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GREAT SALT TAKES: How high can Zach Wilson be drafted?

Zach Wilson has officially declared for the NFL Draft. After a stellar season leading BYU to an 11-1 record and a final ranking of 11 in the A.P. poll, Wilson is headed to the pros. He’s projected by many to be a first-round pick. Some pundits even have him going as high as second overall. Our local experts weigh in on where the former BYU star could land in the draft and why.

JIM BURTON
former sports writer and columnist, Standard-Examiner

Well, well, well … look at Zach Wilson, would you? 

The talented quarterback from Corner Canyon High School, who didn’t draw much interest from Utah or BYU coming out of the prep ranks, is now being talked about as a first-round NFL draft pick. And not just any ol’ first-round pick, he’s all over the Internet as going in the top third of the daft. 

It was indeed quite a journey for Wilson in Provo, reaching its pinnacle as he torched Central Florida in the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl. 

Now he’s heading to the NFL, where team personnel crave QB’s like actor Liam Neeson craves movie scripts requiring hard-charging tough guys to find kidnapping victims. 

And like Neeson, Wilson has a unique set of skills. And, apparently, he knows how to use them. 

At this point, there’s little doubt Wilson will be one of the top-three QBs taken, and may very well go second behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who’s got the luscious long locks of an Allman Brother and a ludicrously long arm of an All-Pro.

Lawrence is going No. 1 to Jacksonville. 

The laughably lousy New York Jets are second, and if you care about Wilson, close your eyes real tight and pray Gang Green looks elsewhere. As the draft inches closer, rumors abound that lots of teams around the league just love Wilson, who seems to have the tangibles as well as intangibles. ESPN has turned the NFL draft into quite a show, something now akin to a high-end Vegas dinner show, only without Donny and Marie classing up the place. Teams might say otherwise, but given the brighter lights on draft night, there’s pressure to make a big splash, and nothing splashes more than a team trading up to get a QB. 

Here’s a hot take for you: The New England Patriots make a trade with their AFC East rival Jets. There will be speculation Bill Belichick is eyeing Justin Fields from Ohio State, but when the pick comes around they go all in Wilson. 

BRYAN BROWN
co-host of Locked On Utes, senior writer at UteZone, former college football player

In 2019, Joe Burrow burst onto the college football scene seemingly out of nowhere to capture the hearts, headlines and attention of fans, media and scouts alike. Burrow was a lesser known transfer quarterback at LSU who set historical marks for efficiency and production, earning him the opportunity to lead the Cincinnati Bengals via the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. That same kind of attention and media coverage has shifted now in 2020 to BYU’s Zach Wilson. The junior quarterback declared his intentions to enter the NFL Draft after one of the most memorable seasons for a QB in recent memory, and scouts and general managers alike have taken notice of his abilities, with newly hired Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer even mentioning Wilson in the same breath as Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence, two of college football’s elite prospects for several years.

The question regarding Wilson is less about his ability, and more about how high he might be drafted. Eight of the teams holding picks in the top ten could conceivably take a quarterback with their first round selection, including four of the first five. So was Meyer’s praise legitimate, or perhaps an early message to those teams sitting behind him that if they were hoping to take Wilson, it might require a move up. Meyer is no idiot, he’s been fascinated by the NFL for a long time and his answer was clearly strategic to allow Jacksonville to keep the value of the pick as high as possible, but is Wilson really good enough to be drafted with the number one overall pick? The former Corner Canyon High star turned college football titan was electric against less than equal competition, in fact BYU’s strength of schedule ranked 105th according to the Sagarin strength of schedule rankings, but Wilson posted top five numbers in action that typically never lasted past the third quarter, and showcased the kind of physical talent that you simply can’t find in the majority of quarterback prospects.

Wilson draws the ire of fans in the state of Utah who don’t choose to wear whatever shade of blue BYU is wearing, but the talent is there. He has a lightning quick release, his arm strength has fully returned, if not improved after a shoulder surgery that slowed his start to the 2019 season, he has athleticism to avoid rushes and can run effectively when asked, though he’s more Alex Smith than Lamar Jackson in this respect. What might have scouts and NFL decision makers most intrigued in regards to Wilson as a passer is his off-platform ability. More and more NFL quarterbacks are proving that strict mechanics and throws from one angle or body position aren’t as effective as a variety of throws, it allows the offense to have more plus yards under pressure and there are few better currently at this than Patrick Mahomes. While the comparison between the two is legitimately unfair to Zach Wilson, the style similarity is what has scouts drooling, and the success that Mahomes has had so early on in his career will lead most at the NFL level to overlook the few flaws Wilson does have. He tends to drift back in the pocket when left without an easy option, and at times he will force or try to take over games rather than eat the ball or live to see another play. 

Regardless, none of this is enough to truly dissuade any franchise who is in the market for a quarterback from drafting him. The mechanics, the pre-snap reads, the little aspects of where to look and how to move safeties with your eyes are all there in addition to the physical tools and the intangibles he possesses as a leader and tireless worker seem to be enough to convince teams who might be on the fence that Wilson is worth the investment. Wilson is most likely the third best prospect on the board, depending on where Trey Lance falls after only playing in one game this season, what becomes the more pressing question in regards to draft position is what teams truly are ready to make a change at quarterback?

Does New York pass over either Field or Lawrence at number two to select Wilson?

Is there a suitor out there for Sam Darnold that would allow the Jets to make that kind of move?

Are the Falcons ready to move on from Matt Ryan with an offensively focused head coach in Arthur Smith now coming in to lead?

Does the firing of Doug Pederson mean Philadelphia wants to give Carson Wentz another chance?

So many questions still remain unanswered, but should teams in the top ten decide to stay with what they have, San Francisco sitting at number twelve would be a seemingly fairy tale fit for the sake of nostalgia and need. While the next few months should give us a much clearer picture of where teams will value Wilson, this much is clear; Wilson should be front and center in full focus for plenty of teams picking in the top half of the draft. 

PHOTO: BYU Photo

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