I really do admire New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh for sticking by Zach Wilson as the former BYU star tries to avoid becoming one of the biggest busts in NFL Draft history. The former No. 2 overall pick was believed to be dead in the water after a disastrous sophomore campaign, yet it now appears the Jets are going to give him at least another season.
Here are some more thoughts from Saleh's recent presser in which he basically implied Wilson needs to get out of his own head and get in touch with who he really is (h/t ESPN.com):
"Go read a book, go do something, get away from this game, just reset. I think the greatest gift you can give yourself as a human is to figure out what's important to you. What do you value and how can you stick to those values day in and day out. That is the greatest gift you can give yourself, is to discover yourself. I think Zach needs to get away, read a book and figure that out."
You know who else could stand to take that advice to at least some degree? Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
I'm not placing all the blame at LaFleur's feet for Gang Green's offensive woes. That said, you can't help but think he might be a little over his skis at this point. Think about it. His brother Matt is the head coach of the Green Bay Freaking Packers. And maybe this is just my human behavior/super analytical/observant actor brain going way too deep, but tell me if you think I'm crazy...
Listen to the audio above from Mike LaFleur, and then listen to the video below of LaFleur's main mentor, Kyle Shanahan, in a recent press conference:
The speech patterns, and in particular, the specific way LaFleur sharply inhales and says "um" is EXACTLY like Shanahan. It's uncanny and it's one of those things I can't unsee/unhear. I'm not wrong!! It's even more evident when the mic quality is better on the 49ers' official YouTube channel, but you know, the NFL are hardos about embedding video so I made do with this one.
I'm not saying Mike LaFleur doesn't know Xs and Os. He obviously does. I just get the sense that maybe he's trying too hard to emulate those close to him who've most influenced him and have achieved more in the NFL instead of forging his own path.
How does all this apply to Zach Wilson? Well, it's that whole thing where a coach tries to shoehorn a player into his system rather than tailoring it and making perhaps significant modifications to cater to a player's strengths. The Shanahan-inspired offense is notoriously verbose in terminology, relies on timing, sound footwork and suits a seasoned veteran who can read the whole field.
Chris Simms now infamously ranked Wilson his No. 1 QB prospect in the 2021 draft class ahead of Trevor Lawrence. Of course he's going to go to bat for him, but I remember Simms saying during Wilson's rookie campaign that they were asking him to execute way more difficult concepts and make a ton more high-level NFL throws than pretty much all the other first-year QBs.
When you look at these pre-draft quotes via the New York Post from Saleh:
"The things that we value in quarterback play, he checks every box. "You talk about arm strength and accuracy — check. The ability work off-schedule and make plays — check. Fearless in the pocket — check. His ability to recall, process and make the right decisions to get the ball where it needs to go without turning the ball over. … He’s a special young man."
And GM Joe Douglas about pre-draft Zoom meetings:
"He was on the edge of his seat. He was close to the camera. You could tell how intensely focused he was. On top of it, the mental horsepower, the recall, going through these plays and knowing exactly the situation, the play-call, the audibles, how the defense was going to react. Just really impressive. Every hurdle that we had in our predraft process we felt like he cleared."
…And it's no wonder the Jets felt comfortable saddling Wilson with so much early on, and for making it the worst-kept secret leading up to draft night that he was going to be their pick.
Maybe they should've not been so easily swooned and dived a tad deeper into Justin Fields' game tape. They clearly didn't study Wilson close enough to reveal serious flaws that even several media folks were able to diagnose. It's one thing for some of us outside draftniks to be enamored with Wilson's highlight reel. This is y'all's job, Jets leadership! And you clearly didn't do all your homework!
I never thought I'd come around to defending Zach Wilson as much as I'm about to here in making my main point. It's almost like this toxic, 1,000% convicted belief Saleh, LaFleur and the Jets organization had in Wilson in the first place to make him a no-brainer second overall pick set him up for failure. They saw all the upside, freakish arm talent and raw athleticism and said, "fuck it, we're football geniuses and we'll make him look great."
…Aaaaaaaaand it totally backfired because, turns out, Wilson was far from ready to play in Year 1, never mind Year 2. At least in the offense as LaFleur initially conceived it.
I actually do think the Jets staff is delusional enough to still think they can mold Wilson into a superstar. They don't know how to quit him. HOWEVER, there is some grain of truth that Saleh and LaFleur both realize Joe Flacco and Mike White aren't the answers going forward, either, and are backing Wilson to some degree because, well, what else are they gonna do?
I can guarantee you Douglas realizes how badly he fucked up, and will leave no stone unturned to upgrade the quarterback position this offseason. Given how poor Wilson has fared, can't blame Douglas for seeking out a superior alternative. Still, due to Wilson still only being 23 years old, his capacity to make truly outlandish throws and the fact that he's with an organization that's still overcoming years of bad culture and losing…a certain recent on-field exchange has stuck with me since the dawn of the new year: