Ex-Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh weighs in on key draft debate: Zach Wilson vs. Justin Fields

Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver T. J. Houshmandzadeh has watched BYU’s Zach Wilson and Ohio State’s Justin Fields work out live in California as both prospects prepare for the draft. Houshmandzadeh was impressed by both and views both as high-end talents.

Throughout the offseason, the Jets have been linked to Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. There’s also been some interest from the Jets in Fields.

Wilson has been hyped as the second best quarterback in this draft class after leading BYU to a 11-1 record. He finished with 3,692 passing yards with 33 touchdowns and added 10 scores on the ground. Scouts drool over his style of play that reminds them of Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers.

After studying Wilson and watching his workouts in person, Houshmandzadeh sees a special talent.

“His release is so quick and effortless like Aaron Rodgers type release. It just comes out his hand really, really easy man. It’s like he’s not even trying, and then it jumps out what a ton of velocity,” Houshmandzadeh told the Daily News. “Then his speed and athleticism. People know he is athletic, but he is an explosive dude. Laterally very explosive, he’s vertically explosive and he moves like a skill guy.”

The 2007 Pro Bowler believes if Wilson ran a 40-yard dash, he would run a blazing time.

“He would be in the 4.4s or a high 4.5, easy. That’s the type of athleticism he has,” the 11-year pro said. “He’s faster than Pat Mahomes. He’s a really good athlete playing quarterback.”

If the Jets draft Wilson, a major key to his success will be what type of talent they surround him with. Sam Darnold suffered from an abysmal supporting cast and couldn’t overcome it. Darnold was traded to the Carolina Panthers after three disappointing seasons. He leaves the Jets with a dismal passer rating of 78.6 and a 13-25 record as a starter.

The Jets have 10 picks in the upcoming draft and must fill the roster with productive players to prevent another Darnold-like situation with the new quarterback.

“The Jets are gonna struggle unless they draft some guys,” Houshmandzadeh said. “Wilson is probably going to be the No. 2 pick and guarantee they’re going to be saying, ‘Man was he overdrafted, he’s not that good,’ If they don’t get players around him.  The same way they didn’t have players around Darnold. And now everybody says, ‘Sam Darnold sucks.’ He didn’t have any guys around them. And if that happens with Zach, it’s going to be the same narrative.”

He believes Wilson will thrive with Gang Green if they provide him with a good supporting cast.

“If he gets guys around him, he’ll be really good,” Houshmandzadeh said. “It’s what it boils down to. When you look at Josh Allen, Allen was OK, decent. (Added) Stefon Diggs, oh, now (Allen) really good. Baker Mayfield was just kind of middling along. And he still has his ups and downs, but he’s got better guys around him. Better run game, he had a really good year.”

The Jets offensive coordinator Mike LeFleur will run a west coast offense like the one Kyle Shanahan runs with the San Francisco 49ers.

Wilson’s throwing ability to produce explosive plays with off-platform throws along with his athleticism will fit well into the Jets’ scheme.

“I think they’re gonna run an offense that fits Wilson. When you draft a guy that high, I truly believe you don’t make him fit into what you do, you fit into what he does,” Houshmandzadeh said. “The offense will be tailored to what he did well in BYU and they’re going to tailor their offensive system to his strengths.”

The other quarterback that the Jets have shown interest in is Fields.

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He led his team to the National Championship game against Alabama in January, after outdueling Trevor Lawrence in the Sugar Bowl by going 22-of-28 for 385 yards with six touchdowns as the Buckeyes blasted Clemson, 49-28.

When Houshmandzadeh was asked about his impressions from watching Fields’ workout and studying him, he was equally impressed. And scoffed at some of the negative perception surrounding Field’s mental ability.

“It was pretty much the same as Zach. You hear the stuff and a lot of it is the same old same old. A Black quarterback, ‘He’s gone be athletic, but can he throw with anticipation? Can he throw accurately?’” Houshmandzadeh said as he mocked those questions. “He did just that. He was layering the ball, he was getting the ball up over and underneath coverage. He just wasn’t just gunning the ball in there he was thrown in with some touch. But when we were done, I was like, ‘Damn, he’s actually pretty f–king good.’”

Houshmandzadeh said at this point he can’t pick between the two.

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“It’s really hard to say who’s better,” Houshmandzadeh said. “The better guy is gonna be the guy that gets to the better team. I mean, just being honest with you, if either one of those guys can get to the 49ers, that guy’s the better player. Because he’s gonna have a better team around him, better success.”

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