How Should the Jets Approach Their Second Overall Pick?

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) looks to pass against the New England Patriots during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting at No. 2 overall in April’s NFL Draft, the New York Jets are essentially on the clock. The Jaguars are taking Trevor Lawrence at No. 1, and if they don’t, it’ll be a mistake that haunts them for the next decade-plus. The Jets will have their choice of any other highly talented prospects. The draft world is their oyster, but what should they do with it?

Zach Wilson turned heads at his Pro Day, which has led many to believe that New York should pick him. The question ultimately comes down to whether or not the Jets believe he is a better quarterback than Sam Darnold. Darnold’s first few years in the league have been, to put it nicely, underwhelming. He’s completed less than 60% of his passes, has a 13-25 record, and has yet to eclipse the 20 passing TD mark in any season. That said, he’s played for Adam Gase and a franchise that has done their best to get rid of virtually every valuable skill player. 

That seems to have finally changed this offseason. They signed Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, adding two quality receivers to Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims. They’ve also bolstered their defensive front by snatching Sheldon Rankins and Carl Lawson. Not to mention, Gase is gone, and former defensive coordinator for the 49ers, Robert Salah, is the new head coach. Things look to be turning around in New York. 

Now, back to the question at hand, does Zach Wilson continue to turn this franchise in a positive direction? Wilson was extremely accurate in 2020 for BYU, completing over 73% of his passes. He also has a very good arm. Both of these have been issues for Darnold early on in his NFL career. 

That said, Wilson absolutely has his flaws, too. While having an impressive arm, he definitely makes some errant throws and some questionable decisions under duress. He’s also fearless as a runner; a little too fearless. That can be a positive thing sometimes, especially for team morale, but it also scares me taking him at No. 2. One bad hit, and he could be out with an injury because he decided not to slide or get out of bounds. I could see either Trey Lance or Justin Fields being better than Wilson because they are equally talented as throwers, but they are much safer as runners.

With his reckless running and bad throws in pressure, the Jets are not a great team for him to end up. We saw in Cincinnati what happened when they couldn’t protect Joe Burrow. Per Pro-Football-Reference, Sam Darnold was pressured 27.5% of the time. That is equal to that of Russell Wilson and higher than Deshaun Watson. iDarnold’s pressure rate was even higher in 2019, at a whopping 28%. 

Obviously, Darnold isn’t a quarterback equal nor as mobile as Wilson or Watson, but it’s tough to get anything done when you have defenders in your face all the time. Here is how the Jets current o-linemen ranked in 2020, per PFF:

Tackles: 31st, 64th

Guards: 26th, 42nd

Center: 23rd

Yeah, it’s not great. Because of that, I’m not only questioning whether Wilson is even the second-best quarterback in this draft, but could any quarterback truly be effective behind this o-line? New York shouldn’t overthink this. Penei Sewell has been the top o-line prospect since this draft process began. New York desperately needs another tackle opposite Mekhi Becton that can protect the quarterback. Sewell would provide that. Both players would be on rookie deals for multiple years, which means Darnold could finally be confident in his pass protection. 

The fact of the matter is this: a rookie quarterback isn’t going to change the status of this team. The Jets went 2-14 in 2020. They are not going to be contending for a playoff spot in 2021 just because a slightly better quarterback is running for his life. 2021 should be an experimental year; give Darnold some actual pass protection and see what happens. If Darnold still doesn’t perform well with better protection, or they just feel that they can get a better QB next draft cycle, then they can look to move on.