Sat. Dec 10th, 2022
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Zach Wilson was so bad the playoff-adjacent Jets had no other choice but to start Mike White

The Zach Wilson era is over in New York. For at least one week.

Wilson, the second overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, will not start the Jets’ Week 12 tilt against the Chicago Bears. It’s not because he’s injured or sick; it’s because he’s awful and unwilling to accept this simple fact.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news Wednesday morning, days after Wilson completed just nine of 22 pass attempts in a 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots. When asked whether he felt he’d let down a defense that only allowed three Patriot points last Sunday — the game-winning touchdown came via special teams meltdown and a last-second punt return — the second-year quarterback tersely answered “no.”

.@Connor_J_Hughes: “Do you feel like you let the defense down at all?”

Zach Wilson: “No.” pic.twitter.com/tiJiTSrFPE

— Jets Videos (@snyjets) November 20, 2022

In a vacuum, this could have been chalked up to a frustrated young player peeling off a quick response in the heat of the moment. But there’s no vacuum that can insulate Wilson from how bad he’s been in 1.5 seasons as a pro. When the offhanded suggestion he wasn’t the problem with the Jets’ offense reportedly rankled the defense that has carried New York to playoff contention, head coach Robert Saleh’s quarterback decision got a bit easier.

Benching Wilson is a common sense move, even with former practice squad fodder Mike White and a 37-year-old Joe Flacco waiting in the wings. White will take over the starting job in Week 12 with the former Super Bowl as his backup.

Flacco will be QB2 on Sunday. Wilson will NOT be active. #Jets

— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) November 23, 2022

Over the last two seasons neither of those players have been verifiably or consistently good at football, but they’ve been markedly better than Wilson. In fact, every quarterback who has played at least 220 snaps since 2021 has been, because the Jets’ erstwhile franchise QB is the worst player in the NFL:

via RBSDM.com and the author.

Via the league’s Next Gen Stats model, Wilson ranks 40th among 40 qualified quarterbacks in both expected points added (EPA) and completion percentage over expected (CPOE). Flacco ranks 36th and 30th, respectively, in those categories. You have to expand the scope to fit White’s approximate 140 plays into the chart, but he clocks in at 20th and 33rd.

That’s not much of an improvement, but the Jets don’t need a superhero behind center. They just need borderline competency. They were 5-2 with Wilson in the lineup, losing those two games to the Patriots by five, then seven points. Wilson’s expected points added in those games? NEGATIVE 12 POINTS.

By just about every metric you can think of, Flacco and White have been better Jets quarterbacks. They complete more passes, find the end zone more often and take fewer sacks. Wilson’s only edge is that he’s 8-12 as a starter compared to his counterparts’ 2-5, but that isn’t exactly an accurate reflection on his leadership given the swirling crapstorm of the past week.

Here’s how those stats since 2021 shake out — all numbers are per game except for overall record.

There’s some risk in benching a young quarterback you made the second overall pick 19 months ago, but Saleh isn’t going to stunt the growth of a player capable of shrinking into a field mouse any given week. The bar for ownership of the Jets’ starting role was so low all Wilson had to do was be something like the 33rd-best quarterback in the league while acknowledging his shortcomings to keep his job through at least the end of 2022. Instead, he’s been garbage and his postgame press conference quotes were anathema to his job security.

Despite this, New York remains in the thick of a playoff race. Its offense has young playmakers like Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore aching for competent targets downfield. But among 32 quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 200 passes this year, no player in the league has fewer deep ball completions than Wilson’s four. Flacco has six in his last four games with the Jets. White had three in four games last season.

This all creates a world where it makes sense to bench the vaunted 23-year-old in favor of a journeyman quarterback whose ceiling looks like Josh McCown. White and Flacco, amazingly, give his team the best chance to win. Inserting White also sends the message that, good lord Zach Wilson, you’ve got to be better at all of this.

So instead of Wilson and Justin Fields staking their claim on 2021’s best quarterback title, we could instead get a battle of former Jets legends White and Trevor Siemian when New York hosts the Chicago Bears in Week 12. While that stinks for the Bears, it actually provides a little hope for the Jets. Not in any newfound White competence, but in the fact New York looks ready to cut bait on a young quarterback whose inability to grow threatens to undo all the franchise’s recent progress.

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