Harbinger or mirage? Closer look at Jets' Zach Wilson and his fast start

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In his brief NFL career, New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson already has experienced a mild case of the high-low extremes of media coverage. There were alarm bells when the quarterback struggled early in training camp, and now some people are ready to write songs about him after two sharp outings in the preseason.

Here's where we provide perspective.

Let's start by stressing this point: So far, Wilson is everything the Jets envisioned when they selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. In six series (42 plays), he hasn't done anything that could be perceived as a red flag: No interceptions, no fumbles, no sacks, no pre-snap penalties and no three-and-outs.

And four scoring drives. Impressive production.

Before we nominate him for AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year, it's important to understand a few things. Wilson has operated under optimal conditions. That he has faced predominantly backups probably has a lot to do with that. Both the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants opted to rest their key starters.

In 20 dropbacks, Wilson hasn't been knocked to the ground -- not a single time. He also has been throwing to open wide receivers. He's 13-for-14 for 166 yards and two touchdowns when targeting players who are three-plus yards from the defender when the ball arrives, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Some of that can be attributed to clever play design by Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. Wilson probably deserves some credit, too, for making quick and accurate reads. But we all know the degree of difficulty will increase in the regular season, when the speed intensifies and the pass coverages become more complex. So far, he's had two tight-window throws, when the separation is less than one yard. Both were incomplete.

Jets coach Robert Saleh isn't a fan of the narrative Wilson is putting up big numbers (15-for-20, 191 yards, two touchdowns) because he is playing against backups.

"If it was the other way around and he was struggling, he'd be getting torched," Saleh said Monday. "The fact that he's going out there and absolutely dissecting these defenses, I think is a testament to him.

"You guys know how I feel about professional football players, and their ability to play this game. I get it, maybe they haven't been working together, so their timing ... might be off from a defensive standpoint. Credit to our offense. ... They've had a really good showing so far this preseason. You still got to go out there and do it. [It's] no different than going out on the golf course. You might be playing an easy course, but you still have to go out there and hit shots."

There's no doubt about that, but many of those shots are easier at the local municipal course than, say, Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.

ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback, agreed with Saleh for the most part. While he acknowledged "it's always easier playing against poor talent," Orlovsky said he focuses on the "why" more than the actual results when evaluating quarterbacks, meaning: Why is he playing well? Why is he playing poorly?

When Orlovsky looked at Wilson's first two games, he sees good decision making and superior arm talent.

"It doesn't matter who it's happening against for me," he said. "I remember three years ago. Sam [Darnold] was doing some awesome stuff as a young kid in the preseason as well, but the support around Wilson is galaxies better."

Two plays jump out from the Green Bay game. On a first-and-10, Wilson was flushed to his right and threw off balance on the move to wide receiver Corey Davis on the right sideline for 27 yards. The ball had plenty of zip and traveled 44.6 yards in the air, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Later, Wilson used his eyes and a shoulder fake to freeze the middle safety on an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Kroft.

The point is, Wilson has demonstrated the kind of traits that make you want to believe the Jets have solved their 50-year quarterback riddle -- and that's exactly what you want out of the preseason. At the same time, let's slow the superlatives. He still hasn't been tested mentally or physically the way he will be in the regular season.

It looks like the Philadelphia Eagles will play mostly backups on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET) at MetLife Stadium, so it could wind up being a JV summer for Wilson. Hey, look at it this way: Wilson is building confidence and honing his process, which Saleh likes to talk about.

"That's where we're really, really excited about him," Saleh said. "Sometimes the result on game day is going to be phenomenal, sometimes it's going to be a big dud, but we trust that those duds are going to be fewer and farther in between."