Jets’ Zach Wilson needs to play better than Mac Jones in Year 2

At first glance, Robert Saleh’s scouting report on Zach Wilson’s upgraded physique — his shoulders are back and he’s not caved in — was not one to get excited about. Generally speaking, for a player drafted by the Jets to end a Super Bowl drought that has covered more than a half century, you would hope for something more than, you know, “not caved in.”

But if nothing else, once the Jets’ organized team activity started Tuesday, Saleh’s report proved accurate. Wilson had gained 13 pounds with a nutritionist’s help to weigh in at 221. His shoulders were pinned back as he jogged about the team’s emerald, Augusta National-esque practice fields in his red No. 2 jersey. Yes, it is important that his body matched up with his coach’s description, thick, in the year after his body of work matched up with this description: thin.

The Jets are supposed to be muscled up after a 4-13 season of excruciating growing pains with a rookie head coach and a quarterback who spent much of the time gasping for air. They aced the draft (we think) and, factoring in free-agent signings, they have given Wilson a much better chance to score points in Year 2.

Of course, the Jets still want to keep expectations on the low side. If you told them today they would finish 7-10 with a schedule that might hand them eight losses in their first 10 games, they would probably book a ticker-tape parade.

In the name of keeping springtime goals realistic, here’s one that shouldn’t be too much to ask of the second overall pick in the 2021 draft:

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) works out
Zach Wilson came to Jets camp this year with more muscle packed onto his frame.
Bill Kostroun
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones takes part in drills at the NFL football team's practice facility in Foxboro
Mac Jones had a superb rookie season with the Patriots.
AP Photo

Zach Wilson should outplay the other AFC East quarterback whose new and improved physique has made news. He should be a better football player than Mac Jones.

Though outplaying Buffalo’s Josh Allen, a legit league MVP candidate, is unrealistic, it’s not too early for Wilson to be the second-best quarterback in the division, assuming he is what the Jets tell us he is.

Up in New England, Jones has reportedly shed the same kind of dad bod that Tom Brady arrived with more than two decades ago.

“His stomach is gone, and he looks really good,” receiver Kendrick Bourne said of Jones. “He’s definitely a pro’s pro now.”

The Patriots quarterback explained that he cleaned up his diet and committed himself to proper sleep, wellness, and lower body-fat levels. Good for him. Jones has been everything Bill Belichick could have expected from the fifth quarterback picked in the 2021 draft, and then some.

But the Patriots have suffered a brain drain on offense, losing four assistants to Las Vegas, including new Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels, the best offensive coordinator of his generation, and Bo Hardegree, who helped shape Jones into the league’s best rookie quarterback. That leaves former Giants head coach Joe Judge and former Lions head coach Matt Patricia to help Belichick help Jones. Judge has spent just one year of his career as an offensive assistant, working with New England’s receivers in 2019. Patricia last worked as an offensive assistant 17 years ago, as the Patriots’ assistant line coach.

Bill Kostroun/New York Post

Maybe none of that will matter, and New England will go 11-6 because Belichick is Belichick and the Pats are the Pats. Or maybe this will be a rare Foxborough opening that the Jets can exploit.

Either way, Wilson should take it personally that Jones completely outplayed him in Year 1, even if he says he doesn’t.

“I don’t try and compare my play to anybody else, as far as other quarterbacks go,” Wilson said Tuesday. “I try and look at what I did last year and what I put on film and how I can just keep improving on that.What Mac is asked to do from his coaches is probably different that what I’m asked to do. We all have different schemes, different offenses, so I can’t sit there and compare what we’re trying do to there.”

Those comparisons will be printed and aired anyway. Jones made the playoffs, Wilson did not. Jones made the Pro Bowl, Wilson did not. Jones went 10-7 in his starts, Wilson went 3-10 in his. Jones completed 67.6 percent of his attempts and threw for 22 touchdowns against 13 interceptions, Wilson completed 55.6 percent of his attempts and threw for nine touchdowns and 11 picks.

On the bright side, Wilson delivered four rushing touchdowns to none for Jones, and proved to be the superior athlete while competing with teammates and coaches who were inferior to those of the Patriots.

This time around, the game shouldn’t be moving too fast for Saleh and staff, and the talent gap between the teams shouldn’t be as wide. Wilson should benefit greatly from the presence of Garrett Wilson on the outside, Breece Hall in the backfield, Laken Tomlinson on the line, C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin and Jeremy Ruckert at tight end, and a defense that added two first-round picks, Sauce Gardner and Jermaine Johnson II.

“We’re definitely going to be better,” Wilson said.

Their quarterback has no choice but to be better.

“You can tell his head’s right,” Saleh said. “He’s in a great mental space. … He looks good. He’s confident. He’s smiling. He’s vocal.

“You can always tell the [confidence] level in their understanding of what they’re being asked to do by the volume of their voice, and he’s getting pretty loud.”

Saleh said it takes NFL players three years to figure things out, but it seems Jones made that happen in one year.

Jones was drafted 13 overall spots and three quarterback spots after Wilson, who needs to spend the 2022 season reminding people why.

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