Once again, the New York Jets find themselves in the top five of the NFL Draft. In fact, it will be the third time in four years the team will be selecting within the first five. After a disappointing 2-14 season that saw lackluster production from former first-round pick quarterback Sam Darnold, the Jets look to once again address the most important position in football.
Enter Zach Wilson.
Strengths: The Big Riser
Many draft experts knew about BYU’s Zach Wilson before the 2020 season, but not many expected his draft stock to skyrocket as it has. He has always been seen as a potential pro quarterback, maybe even a future first-round pick, but #2 overall? What exactly changed? Let’s take a look. When analyzing Wilson’s 2020 season, where he lead the Cougars to an 11-1 record and Boca Raton Bowl victory, three things pop out at you. Deep Accuracy, Mobility, and Decision-Making.
Over the course of his junior season, Wilson consistently took the top off the defense with incredible touch on his deep ball. He ranked third among all NCAA quarterbacks with 11 yards per attempt, an impressive feat in the pass-heavy, modern-day game. NFL teams are moving more toward the Andy Reid style of offense that predicates around the deep ball. That requires a quarterback able to not only throw 20-plus yards down the field, but do it accurately. Wilson certainly fits this mold.
Another skill pro scouts search for is mobility. On top of his accurate deep ball, Wilson has proven to be a legitimate mobile threat as well. His rushing numbers won’t stand out too much (70 attempts for 254 yards in 2020), but his ability to move the pocket and extend plays downfield play right into his big arm. Wilson is about as ‘dual threat’ as it gets.
Finally, we get to the most important and most valuable aspect of Wilson’s game: his decision-making. Simply put, he does not turn the ball over often. In three seasons at BYU, Wilson threw 56 touchdowns to just 15 interceptions, with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions coming last season. In the NFL, the name of the game is protecting the football. Zach Wilson certainly does that.
Weakness: Who Have You Beat?
When looking at a player many expect to be a top-five pick, it’s difficult and unpopular to look for flaws. However, even Wilson doesn’t have a perfect resume. While these can certainly be seen as nitpicks, two things in particular stand out to me as question marks heading into the draft for Wilson. Strength of Schedule and Talent Around Him.
While it’s easy to get excited about Wilson’s final 2020 stats, it doesn’t paint a complete picture. Looking at the teams he played to earn those statistics makes you wonder whether or not you can depend on them at all. Teams like Navy, Troy, Louisiana Tech, Texas-San Antonio, Texas State, Western Kentucky, North Alabama, and San Diego State don’t constitute a schedule that instills fear in opponents. In fact, none of them could really be considered true football schools. While teams like Coastal Carolina and Central Florida can be seen as legitimate competition, it’s not enough for some. It gets even more complicated when looking at Wilson’s performance against Coastal Carolina, BYU’s lone loss last season. It was by far his worst start of 2020.
Finally, we get to one of the least discussed issues with the Wilson hype: the talent around him. Now, I’m not going to sit here and try to sell you on BYU being an NFL factory or anything, but with or without Zach Wilson, the Cougars were a talented college football team last season. The Cougars’ defense was as stingy as any defense in the nation, allowing just 15.3 points per game (fourth) and 4.8 yards per play (eighth). Having a defense that talented helps an offense immensely, especially one that thrives on taking big shots down the field.
Speaking of that offense, they weren’t half bad either. Star running back Tyler Allgeier finished the season with 1,158 yards (eighth/NCAA) on 150 rushes for an average of 7.5 yards per attempt, serving as a legitimate threat running the football. BYU also had incredible depth at receiver, with Dax Miline ranking fourth in the nation in receiving yards. Gunner Romney and Neil Pau’u also showed flashes of greatness, with Romney finishing with 767 yards and Pau’u with 603 yards. The offensive line also did an excellent job of keeping Wilson off his back, allowing just 11 sacks all season.
Overall, I think Zach Wilson has all the tools to be a great NFL quarterback. He makes impressive throws often, can move a pocket, and can certainly develop into a top player. However, he is far from a finished product. He will need to learn the speed of the NFL game, along with taking care of some sloppy footwork. The upside is there, he just needs the correct coaching and development cycle to truly take off in the league. I don’t think you get the most out of him starting on day one, but that could be exactly what he’s asked to do in New York.