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Is Zach Wilson better than Daniel Jones? NFL GMs and coaches say yes

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Jets Zach Wilson
New York Jets’ quarterback Zach Wilson participates in a drill at the NFL football team’s training facility in Florham Park, N.J., Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Despite his rookie year struggles, Zach Wilson appears to already be the King of New York Quarterbacks, according to NFL coaches and executives. 

On Monday, Mike Sando of The Athletic released his ninth annual NFL Quarterback Tiers article. “The results reflect voting from 50 NFL coaches and executives, including six general managers, eight head coaches, 10 evaluators, 12 coordinators, six quarterback coaches, and seven execs whose specialties include analytics, game management, and the salary cap.”

The group of experts placed 35 veteran quarterbacks into tiers from best (Tier 1) to worst (Tier 5). Both Zach Wilson and Daniel Jones found themselves in Tier 4, which is reserved for unproven players or veterans who would ideally not start all 17 games. In fact, of the 35 quarterbacks ranked, Wilson came in at 28th while Jones was ranked 30th. 

Overall, it’s not an overwhelming sign of confidence in the future of both New York franchises. 

Interestingly, some of the only quarterbacks ranked below Zach Wilson and Daniel Jones are also familiar names. Former Jets Sam Darnold and Geno Smith were ranked 32nd and 35th respectively, and Smith was actually the only quarterback in Tier Five. 

The survey serves as a clear reminder of how poor the recent track record is for developing quarterbacks in New York (apart from that team upstate that has done a pretty good job of it). In order for either of these franchises to experience the success this city demands, both quarterbacks will have to climb out of Tier 4 and, at the very least, enter the high Tier 3 discussion around guys like Kirk Cousins, Jalen Hurts, and Jimmy Garoppolo. 

If they can’t do that, the Jets and Giants will both likely be looking for signal-callers who can. 

As it stands now, Wilson and Jones both being listed in an unproven tier is not groundbreaking, the surprise was Wilson being listed above the Giants signal-caller. The Jets are becoming a trendy pick to “break out,” this season in the sense that they will put together a more competent overall performance. 

In the offseason, the Jets drafted Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson with a top-ten pick, added veteran tight end C.J. Uzomah, and drafted Iowa State running back Breece Hall with their third first-round pick. All of the efforts to surround Wilson with a dynamic supporting cast have many in the league more bullish on the young Jets quarterback.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson takes part in drills at the NFL football team's practice facility.
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson takes part in drills at the NFL football team’s practice facility.AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

However, his rookie year was painfully bad. As the article points out, “Wilson ranked last among qualifying quarterbacks in EPA (expected points added) per pass play as a rookie. Only Josh Rosen was worse by this metric among 34 qualifying rookie quarterbacks during the past decade.”

While EPA is not the be-all-end-all of stat evaluations, many quarterbacks who have gone on to have successful careers (like Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, etc.) had strong EPA numbers as a rookie, while many rookies who have floundered (like Blake Bortles, E.J. Manuel, Mitch Trubisky, etc.) did poorly. 

One head coach in The Athletic panel said, “there were times where it looked like it was too big for him.” Another said, “He looks at the rush way too much.”

Yet, it’s also apparent that Wilson had little talent around him last season. Meanwhile, the NFL executives note that he himself possesses clear talent: “He is not lacking in any skill set from a tools standpoint.”

Last year, Wilson was able to hide behind a flawed team. He made mistakes but many of the executives and coaches write that off as a consequence of a bad team. They also note that “It’ll be a big year for him to take a leap. We will have a better sense after this year.”

However, if all of this slack is being given to Zach Wilson because of the poor team around him last year, why is the same benefit not being given to Daniel Jones?

Since Jones has been the starter for the Giants, star running back Saquon Barkley has played 15 healthy games and then 13 games last year where Barkley was still clearly working his way back from injury. During that time, the Giants had some of the worst offensive line play in the league, and Jones was throwing to a wide receiver corps that was often led by Sterling Shepard, when healthy, who is a fine receiver but not a number one receiver in the NFL. 

The Giants brought in Kenny Golladay last year, but he was injured for most of the season, and tight end Evan Engram failed to live up to his draft promise. As a result, the case can be made that Jones has also suffered from a poor supporting cast and coaching. “He was just in a bad, bad situation: offensive line, receivers, coaching was a mess.” 

With Brian Daboll now in New York, it’s easy to see a path for Jones to put together a better season than his counterpart, Zach Wilson. Jones’ 62.8% career completion is above average, and his 45 touchdowns to 29 interceptions is not great but is a far better TD:INT ratio than Wilson had in his first season. 

Jones also brings value with his legs, rushing for at least 280 yards in each of his three NFL seasons despite never playing a full 16 (or 17 games). Considering Daboll just worked wonders with a raw and unproven quarterback with good rushing ability in Buffalo, it’s not out of the question to think he can build a similarly effective system with Jones. 

That’s obviously not to say that Daniel Jones will become Josh Allen, but merely suggesting that Brian Daboll has shown the ability to maximize his quarterback’s talent by building a system around what the quarterback does well. Even the NFL evaluators agreed that Jones “would benefit from whatever creativity Daboll brings to the offense.”

The consensus among the talent evaluators seems to be that “There is enough talent [with Jones], enough intangibles there, and he has certainly proven his physical toughness” but that “he is a classic case of a guy who didn’t have enough reps coming out [of college] and then realizing pretty quickly, ‘Guess what, it is hard to develop quarterback play with a truncated offseason unless you are doing that on your own.”

Still, at just 25 years old and with one of the best offensive minds in the league now acting as his head coach, perhaps we’ve written off Daniel Jones too early? While he may not earn a Pro Bowl birth or take the Giants to the playoffs, it’s not a stretch to believe he’ll be better this year than the similarly unproven quarterback who shares the same stadium and many of the same support-related concerns. 

With neither team looking likely to be competitive on a major scale this year, the most interesting competition may be for New York quarterback supremacy. 

For more NFL coverage like this Zach Wilson and Daniel Jones article, visit amNY Sports

Daniel Jones practices this offseason
New York Giants’ quarterback Daniel Jones, center, participates in a practice at the NFL football team’s training facility in East Rutherford, N.J., Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

 

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