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5 Questions with Gang Green Nation: How has Zach Wilson’s rookie season gone so far?

Tennessee Titans v New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) head to East Rutherford, New Jersey to take on the New York Jets (3-11) on Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern Time (CBS).

Similarly to the Jaguars, the Jets have a rookie quarterback and have struggled to win games in 2021. To help us learn more about New York, we spoke to MacGregor Wells, deputy manager at Gang Green Nation — SB Nation’s website for all things Jets.

How has Zach Wilson’s rookie season gone so far? Do Jets fans like what they see from first-year head coach Robert Saleh? How have former Jaguars Keelan Cole and Quincy Williams performed for the Jets? MacGregor answers these questions and more.

1. Now that quarterback Zach Wilson is just a few games away from completing his rookie season, what are your thoughts on Wilson — what has he done well and what does he need to improve upon? Do you think he is the quarterback of the future for the Jets, or do you not see his career panning out in New York?

MacGregor: Zach Wilson has been one of the worst, if not the worst, starting quarterbacks in the NFL this year. He has struggled at nearly every aspect of quarterbacking. He is late getting the ball out. He doesn’t read defenses well. He doesn’t trust what he is seeing, resulting in a failure to throw with anticipation. He has been a turnover machine. His short-pass accuracy has been abysmal. His pocket awareness has been bad, and he too often bails out of the pocket when he is not pressured. His mechanics break down under pressure. His ball placement is poor; he often makes receivers contort to catch the ball and rarely hits guys in stride on the numbers. He often eschews the open easy play in favor of going for a big play when it isn’t open.

In short, Wilson has not been a starting level NFL quarterback to date. That’s the bad news. The good news for Jets fans is Wilson seems to be improving. He has recently done a much better job of getting the ball out on time. He has for the most part stopped trying to play hero ball and going for the big play when it isn’t there. He has done a better job of recognizing what the defense is doing and taking what is given to him. He has started to improve his accuracy and ball placement, though it is still a work in progress.

In short, we are starting to see signs of positive development. He still has a long way to go, and it is too early to be confident he will develop into the kind of quarterback the Jets thought they were getting when they drafted Wilson No. 2 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, but at least he seems to be heading in the right direction. That gives Jets fans hope, if not overwhelming confidence.

2. Similarly, first-year head coach Robert Saleh is a few weeks away from completing his first season at the helm for the Jets. Are you sold on Saleh on his staff moving forward, are you still in “wait-and-see” mode, or do you think Saleh may not have been the right hire? Do you think the majority of Jets fans agree with you or disagree with you regarding Saleh?

MacGregor: I think it’s too early to have much conviction regarding Saleh one way or the other. He’s a rookie head coach with 14 games under his belt. The results have not been pretty, and the defense, supposedly his specialty, has been atrocious. But the roster stinks and the injuries have been overwhelming. How much of the Jets struggles are due to lack of talent? How much due to poor coaching? How much due to a bad rookie quarterback? I just don’t know how to parse this with much conviction. Many things have come together to make this Jets team one of the worst in the NFL. I think we’ll have a better handle on this in a year or so, when Saleh has had a year to make adjustments and learn from his mistakes, as well as, hopefully, better talent to work with. I think a majority of Jets fans are of a similar mindset.

Note: Saleh is currently away from the team after testing positive for COVID-19. His availability for Sunday’s game is unclear as of press time.

3. How have former Jaguars Keelan Cole (wide receiver) and Quincy Williams (linebacker) performed for the Jets?

MacGregor: Quincy Williams has been a pleasant surprise for a waiver wire pickup. He plays with a great deal of passion and energy and has quickly claimed a starting position at linebacker. I’m not convinced he’s a long term answer at the position; I think he often plays a bit out of control. But for a waiver wire pickup he’s been great, and at worst he’ll be a pretty good backup. At best he develops into a long term starter.

Keelan Cole has been a disappointment. The Jets gave him decent money and penciled him in as a starter on the outside, but he has been at best the fourth best wide receiver on the Jets. Worse, with starters Corey Davis and Elijah Moore on injured reserve, the Jets needed Cole to step up the last few weeks. Instead he has all but disappeared. Cole seems like he’s going to be one-and-done for the Jets, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some trouble finding a spot on an NFL roster next year.

4. Are there any under-the-radar players who could make an impact for New York on Sunday who Jaguars fans may not be familiar with?

MacGregor: I’m not even sure who will be available! The Jets as of Wednesday morning had 13 players on the COVID-19 list. Many of those guys could have been the answer to this question. Maybe Austin Walter will make an impact at running back. He was an undrafted free agent in 2019 who has never gotten much of a chance in the NFL, but he’s looked pretty good in limited action this year with the Jets. Brandin Echols, a sixth-round draft choice of the Jets in 2021, might do some good things at cornerback. He had a pick six and three pass breakups last week against the Dolphins.

5. How do you see Sunday’s game playing out? What is your score prediction?

MacGregor: With the caveat that I’m kind of terrible at this whole prognostication thing, I think I’ll go with the Jets for the first time this year. The way I see it these teams are roughly equally bad, with roughly equally bad rookie quarterbacks. The Jets have the home field, the Jaguars have not won a road game this year, so I’ll make this a three-point Jets victory. Let’s say Jets 16, Jaguars 13. Now that I’ve picked the Jets to win for the first time this year, no doubt it will end up being a Jaguars blowout.

Thank you to MacGregor for providing his thoughts and analysis on what to expect from New York this week. If you’re interested in keeping up on news and insights regarding the Jets, follow Gang Green Nation.

Merry Christmas Eve, all!