Instant gratification has slowly taken over various aspects of our lives, whether we recognize it or not. The NFL itself is seeing a revolution with how quickly organizations expect results from young players and newly hired coaches.
Take, for example, Zach Wilson. The former number two overall pick has struggled mightily and there’s no doubt about it. The rookie has thrown nine interceptions and only four touchdowns in six games. Many fans across the league, as well as the media, have been quick to label Wilson as a bust, claiming the Jets wasted their high draft choice. Sure, the rookie has played well below expectations, but why are we as a whole expecting rookies thrown into poor situations to immediately impact the team and turn around their fortune?
The New York Jets finished last season with a 2-14 record. They also hired a new head coach in Robert Saleh, as well as brand new coordinators. Yet, for some odd reason, Wilson the “golden child” is expected to enter a situation and immediately translate his college production to the pro level.
The same can be said for Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields who has thrown four touchdowns and eight interceptions. The list goes beyond quarterbacks too. Defensive backs AJ Terrell, Isaiah Simmons, and CJ Henderson are all examples that teams need to display more patience with their young players. After all, how many of us are quickly able to become masters in something we just learned for the first time?
A simple look at the past history of the NFL will show that allowing players to develop over the course of multiple years does in fact often translate to a more complete player than those who are rushed. There is no better example of this than Peyton Manning.
In Manning’s first season, he threw 28 interceptions. For reference, he only had 26 touchdowns. Had Manning been playing in the current era, it’s likely that many would’ve called for his position, and the team would move on from him. In the following season, Manning showed a small leap in development, however by current day standards he would be considered a bust. Just another early first round pick who was unable to drastically change the trajectory of a disastrous team.
Situation for a young player is key. And oftentimes it can take the first two or three years of a players career to be surrounded in a situation that is fostering their growth. It is important for teams not to quickly move on from players if they haven’t been given a sufficient surrounding cast and time to develop. A perfect example of this is one that is unfolding right in front of us: the 2021 quarterback draft class.
Prior to the 2021 NFL draft, many analysts and fans across the league agreed on the conclusion that Mac Jones was not a top three quarterback in the class. Others such as Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, and Justin Fields were ranked above him in nearly every mock draft leading up to the date.
Fast forward seven months and Mac Jones has undoubtedly been the best rookie quarterback so far. Does this mean he’s a better player than Lawrence, Lance, Fields etc..? No. This simply means Jones has been placed in a much better situation than his peers. Jones has the great mentoring of Belichick, and a top ten offensive line to throw behind. All of the other rookie quarterbacks have either first year coaches or coaches who are likely to be fired by the end of this season. They also all have bottom ten offensive lines in the NFL.
This isn’t a knock on Mac Jones, the young quarterback has by far succeeded expectations to date. However, this is a message that it is far too early to determine how good this quarterback class (or any young players) are.
Young players in the league are fragile. They are still trying to get acclimated to the situation and oftentimes are under heavy pressure to perform. Drop the expectations and think of draft picks as future investments, not immediate returns. The same can also be said for new coaches. It can take upwards of two to three years for coaches to build a team with staff and personnel that fits their mindset and strategy. The whole process takes time, and when you look back on the greatest runs of success in the past couple decades, you’ll realize the teams with the most success built their foundation over multiple years and had drafted players who developed greatly over time.