Garrett Wilson can’t stand losing.
He absolutely hates it.
Not in the way that all professional athletes hate to lose. Wilson can’t take it. Won’t accept it. Ever. It eats at him.
The Jets receiver said he had to separate himself from his teammates at times last year because he might say the wrong thing or come on too strong. It was coming from a good place, but he was frustrated — by his own play, too — and was only a rookie.
Wilson is speaking his mind and showing how competitive he is every day, and especially on game days. He’s also winning. Maybe not every game, but he’s winning his matchups and giving the Jets a chance to win.
“Everyone knows I hate losing,” Wilson said. “That started when I was zero. People hate losing. People love winning. You got to differentiate the two. Like, I hate losing. It’s different. You love winning, but then it’s like losing ain’t that bad. But you’ve got to choose one side. I feel like I’m on the side where I hate losing.”
Wilson’s mentality has enabled him to become one of the NFL’s best receivers — and he’s only 23.
Wilson, who set Jets rookie records last season with 83 catches for 1,103 yards en route to being named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, will be the primary player whom Bill Belichick tries to neutralize when the Jets host the Patriots on Sunday.
Some of Wilson’s new teammates and coaches marvel at his drive and passion.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Wilson is “wild on game days” and “one of the most intense guys I’ve ever been around.” (And Hackett has worked with Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams.)
Allen Lazard, who has played with Rodgers and Adams, said Wilson has that ultra-competitive gene that few have.
“I would say he’s definitely at the top of the list,” Lazard told Newsday. “Up there with Aaron and Davante and guys who are head and shoulders above the competition or even the playing field that they are in in their own respective groups.”
Lazard called Wilson “an inspiration” for how he treats every practice rep. According to Lazard, it could be the last play of the last practice of the week and Wilson treats it like a must-win rep.
Lazard said Wilson takes it to “a whole other level” in games.
“You really see his emotions kind of spill out of him because he can’t control just how bad he wants to win, how bad he wants the ball every single play, how much he believes in himself that no one in this world can touch him or guard him or slow him down,” Lazard said.
Wilson has two touchdown catches this season. Both showed how badly he wants to win every play, every down.
On the first one, in Week 1, he was blanketed by Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. Zach Wilson threw the ball to Garrett Wilson’s left. He fended off White with his left hand, tapped the ball to himself twice with his right and came down with it.
On the second, he ran a quick slant, and Zach Wilson delivered it perfectly this time. Wilson beat Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore, blew by safety Malik Hooker and sprinted for a 68-yard touchdown.
“The guy’s fiery,” Zach Wilson said. “He’s one my favorite guys to work with just because of his drive, his competitiveness, his ability to truly win the one-on-one. He does an unbelievable job. Never seen somebody with such bendy, flexible knees in my life that can cut that way. He’s a special player.”
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich is glad he doesn’t have to scheme ways to stop him.
“He is an absolute problem,” Ulbrich said. “In my opinion, he’s a guy that you can’t cover one-on-one. You can’t. There’s very few corners that have the change of direction, the burst, the elusiveness, and not just that. It’s not just the physical traits. He’s got such a feel for leverage of a defender and how to beat them and when the coverage has turned, where the help is and where the help isn’t because of his football IQ.”
It was expected that Wilson would be even better this season with Rodgers throwing him the football, but Rodgers tore his Achilles on the fourth offensive snap of the season. Despite the quarterback change, Wilson is still standing out.
“Garrett can make any quarterback look pretty darn good,” receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “He can do some things not a lot of people can.”
The physical tools are undeniable, but it’s the mental approach that sets Wilson apart.
He’s internally motivated to be great, to always strive for more and never settle. Wilson credits his family for instilling this in him, particularly his father, Kenny, who played briefly in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets.
Wilson isn’t shying away from displaying his passion or speaking up to his teammates in Year 2. He’s not separating himself anymore. He's comfortable being himself, and he’s a lot more vocal.
He’s been pumping up his teammates, especially Zach Wilson, encouraging his quarterback as much as possible. Azzanni said Garrett Wilson has “clout” and “influence” after the rookie season he had.
“At the end of the day, for me it always just comes from a place of I want to win,” Wilson said. “I want to win every game. I feel like I have a good idea of where we can be. That’s where all that comes from. My emotion, how I talk to my teammates, whatever it may be, it all comes from a place of just I’m competitive. They understand that.”