Jets QB Zach Wilson 'would've benefited' by sitting behind a vet

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When the New York Jets drafted quarterback Zach Wilson second overall in 2021, they handed him the starting job with no competition. In retrospect, that was a mistake, according to offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.

"In hindsight, it probably would've benefited [him] just to sit back and learn a little bit and watch a veteran and just kind of grow in this league -- kind of in the backseat, watching," LaFleur said Thursday. "Get better in practice, get better through the scout team and all that. But that wasn't the course that we went."

This was the first public admission by anyone in the organization that Wilson might have been better served by easing into a starting role. His struggles over two years have emerged as one of the major issues surrounding the Jets (7-9), who have a five-game losing streak and were eliminated from postseason contention last weekend.

Wilson, benched twice this season, will be a healthy scratch Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

LaFleur explained why they decided to give Wilson the job from Day 1.

"If you think back to the preseason, I think everyone wanted to crown him after the first preseason, right?" he said. "I don't think any of us got too high or too low on the preseason, but he was playing pretty good football through that."

Wilson completed 75% of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but he faced no starting defenses that preseason. Still, the Jets were committed to him from the outset. In fact, they never actually announced that he was the starter because they saw it as obvious. "We're going to have to look back and see what -- not necessarily red flags, but what indicators were there that said he wasn't ready," LaFleur said. "Hindsight is 20/20. It really doesn't matter. We just have to learn from it, and we will."

At the time, the only quarterbacks on the roster were Wilson, Mike White and James Morgan. White had no NFL experience, and Morgan was a rookie. They eventually added experienced quarterbacks, with Josh Johnson arriving late in training camp and Joe Flacco coming in a midseason trade.

LaFleur, whose job appears to be in jeopardy, said quarterbacks sometimes need time to develop. He pointed to Green Bay Packers backup Jordan Love, coached by his older brother, Matt LaFleur, as an example of a quarterback benefiting from time on the bench.

LaFleur said he hasn't done a good job of developing Wilson.

"In two years, yeah, we haven't done our job with him, right?" he said. "Any player at any position that isn't producing to the level they're capable of, as a coach, we failed them.

"There's a two-way street with it. The player has to meet us in the middle of it, but you want all these guys to play at their absolute best. We all know Zach hasn't played at his absolute best. He has shown spurts. He has shown the talent. Like [coach Robert] Saleh said yesterday, through hell or high water, we're going to work with him."

The Jets have sputtered with Wilson and White at quarterback in recent weeks, managing only four touchdowns in the past five games. LaFleur accepted accountability for the struggles, adding that he's not worried about his job security.

"You sign up for this at any level," he said. "You understand this is a production-based business. I'm not going to run from that. I grew up in a family of football coaches. My dad's been fired, my brother's been fired. Every coach is going to be fired at some point. It's just the cycle. That's what it is. It doesn't keep me up at night or put me to sleep."