Jets’ future is in doubt.
Wilson’s rapid progressions and even faster trigger were on display versus Green Bay, and he seemed unfazed in Gang Green’s pocket, instinctively sliding back with his eyes up if his first reads weren’t open. Wilson’s mobility on designed boots, including on Kroft’s second touchdown, was razor-sharp; his ball placement, particularly on Kroft’s first touchdown and a few dumpoffs, was even more spectacular.
Wilson completed two third-down passes, both to Corey Davis, who has emerged as Wilson’s go-to target between the 20s, with Elijah Moore also sidelined by injury. Davis had a total of 70 yards on four catches on six targets. He was also the target on Wilson’s second third-down attempt, which was on target but well intercepted by Packers rookie CB Eric Stokes. Wilson’s most assured toss of the afternoon, a 27-yard catch at Green Bay’s 16-yard line at the conclusion of the first quarter, was symptomatic of a blossoming mind-meld with the veteran free-agent acquisition from Tennessee.
“He’s a great player,” Wilson said of Davis after the game. “I really enjoy… I just have a lot of trust in him and all his 1-on-1 routes that he’s gonna get open. I hope he’s got trust I’m gonna get him the ball.”
Although the rookie quarterback was not usually asked to push the ball downfield, he did so confidently on Saturday. According to Next Gen Stats, seven of his 11 attempts were under 5.0 air yards, while three were made below the line of scrimmage, two for excellent gains to Davis and Jeff Smith.
It remains to be seen whether Wilson sees further action in the Jets’ last preseason game, but first “home” game, against the Philadelphia Eagles. Wilson is guaranteed to start Week 1 against Darnold and the Carolina Panthers, as a top overall pick ahead of QBs Mike White and James Morgan, both of whom have as many NFL starts as he does.
“His process is lightyears ahead of what a normal rookie’s process will be,” Saleh said of Wilson after the game. “For him, the results sometimes will be good, sometimes will be bad, and he’s just got to find ways to get better when he sees both.”
Wilson’s ability to go into a 17-game NFL regular season with 42 preseason plays under his belt — 21 against the Giants, 21 against the Packers — is the challenge for Saleh and company.
Wilson, who is 15 of 20 for 191 yards and two touchdowns in 42 plays, is without a doubt the answer at this moment.