Zach Wilson is Your Superflex Huckleberry
The 2021 NFL rookie class of quarterbacks certainly has plenty of hype with five Round 1 draftees along with three others who were selected on Day 2. The conversation inevitably begins with Trevor Lawrence, but skips Zach Wilson and instead tends to continue with Trey Lance and Justin Fields. However, as the 2021 NFL season approaches, Zach Wilson and the Jets are trending upwards into fantasy relevance.
Editor's Note: Read more player profiles from the rest of the 4for4 staff!
That last sentence seems like a rich statement given the recent history of the Jets' offense. They have finished 32nd and 31st the past two seasons in points scored on offense with four bottom-10 finishes in the past five years. However, the addition of offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, a former college quarterback and passing game coordinator for the 49ers, should help. Add in an aggressive approach to improving the talent on offense and it’s hard not to have some level of optimism for improvement.
Wilson should also see the field early, probably Week 1, as the Jets seem determined to start the rebuild quickly with just James Morgan and Mike White as the other quarterbacks on the roster. That should give the former BYU quarterback every chance to maintain his starting position even with the typical rookie hiccups.
This could combine to give 1QB fantasy players an intriguing deep roster backup or, for those in superflex leagues, the type of late-quarterback option that could provide a profitable return at a key position.
Wilson’s Scouting Report
As mentioned, Zach Wilson was the BYU quarterback for the past three seasons, starting 18 games in his first two seasons including winning the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl MVP award at the end of his freshman year. After a pair of surgeries during that time to repair an old high school shoulder injury and later, a fractured finger, Wilson truly broke out in his junior year and went from a fringe NFL prospect to a Round-1 darling.
All he did that season was total 43 touchdowns (33 passing and 10 rushing) and finish eighth in the Heisman race while finishing second in the FBS in completion percentage. There were certainly struggles, he had a shaky performance against Coastal Carolina in the team’s only loss of 2020 and Wilson generally feasted on poor competition, calling into question his ability to step into the bright lights of New York.
When looking at his profile, Wilson has a gunslinger mentality similar to players like Ben Roethlisberger, Jake Plummer, or Johnny Manziel. He has the mobility to extend plays and trusts his arm down the field, sometimes to a fault, which can lead to amazing chunk plays but occasionally end drives in head-slapping fashion. Physically, Wilson has everything NFL teams look for with the rushing potential that fantasy players enjoy as well. It will be the mental side of the game, particularly his ability to process defenses and move through progressions that will determine his NFL success. However, Wilson is in a situation where he can learn on the job and be productive early given his situation and his teammates. John Paulsen has him projected to average roughly 17 yards rushing per game as well, which will help his weekly floor.
Jets’ Supporting Cast
If you want a sense of how rough things were for the Jets passing game in 2020, consider that only one receiver had more than 60 targets last season. By comparison, the Bengals had three different wide receivers with over 100 targets in 2020, and Joe Burrow missed nearly half the year. The Jets realized the lack of depth and talent, leveraging all their means to upgrade the position.
It started with the signing of Corey Davis who instantly slides into the top wide receiver spot on the team. While he has been disappointing relative to his top-five NFL Draft spot four years ago, he does have a pair of 65 catch seasons and fell just 16 yards short of his first 1,000 yard receiving season in 2020. Obviously, the extra game this season will help many surpass career highs, but Davis should be productive regardless. He represents a clear upgrade to play opposite last season’s rookie pick Denzel Mims, the leading snap getter at the position last year.
Jamison Crowder will operate in the slot once again and look to build on his four top-12 fantasy finishes (in just 12 games) but he will have some competition. The Jets made a nice move to add Keelan Cole from the Jaguars on a one-year deal to add depth, something that was tested last season and needed to be fortified. He should find some time in the rotation and works best as an inside receiver, and may also ease Crowder’s burdens in the return game.
The bigger move that impacts Crowder negatively is the drafting of Elijah Moore in Round 2 of the NFL Draft. Moore broke A.J. Brown’s single-season reception record at Ole Miss and has a physical approach to the position that the Jets are lacking. He should thrive after the catch and will move around the field but could be more of a slot receiver early as he learns to deal with NFL cornerbacks. He should provide another downfield threat in addition to Mims and Davis for Zach Wilson to stretch the field vertically, as well.
The Jets backfield needed an upgrade as well, as they ranked bottom 12 in rushing yards, touchdowns, and yards per carry in 2020. That came in the form of Day 2 NFL Draft pick Michael Carter from UNC. Despite splitting a backfield in college with fellow Day 2 pick Javonte Williams, Carter had back-to-back 1,000 rushing seasons to end his college career. He has the versatile game to be a factor on all three downs but will likely be the receiver early on in a backfield committee with free-agent signee Tevin Coleman. Considering top rusher Frank Gore is currently booking a 4 pm reservation for the Early Bird dinner at Denny’s, this will be an upgrade.
The return of Chris Herndon, the answer to every year's question of which tight end will break out, will be helpful as well as he managed three top-12 finishes (and six top-24 finishes) despite the struggles at quarterback. He has the talent to produce more consistently in the offense, he had four weeks outside the top-36 and should give LaFleur more versatility in personnel formations and assignments to maximize Wilson's chances.
- Zach Wilson is currently being selected as the QB26 in Underdog ADP, making him a fringe QB2 or top-end backup for superflex leagues, an easy call for a
1617 game starter with moderate rushing potential. He is also a nice stash for matchup plays in 1QB leagues if you like to stream the position.
- Expect the volume of passes to increase above last season’s 31 attempts per game (29th in the NFL). Their offensive coordinator is rooted in quarterback and passing game schemes, and the defense was bottom 10 in points and yards allowed, giving Wilson plenty of chances to air the ball out.
- The Jets made upgrades to their wide receiver and running back groups that should give Zach Wilson more playmaking potential. Add that to the improving offensive line with last year’s top pick Mekhi Becton and their other first-round pick in guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and Wilson should see an improvement on their 28% pressure rate allowed.
- The Jets are middle of the road for strength of schedule (19th) this season but have some key matchups against four of the six worst defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks last season: Falcons, Jaguars, Titans, and the Texans.