Gordon Monson: BYU’s Zach Wilson has been mishandled by the New York Jets, but there’s hope for a better future

After being benched multiple times, the former No. 2 overall pick had his best game Sunday.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

I’ve had my doubts, too.

We all have, all of us who have watched Zach Wilson try to play quarterback for the New York Jets.

At times, it hasn’t been pretty. Most of the time. The better part of three years now. And you wonder, you had to wonder, where’s the quarterback we saw play at BYU? Where’d he go? Where’d his talent go? Where’s the confidence edging toward cockiness? Where’s the swagger? Where’s the guy with the grip-it-and-rip-it attitude, with the comfort zone as vast as Jimmy Kimmel’s? Where’s the spin of the ball that had everyone buzzing at his pro day?

Oh, there it is — so obviously on display on Sunday against the Houston Texans, a team with a potential rookie-of-the-year quarterback in C.J. Stroud, a team fighting for a spot in the playoffs, a team giving up 30 second-half points to a Jets offense that had been confused as much as it was erratic through the first 12 games of its NFL season, a team that went ahead and lost to the Jets, 30-6, in a downpour at MetLife Stadium.

And the Zachmeister was the key to the Texans’ demise and New York’s triumph. After being blamed for everything that had gone wrong for the Jets and subsequently benched, then demonized by media reports that claimed Wilson was reluctant to come back and play for his team when it needed him to start again, reports Wilson denied, out of nowhere like a bolt of blue, BYU Zach was back.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) as BYU hosts San Diego State, NCAA football in Provo on Saturday, December 12, 2020.

If you saw the game, or maybe just the highlights, you were reminded of what had gone on before, what seemed a few weeks ago as long gone, namely Wilson playing with his hair on fire, but with his brain fully functioning, setting up firmly in the pocket when he had time, pirouetting away from pressure when necessary, completing eight of 11 passes when under that duress. On one play, Wilson, dodging a would-be sacker, spun to his left, never letting his eyes divert from targets downfield, firing a buzzsaw against his body for a 25-yard completion. It was the kind of play he so often made back in the day for the Cougars, a play most quarterbacks, even of the NFL variety, couldn’t make.

All told, Wilson finished his business on Sunday hitting on 27 throws, completing 75 percent of his passes, for 301 yards and two touchdowns. And you had to feel good for the kid, a kid who has been forced to grow up enduring a wicked storm in New York, among impatient fans and grumpy media and, worst of all, coaches who have mishandled a quarterback who needed more than anything steady hands and steady minds.

He got neither.

The sudden presence of Aaron Rodgers, the great quarterback famously acquired in the offseason to replace Wilson and then infamously injured with a blown left Achilles’ tendon in the opening minutes of the season, has helped settle the young quarterback who as a schoolboy idolized Rogers and who attempted to pattern his play after him.

But that last bit wasn’t, hasn’t been, enough of a boost for Wilson. A decent offensive line would have helped much more, as would some offensive play-calling that wasn’t modeled after the dusty attack of the 1920 Canton Bulldogs. Enlightened offensive football hasn’t been embraced by the Jets coaching staff, led as it is by a head coach who thinks the main objective of his offense should be to score a few points, and then never make life difficult for his defense.

Don’t misunderstand, Wilson has contributed more than he should have to his own detriment. Early on, he showed immaturity and a lack of proper perspective. He’s alternately short-armed throws, made bad decisions, fumbled in significant moments, but, mostly, he’s been sacked. Sacked and sacked and sacked. And when he hasn’t been sacked, he’s heard the constant thump of defensive linemen coming in a hurry to disassemble his assorted body parts.

;New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson speaks during a news conference following an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Las Vegas. The Raiders won 16-12. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Those close to Wilson say he can’t wait to get away from a bad organization at season’s end. Who could blame him? The money’s been nice, the team methodology nasty. And if the feeling is mutual, after the Jets made him the second overall pick of the NFL Draft three years back, then so be it. There likely will be a better opportunity elsewhere, with a better team and better coaching.

There appears to be mixed thoughts among football folks as to whether Wilson yet has a bright future in the NFL. Some believe under the right circumstances he can, or at least could, thrive. Others aren’t so sure.

Anyone who watched him play on Sunday, though, saw what’s possible. His coaches, afterward, said his performance was “outstanding” and “unbelievable.” His teammates said he “balled out.” One said: “He just went out and played his brand of ball, without feeling constrained,” adding that Wilson was “phenomenal.”

It was one game. Only one game. We get it. There’s a whole lot more to prove. But if you study Wilson’s game, and consider and weigh the circumstances in and around and under which he’s been forced to play, if you see through the criticism, the clutter and the cluster, you have to, or at least might be wise to, acknowledge that there’s something there with this young dude, an unusual playmaking quality, an off-schedule ability that is uncommon.

That acknowledgment, of course, guarantees nothing.

Still, a team other than the Jets, a team with a proper plan, with an offensive line that isn’t the equivalent of a freeway onramp, with a rocksteady coaching staff that doesn’t cuff its QB on account of fear or collapse under pressure from fans who know less about football than it does, could benefit from what Wilson has to offer, but has yet to consistently demonstrate.

Is there anything that screams “New York Jets” more than using a second-overall draft pick to identify, prop up and then bench multiple times a misused-but-talented young quarterback, temporarily tarnishing his confidence and delaying his development, and then enabling him to go to another team, where he flourishes and wins?

Sounds about right. Even impatient Jets fans know it.

J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.