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Breaking Down Zach Wilson’s First Career NFL Start

Even in a Jets loss, there was plenty to get excited about in regards to their rookie quarterback Zach Wilson.

NFL: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

When the Jets took Zach Wilson second overall last April, expectations were high for the young quarterback. However, expectations for the Jets as team were still very much tempered. With a work-in-progress supporting cast around Wilson in New York, it was a roller coaster of an NFL debut.

Let’s break down his first career NFL game against the Carolina Panthers on the road.

It got off to about as rough a start as possible. The first drive stalled after a false start and the first of what would be six sacks at the hands of the Panthers’ defense. Wilson was under duress most of the afternoon. His best offensive lineman, left tackle Mekhi Becton, went down with a dislocated knee cap and could miss a month or more. The protection may not get better for some time.

Over the first half, Wilson had a miserable time running away from pressure and missing throws. He finished the half 6 for 16 for 84 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a lowly 29.2 passer rating.

The second half was a different story.

The former BYU signal caller seemed a bit more comfortable with the speed of the NFL. He was under constant pressure but the game looked to be slowing down in his head. Receivers stopped dropping as many balls and Wilson started fitting throws into tight windows for completions.

He finally threw his first NFL touchdown late in the third quarter. Once again, he was avoiding pressure, he rolled right and fired across his body to the end zone where he found his new pal Corey Davis.

After the score, the Jets went for two to try and cut the deficit to one score. Wilson scampered into the end zone on a zone read for the conversion. He displayed his coveted athleticism and knack for using his legs.

The 22-year-old ended up throwing another touchdown late to try and bring the Jets back. Even though the Jets fell 19-14, there were a ton of positives to take away from Wilson’s NFL debut.

After that brutal first half, Wilson came to life with 174 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and a sparkling 123.9 passer rating.

He finished the day with an 82.9 passer rating, better than the likes of Josh Allen, Ryan Tannehill, fellow rookie Trevor Lawrence, and yes, even Aaron Rodgers (who was the worst quarterback of the weekend).

Wilson’s Quarterback Rating (QBR) came in at 28.7, better than Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, and Matt Ryan.

The clear message is that the Jets need to protect Wilson better and the receivers need to catch passes when Wilson puts them through tight windows.

Wilson certainly has things to work on as well, as that interception was a poor decision on his part. Overall, it was a respectable debut with a lot of positives to build on. Even some of his incompletions were things of beauty, with precise ball placement and seemingly easy power behind long throws.

Wilson and the Jets take on the Patriots next Sunday at 1pm EDT in their home opener.