Should the New York Jets consider drafting Justin Fields OVER Zach Wilson?
On December 31st, 2020, Justin Fields put up a game to remember during the 2020 Sugar Bowl against Clemson: It was an all-inspiring, masterful performance. And if you don’t agree with me, then you’re probably just in denial.
The future lottery pick delivered six touchdown passes against Clemson’s seemingly unbeatable defense. Not only that, but Fields suffered a significant rib injury during the game. It didn’t seem to matter as Fields was a machine from the pocket, carving up the Tigers defense each and every drive.
But is Fields worthy of the No. 2 overall pick? Well, there are some reasons why the New York Jets should consider Zach Wilson over the former Ohio State signal-caller.
Remember: The Jets have a new head coach. And while Robert Saleh wants the best player available, he also wants a QB that can easily thrive in his system. This is very problematic if you want the most NFL-ready player, but the fact remains that the New York City media is relentless. They’ll be breathing down Saleh’s neck in a hurry if Fields doesn’t get the job done almost right away in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
That being said, Saleh shouldn’t reach for an NFL-ready prospect like Mac Jones. Jones has great size and moxy for the position, but his arm strength is still less than desirable. Fields probably has the best arm strength of the three QB prospects, and he played in two impressive offensive systems at Georgia and Ohio State. Wilson’s BYU team couldn’t even beat Coastal Carolina this season, and let’s face it….the entire 2020 Alabama offense was completely stacked, led of course by Mac Jones.
And now that Sam Darnold is playing quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, Saleh almost certainly needs a QB at No. 2 overall. Penei Sewell is a very nice blindside protecting prospect, but Fields and Wilson are good enough for the Jets to think quarterback this early on Draft Day.
So who should Saleh and Jets general manager Joe Douglas take at 2? Well, I think what Saleh and Jets general manager Joe Douglas need to consider is a multitude of factors. The biggest question that they have to answer is, “Who is the least risky pick?” If the Jets are thinking QB at No. 2 overall, it’s hard to really think that Wilson will become a better player than Fields. Why do I feel this way you might ask? Well, consider this.
If we as fans consider all of the quarterbacks drafted outside of non-Power Five Conferences, how many of them became perennial Pro Bowlers? In fact, how many of them became consistent impact quarterbacks? When it comes to college football, especially at quarterback, when an 18-year-old kid doesn’t get a scholarship at a Power Five school, there’s usually a reason. There are huge underdog stories like Kurt Warner attending Northern Iowa and Josh Allen at Wyoming, but these are so far and in-between. If a kid wasn’t good enough by age 18 to play with the big boys, can things really change that much in five years when they become draft eligible?
I only bring this up because if the Jets are going to take a national champion runner-up in Justin Fields over the Brigham Young stud, they better know the potential repercussions of drafting a QB from a mid-major school.
Alex Smith, the former University of Utah product, had a very nice career. But was he a franchise quarterback? Well, he was definitely a winner that his teammates respected. But there’s also a reason why 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh made the switch at QB to Colin Kaepernick. When the offense needed a quick, no-huddle scheme with deep passes, Smith was never that quarterback. The same skill set kind of speaks true to his University of Utah days as well.
Speaking of Kaepernick, he’s not even in the league anymore. Another Non-Power Five QB, he played his college football at Nevada. I could go on forever here. Carson Wentz is now a huge question mark with the Indianapolis Colts. Wentz of course went to North Dakota State, but the main problem with his career has been more about demoralizing knee and back injuries rather than erratic QB play.
Even Joe Flacco, the former University of Delaware signal-caller, sometimes got the nickname “Joe Flukeo” due to his inconsistent play on the gridiron. If we go with former BYU quarterbacks, remember when Jim McMahon was a first-round pick with the Chicago Bears? McMahon gets all the glory for that 1985 Chicago Bears team, but he was actually perfectly average for the Super Shuffle Bears: Just 15 touchdown passes to only 11 interceptions.
Yes, I know perfectly well that Steve Young went to BYU. My only point is this: If the Jets believe in Wilson over Fields, it’s because of all the game film that they saw these past couple of seasons. BYU’s run in 2020 was magical, but that Coastal Carolina game film is still concerning if the scouts consider him a no-doubt Number 2 overall draft pick.
But, it’s not as though Ohio State quarterbacks transition well into the NFL, either. In fact, most Big Ten quarterbacks do not become impact players in the NFL. Russell Wilson can’t even be considered a true Big Ten alumnus since he was just a one-year graduate school transfer. For every Tom Brady and Drew Brees Hall of Fame story, you have former Big Ten QBs like Kurt Kittner and Scott Tolzien who flamed out at the net level.
And continuing the trend of Big Ten flameouts, Ohio State QB alums have been borderline nonexistent in the National Football League: Terrell Pryor was better at wide receiver than quarterback. Braxton Miller fizzled out as a wideout. JT Barrett and Cardale Jones barely got a cup of coffee in the NFL. Craig Krenzel flat out stunk. Dewayne Haskins has major character concerns, which led to his early exit from the team who drafted him. Etc., etc.
However, Fields played in pro style offenses against much better competition. BYU plays a nice schedule, but it’s still nothing compared to the rigors of the SEC and Big Ten.
Also, the next-level statistics seem to favor the former Ohio State phenom. Whether you as a football fan or scout agree with how Pro Football Focus evaluates the game film, it’s still a highly respected football scouting service. Anyway, I bring up PFF because Justin Fields reportedly has the best arm in terms of long touchdown throws. He finished his career with 17 touchdown passes of at least 30 yards, the most out of any 2021 lottery pick.
He also doesn’t need the screen pass or short passes to lead the offense down the field. According to PFF, he only threw 20 screen passes during the 2020 season. As such, he’s effective with the spread offense and not necessarily with gimmicky passing concepts.
And it’s not just PFF who like Fields over Wilson. An anonymous NFC coordinator says Fields is a more “pure quarterback” than Pro Bowler Kyler Murray. According to the unnamed coordinator, Fields throws it better and has more ideal size for the position than the Arizona Cardinals All-Star.
Fields also has a more accurate touch on passes of at least 10 yards. Since 2018, he completed about 58% of his passes that were more than 10 yards down the field. Wilson is just at 45% entering the draft.
That being said, Justin Herbet was only at a 44% clip going into his rookie year with the Los Angeles Chargers, so accuracy can definitely be taught. Josh Allen has improved his accuracy problems as well.
Honestly, it just depends on what Robert Saleh and this new-look Jets coaching staff wants to do with the future of the franchise. Do they want to take a chance on Wilson? The mock draft boards say yes, but the Jets might want to reconsider. Byron Leftwich was seemingly a can’t-miss prospect out of Marshall. Remember how that worked out? Oh yeah, it didn’t.
The fact of the matter is there’s no way to know if the guy you draft will work out. And although every GM wants to find that prototypical franchise QB, at the end of the day, it’s about competing for a Super Bowl trophy. Wilson might pass every test (both the eye test and his passing statistics), but once again, his lack of competition in 2020 has cause for concern. David Garrard, who graduated from East Carolina, had nice some years in the NFL, but he was a far cry from a lock as the face of your franchise.
And what makes the NFL great is some of the greatest quarterbacks weren’t first-round picks. Tom Terrific Brady was the famous sixth rounder. Brees fell to the second round. Johnny “The Golden Arm” Unitas actually had to borrow gas money from his friends in order to make it to a scheduled Baltimore Colts tryout. Kurt Warner didn’t even get drafted.
My point is if the Jets don’t believe in Wilson OR Fields, it’s not a terrible decision to draft the best player available. Reaching for a quarterback is never a good idea. However, Fields and Wilson have enough intangibles to warrant their selection this early on during the draft.
Finally, the Jets need to consider who is the more talented player, not necessarily who fits their offense for the short-term. Assuming Saleh wants to run a West Coast offense that his protege Kyle Shannahn ran in San Francisco, Wilson is probably the better fit. Wilson carved up defenses with short and medium-range passes, which would assimilate more into a West Coast offense. As previously noted, Fields likes to challenge defenses with the deep ball and because of that, he can sometimes have some turnover-prone problems.
And I know that I’ve bashed this point over the head many times, but strength of schedule is still strength of schedule. Because of the massive scheduling problems that COVID-19 brought to the table, BYU didn’t even get to play a ranked Army team in 2020. Some of the cupcakes on their schedule were massive: Louisiana Tech, Texas State, North Alabama, and Western Kentucky just to name a few.
All I know for sure is if I had to choose between a dual-threat QB in Fields who finished as a Heisman Trophy in 2019 or a QB in Wilson who struggled at times against San Diego State and Coastal Carolina’s defenses, I would definitely pick Fields.
But what do you think? Should the Jets consider drafting Fields over Wilson? Make sure to comment below and subscribe to Sports Broadcast Solutions.