It's officially fantasy football season, and in the interest of making you, the fantasy fan, smarter in your draft decisions, I've started my "The Fantasy Case Against" series. I've already covered the likes of Justin Herbert, Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley, and I'll have more players to discuss in the coming weeks for all of you redraft fans. Of course, not everyone plays in traditional leagues alone. Dynasty leagues are gaining more popularity, and making the correct decisions on the top rookies has an even bigger impact in such formats. If you strike out on a pick, it hurts a lot longer.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Zach Wilson. With Sam Darnold no longer on the roster, the BYU product is a virtual lock to open his rookie season as the starter. When you also consider the Jets added help on the offensive line and in the offense, it seems like everything is setting up perfectly for Wilson to become a fantasy asset for dynasty managers. But will he meet expectations?
Wilson was bananas good last season, throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also rushed for 254 yards and scored 10 times on the ground. He throws an amazingly effective deep ball, completing 74.1% of passes of 30-plus air yards in 2020. That was the best of any FCS quarterback in the last nine years. The kid has made what some would call impossible throws, stroking it deep on the run or off-balance with relative ease. No one is arguing that the talent is present.
For all of his positives, however, there are also some concerns. Wilson can be labeled a "one-year wonder," as his first two seasons at BYU weren't all that impressive. In fact, he wasn't even guaranteed the starting job heading into 2020. While I wouldn't call him brittle by any stretch, Wilson also dealt with shoulder and hand injuries in college.
Wilson also played behind an elite offensive line. Per PFF, he finished with a 96.5 grade in a clean pocket and under no pressure and a 74.1 grade when under pressure. The talented field general also didn’t face what you would call “elite” competition during his breakout season, and Wilson went a mere 2–4 in his career against top 25 teams.
Did You Know?
The Cougars haven't had a lot of success in producing fantasy stars at the quarterback position. Steve Young was without question the cream of the BYU crop at the next level, but he was the exception and not the rule. Aside from Young, the best signal-callers to come out of the school are Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon, Robbie Bosco and Max Hall. None of them made a great statistical impact in the NFL or in the world of fantasy football.
BYU has also not had much success regarding its players going in the first round of the NFL draft. Young was picked by the Buccaneers in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft, so he doesn't factor into this research. Overall, the Cougars have had 10 players go in the first round of the NFL draft. Two of them, Marc Wilson ('80) and McMahon ('82), were quarterbacks. The rest were a mix of offensive linemen and defenders, none of whom made a major impact in the NFL. Does this mean Wilson will be next? Of course not, but it’s still a notable trend for BYU alums as it pertains to success at the next level.
Some NFL teams just can’t get it right when selecting a quarterback in NFL drafts. The Jets are the poster boys for that trend. Let’s start back in 1983 when the Men in Green selected Ken O'Brien with the 24th overall selection. He went ahead of Dan Marino, who went on to become one of the best quarterbacks of all time. While O’Brien had a few decent seasons, he had more than 15 touchdown passes just twice with New York.
Now, let's fast forward to 1991 when the Jets took Browning Nagle in the second round. He finished his career with more interceptions than touchdowns. Jeff Blake was a sixth-rounder in '92, but much of his statistical success came with the Bengals, and he had only two good fantasy seasons. Over the next several years, the Jets drafted Glenn Foley ('94) and Chuck Clements ('97) before landing Chad Pennington with the 18th overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft. He wasn’t terrible, going 32–29 during his time with the Jets, but a fantasy asset he was not. In fact, Pennington never threw for more than 3,352 yards in a season. He also had more than 19 touchdown passes once ('02).
The following seasons saw Gang Green shoot even more blanks at quarterback, as the likes of Brooks Bollinger (2003), Brad Smith ('06), Kellen Clemens ('06) and Erik Ainge ('08) did nothing at the next level. Only Clemens was more than a fourth-round pick, but plenty of late-round quarterbacks have gone on to great things (Tom Brady!).
If you're a diehard Jets fan, now is the time you might want to skip down to the next few paragraphs. In 2009 they made Mark Sanchez the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft. He had one good fantasy season in '11 when he produced 3,474 passing yards and 26 touchdown passes. However, he was helped by his six rushing touchdowns, which was a complete outlier during his time with the Jets. Overall, Sanchez is best known for the "butt fumble" when he ran into the keister of lineman Brandon Moore and lost the ball.
New York drafted two quarterbacks in the second round over the next seven seasons, including Geno Smith (2013) and Christian Hackenberg ('16). Smith was very rarely relevant in fantasy football circles, and Hackenberg never attempted an NFL pass.
Now to their most recent failure: Sam Darnold. The USC quarterback was the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, and he was never once a top 25 quarterback from a fantasy standpoint. I wouldn't place all the blame on him, though, as the Jets gave him very few weapons on offense and inexplicably hired Adam Gase to be their head coach after the Dolphins fired him. Now in Carolina, after a recent trade, maybe Darnold will reach his potential. He certainly didn't do it while in the Big Apple, however.
Here’s one last note that is certain to drive diehard Jets fans mad.
Since 2012, Gang Green has mostly failed to make the right choice in the first round of the NFL draft. Quinton Coples ('12) and Dee Milliner ('13) were both cut, while Sheldon Richardson ('13), Calvin Pryor ('14), Leonard Williams ('15), Darron Lee ('16), Jamal Adams ('17) and Darnold ('18) have all been traded. The jury is still out on Mekhi Becton ('20). Is Wilson next in line to be another New York draft flop?
The Jets overhauled their coaching staff in the offseason, hiring former Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to be their head coach. Saleh brought along Mike LaFleur, who has never been an NFL offensive coordinator but has worked with Kyle Shanahan since 2014. Since then, LaFleur has been an offensive assistant in Atlanta, plus a passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach in San Francisco. From 2018–20, the Niners finished in the top 10 in scoring, total offense and rushing offense.
However, one major note as it pertains to Wilson is the lack of success quarterbacks have had based on fantasy points under the Shanahan and LaFleur duo. Since 2014, only Matt Ryan (2016—QB2) has ranked higher than 14th in fantasy points. To their credit, the duo hasn't had what you would call superstar quarterbacks. Aside from Ryan, their list of field generals includes Jimmy Garoppolo (sorry, not a fantasy football star), Brian Hoyer, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard. Could Wilson be the best for LaFleur?
There's a lot of excitement around Wilson right now, and he's shown the talent and skill to be a potential impact-maker at the next level. However, the trends we've seen with BYU quarterbacks at the NFL level and the Jets' historical failures as an organization in drafting signal-callers raise concerns. Fans of Gang Green would argue that the past doesn't matter and that current general manager Joe Douglas possesses a brilliant mind and will change the direction of the franchise. Those things could be true.
The Jets have added help all over the offense, too, as the line now boasts rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker and the newly signed Morgan Moses. The team also signed Corey Davis and Tevin Coleman and selected Michael Carter and Elijah Moore in the NFL draft. The team also brings back Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims and Chris Herndon from 2020.
Still, would anyone be surprised if Wilson were just another in a long line of failed Jets first-round draft picks? Or that for all of his talent, he couldn’t get the job done at the next level like so many other elite quarterback prospects? Fantasy fans, especially those in dynasty leagues, might want to think twice before investing heavily in him.
The Fantasy Case Against ...
- RUNNING BACKS
- WIDE RECEIVERS
- TIGHT ENDS
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!