Zach Wilson is holding back the Jets.
It's the finer details -- not the physical aspects -- of playing the quarterback position Wilson has not developed early in his NFL career which has led to the Jets being an unbalanced team.
From a team-building perspective, nothing is more difficult than evaluating and choosing the right quarterback in the draft, but maybe we should've seen this coming with Wilson. Lost in his eruption at BYU in 2020 that sparked his meteoric rise all the way to the Jets at No. 2 overall in April of 2021 was he simply didn't get requisite experience combating pressure.
In that dazzling season with the Cougars, Wilson was pressured on only 13.6% of his throws, the third-lowest in all of college football for quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts that year. It didn't prepare him for the pressure he was bound to face in the NFL, particularly as passer landing on a team that held the second pick in the draft.
And it was apparent right away. He was pressured on 38.5% of his drop backs as a rookie and had the most sack yards in the NFL. This season, the maturation under pressure hasn't materialized.
Currently, Wilson is the worst quarterback in football when pressured. And it's not close. He's completed 19.4% of his throws while pressured (!) at a staggeringly low 3.0 yards-per-attempt clip with one touchdown and five interceptions. Altogether, Wilson's passer rating under pressure is 7.1. Yes, 7.1.
He looks completely lost in those scenarios. Shoddy pocket presence plus bad decisions plus wayward accuracy. The trifecta of inept quarterback play, especially in pressure situations.
Wilson's first interception against the Patriots exemplifies the carelessness at which he's usually played when the pocket isn't clean.
While that was a difficult predicament for Wilson, a rusher up the middle, check the footwork. He has arm talent yet can't be that lackadaisical, even on a checkdown.
Now, Wilson is athletic, and his flair for the brilliant improvisational strike was a large part of why he skyrocketed draft boards in 2021. He can create for himself. However, in most occasions, even when he's done that and decided to throw the football, Wilson has either missed a defender lurking in coverage or simply misfired. On his last interception against the Patriots, both happened.
Wilson likely knows of his under-pressure struggles. And that awareness has led to him even vacating clean pockets, traditionally, a gigantic no-no at the quarterback spot. However, across the league, actively deciding to leave a well-structured pocket is more prevalent than ever, but a handful of quarterbacks have made off-script mastery look easy. It's not.
Throwing with the proper trajectory, touch, and ball placement on the run while reading a flowing coverage -- a challenge.
Wilson's confidence in his outside-of-structure play is admirable and not totally unfounded. But he's trying to be Patrick Mahomes too frequently in those scenarios.
Given the strength of the Jets defense, a throwaway when flushed from the pocket is not a drastic loss for this team. Wilson needs to understand that. After Week 8, Gang Green is eighth in Expected Points Added Per Play (EPA/play) defensively. Ninth against the pass, 10th against the run.
The offense? 25th as a unit, 28th through the air, and actually 10th on the ground.
And Wilson's clean-pocket play has been more than just fine. While he has a smaller sample size than most of his contemporaries, Wilson's 109.4 rating when kept clean is fifth in football! His 9.55 yards-per-attempt average is second only to Jalen Hurts.
It's when there's any leak up front that Wilson morphs into someone simply not ready to handle pressure. And given the loss of Alijah Vera-Tucker, the Jets are in a dire situation. His pressure rate is currently close to what it was as a rookie.
But Wilson's not a rookie anymore. And this Jets team is trending upward. The time is now for him to show he's taking positive steps forward or GM Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh may have reconsider who the club's long-term starter is at the game's most vital position.