It’s been 14 years since a BYU quarterback was selected in the NFL Draft. Zach Wilson will end this drought in 2021.
Wilson will not only be the 12th former Cougars QB to be selected, but he will be the highest drafted since Hall of Fame member Steve Young came first overall to the Buccaneers in the 1984 extra draft. After Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence rose to No.1 in the Jaguars this year, Wilson is fighting to be the second QB on the field against Justin Fields of Ohio State, Trey Lance of North Dakota State and Mac Jones of the ‘Alabama.
At 6-3, 210 pounds, Wilson increased his stock with his game in 2020, showing a precise downline arm to accompany his more athleticism. He also possesses the innate intangibles necessary to maximize his physical skills in the NFL with his fearless and confident game.
Wilson has big advantages with a style of play that most teams can adapt to. Here are most of his likely landing spots, starting with the position just behind the Jaguars:
Zach Wilson Simulation Project
1. New York Jets (# 2)
Will the Jets replace Sam Darnold, the third overall pick in 2018? This is one of the biggest mysteries of this project and the answer will have a profound domino effect on the rest of the first round. if there is any question that Darnold ever taps into his talent at a high level, Wilson should be the choice for New York.
The Jets are starting over with Adam Gase and Kyle Shanahan’s protégé Mike LaFleur (brother of Packers coach Matt), taking over under Robert Saleh. They could use a more mobile presence with a larger arm, given how the 49ers, Packers, and Titans have operated with adjacent schematics playing the game at hand. Wilson is well versed in the concepts of spreading, but he’s the most appealing here due to his ability to move it around and get accurate throws.
The left tackle was tackled with a first round at Mekhi Becton last year. The Jets also invested in wide receivers Corey Davis (a former Titan) and Keelan Cole in free agency to team up with slots ace Jamison Crowder and second-year second-round speedster Denzel Mims. These moves could have been made to try and lift Darnold, but there’s also a good chance the Jets lined them up for Wilson.
If the Jets stay put and pass Wilson, odds are the pick will be Oregon tackle Penei Sewell as Becton’s complementary young bookend.
2. Denver Broncos (# 9)
The Broncos are still operating their offense under Pat Shurmur and have made it clear that they are not sold on Drew Lock. They should be on the line for Fields, Lance and Wilson, depending on how early the draft kicks off. Shurmur also needs better mobility, more reliable accuracy, and faster decision making to execute in his system. New CEO George Paton is also locked into Wilson’s impressive skill set.
The geography of where Wilson played college football is a small factor, but a bigger factor is the fact that his projected ceiling may be as high as that of the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes. There’s also some of the Chargers’ Justin Herbert in the way Wilson plays. Considering these are two rival AFC West passers-by, it’s hard for the Broncos to sit on Lock’s level of play. Getting Wilson might require a trade before Carolina – between the No.5 and No.7 picks – but it could be worth it for Denver.
3. San Francisco 49ers (# 12)
Young was drafted by the Bucs before his move to the USFL, but he’s best known as Joe Montana’s supersub who became the athletic successor to the Super Bowl in San Francisco. The 49ers can’t be ruled out trading in for some more BYU gold this year.
Shanahan’s influence is heavy on the LaFleurs, so getting Wilson to work with the source as a replacement for Jimmy Garoppolo may prove special and take the offense to a level it hasn’t been, even if the we consider Matt Ryan’s 2016 MVP season. Wilson would learn fast and make good use of his unique trio of downline weapons – tight winger George Kittle and wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Zonal racing game will also be conducive to hard-hitting action-game and bootleg opportunities.
4. Atlanta Falcons (# 4)
The Falcons have also been hard to read when it comes to quarterbacks in the draft. They’re linked with Ryan for one more season, but there’s a hint of physical decline in thinking about hiding his successor from offensive-minded coach Arthur Smith, who has followed Matt LaFleur in coordinating the Titans. It is no coincidence that Atlanta made a hiring almost linked to Shanahan.
The running game is set to once again become of greater importance to the Falcons with the downstream passing game to wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, much like how the Titans were explosive with Ryan Tannehill. Wilson’s combination of precision and athleticism is guaranteed to work well for Smith.
If Wilson overtakes the Jets and assuming the Dolphins, with Tua Tagovailoa, don’t go QB at No.3, the Falcons would be seated well for Wilson, a little better choice for them than Lance.
5. Carolina Panthers (# 8)
The Panthers don’t want Teddy Bridgewater another year as a limited quarterback. Whether it’s Wilson, Lance, or the ever-available Fields, they all have an advantage high enough for heavy consideration.
If the Jets pass on QB and the Falcons take Lance instead, there’s a good chance the Panthers will manage to take Wilson off Fields by staying put. In that case, the Broncos might be fine with Fields and not looking to skip the Panthers. The 49ers could also avoid trading and be OK for 12th-place Jones.
The Panthers’ top two picks for Joe Brady’s attack under Matt Rhule would be Wilson and Lance, in that order. Brady, given his excellent stint with 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow at LSU, should see the same potential in Wilson and push for him to be the pick. The Panthers have the offensive skill backing for Wilson to flourish as early as possible.
6. New England Patriots (# 15)
The Patriots have been attached to all of the best quarterbacks in this draft for good reason. Cam Newton is re-signed for just a year and has just had a shaky first season as a passer in New England. The unknown is whether Bill Belichick will be aggressive enough to trade for any of the first five rounds, or just hope that at least Jones drops in his squad.
Wilson seems adaptable to fit any schema due to his high stage of hard-to-teach attributes. He can adjust well to the complexities of the Patriots’ schedule with Josh McDaniels and set himself up for a real sophomore breakout.
There’s a drop from Lawrence to the other top QBs, but Wilson hits the sweet spot after him by having a massive boom with the smaller bust factor. Either way, it would be surprising if Wilson didn’t leave long before the top 10 ended.