It’s been 14 years since a quarterback from BYU was selected in the NFL Draft. Zach Wilson will end that drought in 2021.
Wilson will not only be the 12th former Cougars QB to be taken, but he will be the highest-drafted one since Hall of Famer Steve Young went first overall to the Buccaneers in the 1984 supplemental draft. After Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence goes to the Jaguars No. 1 overall this year, Wilson is vying to be the second QB off the board vs. Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones.
At 6-3, 210 pounds, Wilson boosted his stock with his play in 2020, showing off an accurate downfield arm to go along with his plus athleticism. He also has the innate intangibles needed to maximize his physical skills in the NFL with his fearless, confident play.
Wilson carries big upside with a playing style to which most teams can adjust. Here’s looking at most his likely landing spots, starting with the position right behind the Jaguars:
Zach Wilson mock draft
1. New York Jets (No. 2)
Will the Jets replace Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in 2018? That’s one of this draft’s biggest mysteries and the answer will have a profound domino effect on the rest of the first round. if there’s any question at all about Darnold ever tapping into his talent at a high level, Wilson would need to be the pick for New York.
The Jets are starting fresh with Adam Gase out and Kyle Shanahan protege Mike LaFleur (brother of Packers coach Matt) taking over the offense under Robert Saleh. They could use a more mobile presence with a bigger arm, given how the 49ers, Packers and Titans have operated with adjacent schemes playing off the running game. Wilson is well versed in spread concepts but is most appealing here because of the ability to move him around and get accurate throws.
Left tackle was addressed with a first-rounder in Mekhi Becton last year. The Jets also invested in wide receivers Corey Davis (a former Titan) and Keelan Cole in free agency to pair with slot ace Jamison Crowder and second-year second-round speedster Denzel Mims. Those moves could have been made to try to lift Darnold, but there’s as good of a chance the Jets lined them up for Wilson.
Should the Jets stay put and pass on Wilson, it’s a good bet the pick will be Oregon tackle Penei Sewell as a complementary young bookend to Becton.
2. Denver Broncos (No. 9)
The Broncos are still operating their offense under Pat Shurmur and have made it rather clear they are not sold on Drew Lock. They should be in play for Fields, Lance and Wilson, depending how the draft shakes out early. Shurmur also needs better mobility, more reliable accuracy and quicker decision-making to execute in his system. New GM George Paton also is locked into Wilson’s impressive skill set.
The geography of where Wilson played college football is a small factor, but a bigger one is the fact his ceiling is projected can be as high as the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes. There is some of the Chargers’ Justin Herbert in how Wilson plays, too. Given those are two AFC West rival passers, it’s hard for the Broncos sit on Lock’s level of play. Getting Wilson might require trading up ahead of Carolina — between picks No. 5 and No. 7 — but it might be worth it to Denver.
3. San Francisco 49ers (No. 12)
Young was drafted by the Bucs before his stint in the USFL, but is best known as Joe Montana’s supersub turned athletic Super Bowl-winning successor in San Francisco. The 49ers can’t be ruled out to trade up for some more BYU gold this year.
Shanahan’s influence is heavy on the LaFleurs, so getting Wilson to work with the source replacing Jimmy Garoppolo can turn out to be special and take the offense to a level it hasn’t been, even when considering Matt Ryan’s 2016 MVP season. Wilson would be a fast learner and make good use of his unique trio of downfield weapons — tight end George Kittle and wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. The zone running game also will be conducive to impactful play-action and bootleg opportunities.
4. Atlanta Falcons (No. 4)
The Falcons also have been difficult to read regarding quarterbacks in the draft. They’re tied to Ryan for one more season, but there’s a hint of some physical decline to think about stashing his successor for offensive-minded coach Arthur Smith, who followed Matt LaFleur in coordinating the Titans. It was no coincidence Atlanta made a quasi-related hire to Shanahan.
The power running game should return to be a greater emphasis for the Falcons with the downfield passing game to wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley playing off it, akin to how the Titans were explosive with Ryan Tannehill. Wilson’s accuracy and athleticism combination is guaranteed to work well for Smith.
If Wilson gets the past the Jets and assuming the Dolphins, with Tua Tagovailoa, don’t go QB at No. 3, the Falcons would be sitting pretty for Wilson, a tad better choice for them than Lance.
5. Carolina Panthers (No. 8)
The Panthers don’t want another year of Teddy Bridgewater serving as a limited bridge quarterback. Whether it’s Wilson, Lance or Fields still available, they all carry high-enough upside for strong consideration.
Should the Jets pass on QB and the Falcons take Lance instead, there’s a good chance the Panthers will get to take Wilson over Fields by staying put. In that case, the Broncos might be fine with Fields and not look to jump the Panthers. The 49ers also could avoiding trading up and be OK for Jones at No. 12.
The Panthers’ best two picks for Joe Brady’s offense under Matt Rhule would be Wilson and Lance, in that order. Brady, given his great stint with 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow at LSU, should see some of the same potential in Wilson and push for him to be the choice. The Panthers have the offensive skill support for Wilson to thrive sooner rather than later.
6. New England Patriots (No. 15)
The Patriots have been attached to every top quarterback in this draft for good reason. Cam Newton is re-signed for only one year and is coming off a shaky first season as a passer in New England. The unknown is whether Bill Belichick will be aggressive enough to trade up for one of the first-round five, or just hope that at least Jones falls to his team.
Wilson seems adaptable to adjust to any scheme because of his high floor of hard-to-teach attributes. He can be molded well to the complexities of the Patriots scheme with Josh McDaniels and come out ready for a true breakout in Year 2.
There is a dropoff from Lawrence to the other top QBs, but Wilson hits the sweet spot after him in having considerable boom with the smallest bust factor. However it goes down, it would be surprising if Wilson isn’t long gone before the end of the top 10.