Ahead of the New York Jets’ second preseason game, coach Robert Saleh said rookie signal-caller Zach Wilson would play one or two more series than the two he saw in his debut last week.
On Saturday afternoon, in front of a national audience, Wilson made the most of his increased exposure.
Wilson played four drives in the first half against the Green Bay Packers, with three of them ending in points. On his third and fourth marches, Wilson finished with a touchdown pass to fellow first-year Jets player Tyler Kroft. His first drive ended in a 53-yard field goal from Matt Ammendola, and the second concluded with a punt near Packers territory after Saleh took the ball out of Wilson’s hands on third- and fourth-and-1.
All in all, the No. 2 overall pick completed 9 of 11 attempts for 128 yards and two scores and finished with a 154.7 passer rating in the 23-14 win over the Packers. All of those marks are higher than anything former Jets top-three pick and “franchise quarterback” Sam Darnold produced in a preseason game with the Jets in 2018 and 2019, per NFL Research.
Sure, it was merely a mid-afternoon preseason start against a Packers defense teeming with second-teamers, but Wilson putting up a second solid showing in as many weeks is nothing but good news for a team that received only bad injury news this week with the loss of Carl Lawson.
Wilson’s play Saturday made one forget about that departure and disregard any notion that the Jets’ future is not in solid hands.
The former BYU QB’s quick progressions and even quicker trigger were on full display against Green Bay, and Wilson seemed undisturbed in Gang Green’s pocket, intuitively drifting back with eyes up if his first reads weren’t open. Wilson’s mobility on designed boots, including on Kroft’s second TD, was precise — his ball placement, especially on Kroft’s first score and a few dumpoffs, even more so.
Wilson converted two third downs through the air, both to Corey Davis, who has developed recently, with Elijah Moore also sidelined by injury, as Wilson’s go-to target between the 20s. Davis finished with four catches on six targets for 70 yards and was also the target on Wilson’s second third-down attempt, which was on point, but broken up nicely by Packers rookie cornerback Eric Stokes. Davis’ final reception, a 27-yard catch at Green Bay’s 16-yard line at the end of the first quarter, was Wilson’s most assured toss of the afternoon, emblematic of a burgeoning 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.”
The rookie quarterback was not always asked to push the ball downfield, though he did so Saturday with confidence. Seven of his 11 attempts were below 5.0 air yards, and three were made behind the line of scrimmage, two for good gains to Davis and Jeff Smith, per Next Gen Stats.
Whether Wilson sees more action this preseason in the Jets’ final game, but first “home” outing, against the Philadelphia Eagles remains to be seen. A top draft pick ahead of Mike White and James Morgan, QBs with as many NFL starts as him, Wilson is assured to start Week 1 against Darnold and the Carolina Panthers, so he doesn’t need to prove he deserves the QB1 role.
“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.”
The question for Saleh and Co. is whether Wilson can go into a 17-game NFL regular season with 42 preseason plays — 21 against the Giants, 21 against the Packers — under his belt.
But there’s no question at this point that Wilson, who is 15 of 20 for 191 yards and two TDs in those 42 plays, is the answer.
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