Would Zach Wilson have thrived with 49ers instead of Jets?

Zach Wilson #2 of the New York Jets (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Zach Wilson #2 of the New York Jets (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

There are many who wanted the 49ers to take Jets quarterback Zach Wilson in the 2021 NFL Draft. With his floundering, would things have been better for him with the Niners instead?

Again, we need to reinforce a conclusion we made not long ago: The 2021 NFL Draft class at quarterback has failed to impress despite being tabbed as a great one before that actual draft kicked off.

San Francisco 49ers fans remember it well, of course, after their team traded up to No. 3 overall in a blockbuster deal.

One of the targets on the radar for head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co., at least in theory, was former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, who was eventually selected by Shanahan’s former defensive coordinator, turned New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh just one spot ahead of where the Niners were picking.

Shanahan ultimately grabbed quarterback Trey Lance immediately after.

Lance has gone through his own trials and turmoil, including landing on season-ending injured reserve two weeks into his first full year as a starter in 2022, which brought veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back into the equation yet again.

However, San Francisco’s problem is an envious one, at least from Gang Green’s perspective, as Saleh ultimately made the choice to bench Wilson after a disastrous outing against the New England Patriots in Week 11 and on the tail of a more-than-lackluster sophomore season as New York’s starter under center.

Wilson’s benching goes beyond a 55.6 completion percentage with four touchdowns against five interceptions and a 72.6 passer rating. There are serious questions about Wilson’s maturity, accountability and leadership, too, and those all factor into Saleh’s decision to pull the plug.

At least for now.

Did 49ers dodge a bullet with Zach Wilson, or would he have been better in San Francisco?

Context and situation both matter for where any quarterback (or player) gets drafted. 49ers fans can obviously go back to 2005 and wonder if quarterback Aaron Rodgers would have enjoyed the same kind of career he ultimately had with the Green Bay Packers if the Niners took him at No. 1 overall that year over quarterback Alex Smith, and that discussion refuses to go away to this day.

Would Wilson have been better off with Shanahan instead of going to New York?

Wilson would have had far more weapons at his disposal in San Francisco, yes, and the Jets essentially needed a full year to give their quarterback a modestly decent supporting cast.

Additionally, as what happened with Lance, Wilson likely would have ridden the bench behind Garoppolo for that first full year, too.

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Perhaps that would have helped Wilson with his maturity, and one can point out that the 49ers locker room is notably strong, and it likely wouldn’t have tolerated the lack of leadership on Wilson’s part, even if he was in a backup role.

However, Niners fans also know well that Saleh is a strong presence, too, so his turning to a point where Wilson has to be benched suggests going to San Francisco instead wouldn’t have provided that much of a difference.

Maybe Wilson would have had a slightly better and easier path with the 49ers instead of the Jets, but the locker-room dynamics and personality would still be question marks. And he still would have struggled on the field, too, perhaps only slightly less.

In short, the Niners should simply be happy about New York removing any possibility of drafting Wilson back in April of 2021 by selecting him first.

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