NFLTR Review: Time To Get Worried About Zach Wilson?

In this week’s loaded issue of NFLTR Review:

  • It’s officially time to be worried about Jets rookie Zach Wilson
  • Our endorsements for the 2022 Pro Bowl
  • Coaching cycle, draft rumors and much, much more

The Big Picture: Zach Wilson’s Terrible, No Good Rookie Year

Patience is a virtue the NFL often lacks. That’s especially true with rookie quarterbacks and especially true now more than ever. Every game becomes a referendum on a young signal caller’s future, which is a problem if they don’t hit the ground running. 

That said, we’ve reached a point where there should be cause for concern with Jets first-round QB Zach Wilson

All rookies are graded on a curve because going from college to the NFL is difficult for 99.9 percent of players. But even accounting for that, Wilson has been bad. His raw stats are dismal — 56.1 completion percentage, six touchdowns, 11 interceptions. Just 1,741 yards passing at 6.1 per attempt. Pick your favorite advanced stat; ESPN’s QB rating, adjusted net yards per attempt, EPA+CPOE composite or PFF grade. Wilson is 32nd, at best, in all of them. 

If we zoom out to compare Wilson to more comparable players, say every first-round quarterback in the past 20 years with at least four starts, it doesn’t reflect any better on him. He ranks 45th out of 50 quarterbacks in ANY/A. And the rest of the bottom 10 isn’t pretty. 

The book obviously isn’t written and finished on Wilson’s professional career, as you can see from the list. But we’re at the point of the year where you’d expect some progress to be made. Instead, Wilson just had one of his worst games of the season this past week against the Saints. The same problems that have plagued him all season continued to be major issues. 

The Ringer’s Ben Solak has an excellent piece breaking down what the issues with Wilson’s game as a rookie have been. It’s worth the read but the crux of the issue is Wilson is not reading the field with anywhere near the speed that he needs to. That makes him regularly late with the ball which also impacts his accuracy. His lower mechanics are a mess, which means it can be like pulling teeth with a spoon to get him to play with any kind of rhythm in the passing game. 

Easy completions and “gimme” checkdowns are anything but when it comes to Wilson. Throws further down the field are even more of an adventure. His processing speed and mechanics are partially to blame for this but at this point there’s also just a mental element to things. Like a shooter going cold or a hitter battling the yips, there’s a mental funk that’s dogged Wilson this year. 

But it’s not just that there’s been a lot of ugly tape. It’s that the flashes of the talent that made Wilson the No. 2 overall pick — and in hindsight, it’s curious more people didn’t question how quickly the Jets zeroed in on Wilson over the other quarterbacks available — have been few and far between. That’s especially when compared to the other three first-round quarterbacks. Mac Jones has been efficient while both Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields have had considerable growing pains. But if you’re looking for improvement and flashes of the talent that made them first-round picks, all three have shown more as rookies than Wilson has. 

There’s more bad news. At the start of the season, there were plenty of excuses for Wilson’s play. Brand-new OC Mike LaFleur caught a lot of flak, as did the offensive line and receiving corps. But as time has gone on, those have shown to be less concerning. 

LaFleur’s offense has looked remarkably better with anyone not named Zach Wilson this season, as Mike White, Joe Flacco and even Josh Johnson have proven far more effective. In four games without Wilson, the Jets averaged 435 yards of total offense. In Wilson’s nine starts, it’s just 270. 

Perhaps it’s fair to criticize LaFleur for not doing a good enough job to teach his offense at the beginning of the season. After all, veteran quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers have all said it takes about a year to become truly comfortable with the Shanahan offense. Still, this is supposed to be a system that is akin to turning down the difficulty from all-pro to rookie mode for quarterbacks, so it’s concerning to see Wilson struggle. 

As for the supporting cast, second-round WR Elijah Moore’s breakout coincided with Wilson’s absence from the lineup due to a PCL injury earlier this season. Between Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios and fourth-round RB Michael Carter, there is legit skill position talent. And while no one will mistake the offensive line for a top-ten unit, there are far worse lines that other quarterbacks are dealing with now. Wilson’s situation isn’t ideal but it’s probably better than any other first-round rookie’s besides Jones in New England. 

Add all of this together, and it’s time to invoke the Rosen comparison, who was jettisoned after one abysmal year with the Cardinals and has bounced around the league with no success since then. The Jets won’t dump Wilson because there’s not a Kyler Murray in this upcoming class. It’s hard to deny the parallels between the two situations, though. 

I realize none of this will make me popular with Jets fans, and maybe I should put more of a weight on that living in New York City. Wilson still has four games left this season to build some positive momentum for next year. And I should reiterate that patience is usually needed with young passers. Even if the Jets clearly misevaluated how ready Wilson was to start from Day 1, it doesn’t mean he won’t eventually develop into a starting-caliber quarterback. 

Sometimes, though, we can see the end coming before it happens. Teams don’t want to be wishy-washy which is why you truly have to be a disaster to be fired after only one or two years like Rosen or a certain ball coach down in Florida this week. But sometimes it’s clear teams would be better off cutting their losses and admitting to mistakes earlier rather than wasting years. 

Perhaps in two or three years, that’s where we’ll be with Wilson. 

This Week In Football

  • The bar for coaching disasters used to be set at Bobby Petrino, who left after just 13 games in charge of the Falcons and infamously said his goodbye via laminated note. Urban Meyer has surpassed that. The Jaguars fired him late Wednesday after 13 games — the exact same that Petrino made it through. Almost from the start, it was obvious that Meyer was in over his head. Still, as recently as Tuesday it didn’t seem like owner Shad Khan was ready to pull the trigger. He was talking about patience and taking the emotion out of the decision. It appears the report about Meyer kicking former K Josh Lambo before warmups during a preseason game going public was the final straw for Khan though (note I said the report, not the actual incident, which happened four months ago and was already reported to the team). 
  • The dumpster fire that is the end of Meyer’s tenure in Jacksonville would be getting even more play had it not been for COVID-19 rearing its ugly head again this week in a big way. This has been the worst week of the entire pandemic for positive tests, as well over a hundred players have been added to the reserve list this week, including more than 20 players for the Browns, Rams and Washington Football Team. More players have gone on the list in the past five days than the first three months of the season. (Kevin Seifert) It reflects the state of the virus in the rest of the nation, as cases are up everywhere, perhaps driven by the new Omicron variant. The NFL has already tweaked its COVID-19 and testing protocols in response, we’ll see if the changing situation necessitates more action. 
  • Getting back to the coaching cycle, the Jaguars are now the second team with a vacancy, joining the Las Vegas Raiders who also moved on from a disgraced former coach. They are widely expected to be joined at some point by the Chicago Bears as HC Matt Nagy finishes out the string. There was some speculation this week there could be further structural changes, with the Bears hiring former player and prominent coaching agent Trace Armstrong to oversee their football department and hire a new coach and GM. Armstrong denied the report, but it’s worth noting he almost had to until something became official, as Nagy is among the many coaches he represents. 
  • Former Panthers OC Joe Brady seems like he’s going to have no trouble finding another job in the NFL. There were some rumors that the Miami native might end up back in the college ranks but it appears he prefers to stay in the NFL. One potential destination to watch, just off the cuff: Detroit. Brady worked with Lions HC Dan Campbell in New Orleans and it’s hard to see current OC Anthony Lynn coming back after Campbell took over play-calling duties this season. 
  • Like we predicted, the Seahawks’ win over the Texans on Sunday helped keep QB Russell Wilson out of the news, as did a bananas week with Meyer and the virus. But don’t let it get lost in the shuffle that NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport was able to confirm the report that Wilson would waive his no-trade clause for the Broncos, Giants or Saints. Any conversation about a new team for Wilson has to start with those three. 
  • Speaking of Houston, they have turned to third-round QB Davis Mills for the final five games of the season in what is essentially a tryout to prove that he should get a chance as the full-time starter in 2022. If he plays well enough, the Texans can feel comfortable taking a pass rusher instead of a quarterback with what’s looking like a top-three pick. So far, so good. Mills completed 33-49 passes for 331 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against a Seahawks defense that has actually become a tough matchup. 
  • Eagles QB Gardner Minshew’s spot start the week before last was a reminder that he’s put up some pretty solid tape in the NFL before, enough for a team to take a chance on as, at worst, a high-end backup with some starting potential. That’s expected to make Minshew a trade target this offseason, and in fact the Panthers have reportedly already inquired with Philadelphia, though the exact timing of that is unclear. File Minshew’s name away for the 2022 quarterback carousel. 
  • After opening the season 6-2, the Titans have languished with a 3-2 record since losing RB Derrick Henry to a foot injury. There could be good news coming that would make the Titans a dangerous factor in the AFC playoffs again, though, as Henry is reportedly targeting a return as soon as Week 18. There are still 10 AFC teams with at least seven wins and Kansas City’s win on Thursday made them the sixth different team to hold the No. 1 seed in the conference this season. So we are set up for a lot of drama in the final few weeks here. 

My 2022 Pro Bowl Ballot

At this point, it’d be beating a dead horse to go through all the problems with the Pro Bowl. For as seductive as the idea of an all-star game pitting the best against the best is, it will always turn into a glorified exhibition game despite the league’s best efforts to jazz it up. 

While it’s one thing to have a flawed process, it’s another when there are contract incentives and even Hall of Fame cases riding on who does or doesn’t make the Pro Bowl. Even taking the Pro Bowl for what it is, there is no way something like alphabetical order should impact things to the degree that it does (Titans OLB Ola Adeniyi and Seahawks FB Nick Bellore are the first two special teamers listed and the current leaders in the fan vote).

With that in mind, it’s important to get it as close to right as possible. Reasonable people can disagree. But here’s my stab at a Pro Bowl ballot for 2022. 


HM: Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, Raiders QB Derek Carr, Bills QB Josh Allen, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes

Brady and Rodgers are as good as they’ve ever been despite getting up there in years. Murray and Herbert are two precocious newcomers just oozing with talent who have played incredibly well this year. Stafford and Prescott have had lulls in their play, but the overall body of work as we sit here on December 17 after voting has closed pushes me in their direction. 

There’s a lot of great quarterback play in the league these days, and Cousins and Carr just haven’t done enough to stand out above the rest of the pack this year even though they’re having good seasons. As for Allen and Mahomes, if we were picking the most talented quarterbacks, they’d be at the top of the list. But to me the Pro Bowl ought to be for who has played the best in a given season and both men have been inconsistent in 2021. 

Running back 

HM: Cardinals RB James Conner, Titans RB Derrick Henry, Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette, Chargers RB Austin Ekeler

No back is playing better than Taylor this season. He even put himself in the MVP conversation at one point. Mixon and Cook are both major parts of their respective offenses and in the top three for rushing yards, though a healthy margin behind Taylor. Chubb is one of the most talented backs in the league and if he had more carries, he’d probably be a lot closer to Taylor than he is so far. 

I think there’s a bit of a tier break after those four, with Harris being the best of the rest. He’s fourth in the entire NFL in scrimmage yards, which is partially a product of being force-fed the most touches of any skill position player in the league. He’s done well with those touches, though, especially considering the offensive line struggles in Pittsburgh. 

Finally, I have a soft spot for Patterson’s late-career, dual-threat breakout. You can make a compelling case for Ekeler, Conner, Fournette and even half a season of Henry. But Patterson’s yards per touch leads every other back with at least 100 total touches. 

Wide receiver 

  • Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase

HM: Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill, Steelers WR Diontae Johnson, Bills WR Stefon Diggs, Chargers WR Keenan Allen, Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb

Kupp is on pace to become the NFL’s first triple crown receiver since Steve Smith in 2005. He has a 20+ lead in receptions and 200+ lead in yards with four games to go. The gap is much narrower in touchdowns, though Kupp’s 12 still lead the league. 

Adams and Jefferson have been practically unguardable all year. Samuel has been a revelation both as a receiver and a runner as the NFL continues to push the boundaries of positionless offensive football. 

I give the last two spots to Chase and Godwin, as the Bengals rookie has immediately looked like one of the NFL’s best since taking the field. Godwin has turned into one of Brady’s most trusted targets. But the wide receiver position is as deep and talented as it has ever been. Every honorable mention has a strong case to be included. 


HM: 49ers TE Kyle Juszczyk

The ballot allows for up to six at fullback, but that felt excessive given only a dozen or so teams still utilize the position. Ricard used to be a two-way player at both fullback and defensive tackle. Baltimore has dialed that back but he’s still a force as a blocker. 

Juszczyk has been his usual superb self, and he remains a key piece of 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan’s attack. But Ham has had a great season as a three-tool player, blocker, runner and receiver, for Minnesota’s offense and deserves some recognition for that. 

Tight end 

Kelce has been great once again and went over 1,000 yards yet again with an outburst on Thursday night. But he hasn’t been immune to the mistakes that have plagued Kansas City’s players and he’d been passed on the receiving yards leaderboard for tight ends by Andrews, who probably has been the league’s best tight end in 2021. 

The position is deeper at the top than it has been, though. Injuries have beset both Waller and Kittle, but when they’ve been on the field they’ve been their usual impact selves. Waller remains pretty much uncoverable, while Kittle’s biggest impact might be as a blocker — and that’s saying something because he’s still a lethal receiver. 

Gronkowski isn’t the same player he was in his prime but he makes up for it by still being incredibly effective as a two-way tight end. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with his rapport with Brady, while his blocking is still top-notch for the position. The touchdowns haven’t come for Pitts but he already has shown that he’s going to be a problem for a long, long, long time. 

Offensive tackle 

HM: Patriots LT Isaiah Wynn, Cowboys LT Tyron Smith

Williams is the best in the game, and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down at age 33. Slater has shrugged off criticisms about arm length to play like one of the best tackles in the league, period, as a rookie. Mailata is starting to put together his elite physical gifts and is just scraping the surface of his potential. On the other side, Johnson is even better. What a duo for the Eagles. 

Ramczyk has maintained his strong level of play after getting paid this offseason. And Wirfs continues to lock things down on the right side of Tampa Bay’s offensive line. Brady’s been sacked just 16 times in 2021. Sacks are a QB stat but Wirfs does have a hand in keeping him clean as well as paving the way for Fournette’s breakout year. Smith and Wynn are both deserving of spots as well.


HM: Chiefs G Joe Thuney, Bengals G Quinton Spain, Lions G Jonah Jackson

The Browns’ duo at guard is the best in football and a real treat to watch week in and week out. Nelson also continues to make highlight reels as a guard, which is an impressive feat. And Martin might be the best player of all of them. It’s been huge for Dallas to have him back healthy. 

There are a lot of other deserving candidates as well. One berth should go to one of the Chiefs’ players, as both have been excellent and helped fix Kansas City’s line in just one offseason. My final spot went to Mason because New England’s line as a whole has been so good and he’s been one of the best players on that line. But both Spain and Jackson have been excellent. They’ll probably be hurt in the final voting because of the markets they play in. 


HM: Colts C Ryan Kelly

If you took a poll of defensive linemen across the league about the player they most hate playing, Jensen would be on a ton of ballots. He has mastered the art of getting under an opponent’s skin, and he’s a good football player to boot. 

After him, Kelce and Hudson have been their usual rock-solid selves. Linsley has helped stabilize a Chargers offensive line that was a big weakness last year. Andrews spearheads a fearsome Patriots offensive line, while Humphrey has been excellent in his debut season. 

Defensive end 

HM: Raiders DEs Maxx Crosby/Yannick Ngakoue, Dolphins DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Saints DE Cameron Jordan

Garrett should be a lock as he’s one of the candidates for defensive player of the year. Bosa has also been superb. He’s third in the NFL in sacks. Hendrickson has been remarkable. There were some fears that he’d be a one-year wonder, as while he had 13.5 sacks last season his underlying pressure numbers weren’t as impressive. He has 12.5 sacks with four more games to go. 

There is a cluster of other pass rushers who are a little harder to separate but I give the edge to Burns because both his pressure and his sack metrics stand out, as opposed to others who might be lacking in one or the other. Ask me on another day, and I might take one of the Raiders’ duo. 

Finally, Autry and Franklin-Myers round out the list because both are hurt by the Pro Bowl’s decision not to separate defensive ends from pure edge rushers. Autry and Franklin-Myers don’t have the sack numbers of others but they’re just as disruptive and in more phases of the game. 

Defensive tackle 

HM: Jets DT Quinnen Williams, Giants DT Leonard Williams, 49ers DT D.J. Jones

Donald is superhuman. Winning an NFL-record fourth defensive player of the year award is not out of the question. Simmons has had a breakout 2021 season, as has Allen. Jones and Heyward have been elite players for a while and are keeping it up. 

Like with the defensive ends, I could be convinced otherwise on the final spot. I went with Hargrave because of his breakout as a pass rusher, but both New York Williams have been amazing as well. Jones in San Francisco should also receive an acknowledgment as well, as he’s been one of the best pure nose tackles in football. He’s behind only Simmons in run stops as tracked by PFF. 


  • Packers LB De’Vondre Campbell

HM: Buccaneers LB Devin White, Cardinals LB Jordan Hicks

Parsons has locked up defensive rookie of the year and is deserving of Pro Bowl honors as well. Campbell has been a pleasant surprise for the Packers and is a big part of why their defense has been so good in 2021. Davis continues to have his best years in his 30s and is still an impact player for New Orleans. 

Leonard has played through an ankle injury that has sapped his speed and explosiveness. He’s still found a way to make an impact with five forced fumbles and two interceptions. Thompson has also come into his own with the middle of Carolina’s defense to himself and is a tone-setter for that side of the ball. White gets the headlines, but David remains the more consistent player from down to down even if he doesn’t have the youngster’s blinding athleticism. 

Outside linebacker 

HM: Patriots OLB Kyle Van Noy, Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones, Browns LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Packers OLB Rashan Gary

Once again, the Pro Bowl really should take a page out of the Pro Football Focus book and break it out into edge rushers, interior defenders and off-ball linebackers. But this is the ballot we’re given. Watt leads the NFL in sacks, Judon is having a monster breakout season for a fierce Patriots defense and Quinn is also having a vintage season. 

After that trio, Reddick has backed up his breakout 2020 season with another year of double-digit sacks. Landry has also had a breakout year while Bosa has been his usual disruptive self. The sack production for me gives them a slight edge over Jones and Gary. 

If we wanted to break out of the edge rusher mold, Van Noy and Owusu-Koramoah would deserve consideration for being similar to defensive versions of Patterson and Samuel who can merge back and forth between different positions and roles. 


HM: Browns CB Denzel Ward, Cardinals CB Byron Murphy, Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean

I have a bias towards cornerbacks who can take the ball away given how hard it is to get picks in the modern NFL, even if they occasionally give up a big play. That makes Diggs and Jackson slam dunks at the top of the ballot. After them, Ramsey has been great as a movable chess piece in the Rams’ defense. 

Terrell doesn’t get a lot of hype being in Atlanta and on a defense that’s been bad for most of the season. But he’s been one of the stickiest corners in coverage in 2021. Slay has also returned to playing like a No. 1 corner this year. And Awuzie cracks the Pro Bowl party for the first time in his career after a breakout season. He’s played a major role in the Bengals’ defensive success this season.

If the Pro Bowl made the distinction between boundary and slot corners like they probably should given the preponderance of nickel defenses, Murphy would be near the top of that list. 

Strong safety 

The distinction between strong and free safeties matters far less than it used to with the prevalence of two-high coverage shells. The Pro Bowl for some reason still makes that distinction, though, splitting its safeties into two batches. In the strong safety batch, James and Smith are obvious standouts. James is a do-everything safety who is adept both as a blitzer and in coverage. Smith is similar, and his impact was on display with the game-winning punchout against the Steelers last Thursday. 

Phillips has had a knack for finding the ball in New England with four picks and seven pass deflections. Poyer has also been a ballhawk with five picks and nine PDs. Baker operates closer to the line of scrimmage and is a key matchup piece for Arizona’s defense. And Fuller doesn’t have the gaudy stats of some other safeties but he’s vitally important to the Rams defense. 

Free safety 

My pick for the best safety in the entire league right now would be Byard. His range on the back end of Tennessee’s defense is just superb and that’s reflected with this five picks and 13 PDs so far in 2021. Dugger, Holland, McKinney and Winfield are all young, ascending players who are filling vital roles for their respective teams as versatile defenders who can move all over the secondary. Amos has helped steady the Packers defense through a number of injuries in the secondary. 


HM: Patriots K Nick Folk, Steelers K Chris Boswell

Like with fullback, I’m settling on just two on my ballot for specialists. Tucker set an NFL record for distance on a game-winning field goal against the Lions earlier this season and has been his usual clutch self. Carlson has been one of the most prolific and accurate kickers in the league this season, especially from distance. 

Boswell should get credit for missing just two field goals on the season while kicking in treacherous Heinz Field for home games. And Folk has made the most field goals in the NFL this season, though he gets knocked a bit for not having the range of some of these other guys. 


HM: Raiders P A.J. Cole

Dickson’s incredible scoop and kick is the best play a punter has made all season. He’s been pretty good the rest of the time too with an NFL-high 34 kicks placed inside the 20. Fox has been a bright spot in a bad season for Detroit. He and Cole have been battling for the lead in punting average all season. 

Return specialist

Factoring in both punt and kick returns, but putting a heavier emphasis on punts because of the degree of difficulty and the way rule changes have nerfed kickoffs, Harris and Grant stand out among their peers. Both are in the top five in average punt return length and top-11 in kickoff returns. 

Special teams

These two are at the top of the leaderboard for special teams tackles currently. Gray has 16 and Dulin has 14.

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