The 49ers should probably be thankful they never had the chance to grab Jets quarterback Zach Wilson in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he’s now struggling mightily.
He was, after all, a very popular target. Especially after the Niners traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 overall in a pure sign they were intending to grab a franchise-caliber signal-caller to eventually replace the oft-injured starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, at some point down the line. Heck, even we promoted the idea San Francisco would be better off with Wilson under center over the long run.
It never happened, of course. The New York Jets, under the fresh command of former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, plucked Wilson one spot ahead of the Niners at No. 2 overall, while head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. went with quarterback Trey Lance at No. 3.
And San Francisco is probably all the happier because of it.
Zach Wilson is struggling mightily with Jets in 2021
Unlike Lance, who was afforded the chance to sit behind Garoppolo for a full year, the Jets had little choice but to start Wilson right out of the gate. And until New York added veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, Wilson didn’t exactly have a veteran mentor to aid him in his development.
Through seven games played, interrupted by injury, Wilson is currently completing 57.6 percent of his passes, 32nd among 33 qualifiers, has four passing touchdowns against a whopping 10 interceptions and has the league’s worst passer rating among qualifiers at 62.9.
Granted, the 3-8 Jets haven’t exactly surrounded Wilson with talent, and a first-year head coach (Saleh) and a first-year offensive coordinator (Mike LaFleur) are going through their own growing pains, too.
But Wilson bears a lot of the blame here.
It’s not just Wilson lacking a supporting cast or going through growing pains. There’s no shortage of evidence he’s struggling under his own weight of being the No. 2 overall selection.
Such as tossing arguably the worst interception in the league on this play from Week 12:
Until Wilson starts making those next-level steps, plays like the one above are going to define his early career.
49ers still have unknowns, but Zach Wilson won’t be one of them
Perhaps as important as a quarterback’s own efforts for his development is the context in which he is drafted. The Jets, for some time now, have been a complete dumpster fire of a franchise, and the fact Wilson is going to a team yet again in the opening stages of a total rebuild and lacking the infrastructure to support him will ultimately create challenges of their own.
Is Lance going to have success with the 49ers over his career? That’s an unknown. Yet he surely benefits over Wilson because of the Niners already having playmakers to support him, namely offensive weapons like George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, while Shanahan’s offenses have already proven to be successful if they have the weaponry and players who can master the scheme.
More importantly, Lance isn’t thrusted into the fray right out of the gate on a talent-lacking franchise.
Still, Wilson has been terrible. There’s no way around it, and year one has proven to be a complete disaster for him. That part is known, and it’s unknown whether or not he’ll turn things around.
Perhaps that’s why the Jets are already the subject of speculation about moving on from Wilson sooner than later, not unlike what the Arizona Cardinals did with their former first-round quarterback, Josh Rosen, following a failed rookie-year 2018 campaign.
San Francisco doesn’t have to think about that. At all. It can at least take the comfort knowing whatever flameouts Wilson might encounter from this point onward were avoided without Shanahan and Co. even having to make a decision there.
And if Wilson turns things around for the Jets, good for him and good for them.
Not a 49ers problem. Probably better that way.