New York Jets' Zach Wilson has hidden edge as he embarks on key offseason

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson finished his rookie season with nine touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and 2,334 passing yards. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When the New York Jets added Zach Wilson's personal quarterback coach to the staff in early November, it was portrayed as a proactive, albeit unorthodox way to help the struggling rookie during the season.

The secondary benefit to having John Beck with Wilson on a day-to-day basis is about to come into play -- offseason training.

Now that Beck has left the team to return to Los Angeles, where he operates a quarterback training facility, he can continue to "coach" Wilson after Jan. 31 without it being a violation of league rules, which prohibits players from having contact with coaches until April. Beck is back to being a private instructor, not an NFL coach. To say the Jets found a loophole might be a stretch, but the arrangement should help Wilson get a jump on his first full offseason.

"I think the cool thing is John got to witness firsthand, I guess, the struggles, the things I had to deal with as a rookie, the things that we had to go through as a team and so, it’s going to be easy for us to say, ‘Hey, these are the big points of emphasis that we were really trying to work on every single week,'" Wilson said.

Nothing will be lost in translation because, for the second half of the season, Beck attended every meeting, every practice and every game. He already knew Wilson, having coached him for years, but now he knows the inner workings of the Jets' offense and can teach him accordingly in the coming months. It's unclear if Beck, a former NFL quarterback, will be part of the Jets' staff for the 2022 season.

This is a huge offseason for Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft.

"I would say Zach's offseason has got to be an A+ offseason when it comes to his own development," said ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback. "It's not time to be alarmed at all, but he's got to have an A+ offseason.

"He needs an offseason where he can go and really grind on the mechanics, fundamentals, those things. Once you elevate the basics and create a baseline, that's when his talent can shine."

After a breakneck pace in 2021, starting with pre-draft prep, Wilson plans get some much-needed rest before attacking his 2022 plan. From a physical standpoint, his goals are to strengthen his previously injured knee and add some muscle to his 6-foot-2, 214-pound frame -- an extra shock absorber, if you will, to handle the weekly pounding.

Wilson's rookie year was like three seasons in one -- the pre-injury struggles (nine interceptions in his first six starts), the four-week absence due to his knee sprain and the interception-free finish (none in his past five-plus games, covering 157 pass attempts). He finished with nine touchdown passes, 11 interceptions, 2,334 yards and a 55.6% completion rate.

"I have a 100% confidence in myself that I can play in this league and that I can play well, and that I can help lead this team to do some special things," he said. "That’s got to be the focus."

On paper, it wasn't a good year. Only four rookie quarterbacks since 2000 (minimum: 10 starts) registered a lower Total QBR than Wilson (28.5) -- Blake Bortles (2014), Josh Rosen (2018), Blaine Gabbert (2011) and Jimmy Clausen (2010), according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's not a distinguished group.

Sometimes stats don't tell the whole story; sometimes you have to use the eye test.

Wilson demonstrated undeniable improvement down the stretch, protecting the ball, managing the game and playing within the structure of the offense. He faced three of the top-5 scoring defenses -- Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints -- and had only one turnover (a fumble). That alone was impressive, especially when you consider his ever-changing supporting cast.

This is a pretty amazing stat: Wilson and his starting wide receivers -- Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and Jamison Crowder -- were on the field together for only 32 snaps for the entire season.

"I saw a ton of growth from Zach this year," said general manager Joe Douglas, noting that Wilson was "a little undermanned" at the skill positions due to injuries and still managed to protect the ball. "I think those are all very impressive things in the back half of the season. So we feel very confident about his development moving forward."

The flip side to the story is that Wilson didn't do much heavy lifting over the last five games. In fact, he attempted only 28 passes per game, including just nine attempts of 20-plus yards, completing two. Either the coaches put him in a box or Wilson, afraid of making mistakes, morphed into Captain Checkdown. It probably was a combination of both, with the revolving door at receiver a factor.

The conservative approach allowed Wilson to find his sea legs, so to speak, but it's certainly not a long-term game plan. At some point, they have to let him use the skill set they fell in love with last spring. Mark it down: This will be a big storyline in 2022.

Wilson said he has "a list of things" he wants to improve; short-area accuracy should be at the top. It was a struggle from beginning to end, as he completed a league-low 62.4% of his attempts in the range of 1 to 10 yards, per ESPN Stats & Information. The league average was 71.1%. By comparison, New England Patriots rookie Mac Jones was at 75.2%.

Wilson also needs to sharpen his situational awareness, which manifests itself in crunch time. His fourth-quarter QBR (23.9) was the lowest in the league, far behind fellow rookies Jones (73.8) and Justin Fields (63.0) of the Chicago Bears. Clearly, Wilson has a lot to clean up.

"Adversity definitely leads to success in the long run as far as just when things get tough, that’s when you grow and you learn," he said. "This year was definitely full of that."