Despite not being a bastion for producing NFL talent, the BYU Cougars in Prove, Utah, have proven that they can develop some NFL talent, a trend that quarterback Zach Wilson will be hoping to continue in the 2021 NFL Draft. Taysom Hill will be the one that most NFL fans recognize as emblematic of BYU’s footprint.
Guys like Fred Warner, Kyle Van Noy, Jamaal Williams, and more, all suited up for the Cougars in recent years. Warner has become a budding star in San Francisco. Coming into the preseason, BYU was thought to have limited 2021 NFL Draft prospects. However, Wilson has improved his NFL Draft stock in a big way since the start of the season. Wilson now finds himself at the epicenter of the quarterback draft buzz.
Zach Wilson NFL Draft Profile
- Height: 6-foot-3
- Weight: 210 pounds
- Position: Quarterback
- School: BYU
- Year: Junior
Before coming to BYU, Zach Wilson was a three-star quarterback who got his first high school start as a Junior. Coming from Utah, Wilson turned heads as the starter for Corner Canyon High School. Throughout his three years at Corner Canyon, Wilson racked up 5,842 passing yards and 45 touchdowns. Wilson added another 1,310 rushing yards on the ground, including 752 rushing yards in his Senior Year. During that impressive Senior campaign, Wilson took Corner Canyon to the State Semifinals before falling.
Wilson found himself as the face of Corner Canyon football and got calls from all around the country due to his high level of play. Many Power Five teams called, including Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon State, California, and Syracuse. However, Wilson had his roots closer to home, and the final two teams he narrowed it down to were BYU and Boise State. The Broncos had a reputation for producing NFL talent ever since Kellen Moore came onto the scene and brought Boise State to prominence in the late 2000s. Despite being just a 3-star prospect, Wilson was a First-Team All-State Selection and was named his divisional MVP. Wilson took an interest in stride and the quarterback committed to BYU over Boise State.
Arriving on campus
An early enrollee at BYU, Wilson got straight to work as soon as he got to Provo. Impressing coaches, Wilson rocketed up the depth chart throughout spring and summer practices as a freshman. It took a few weeks before it became a reality, but Wilson started his first game against Hawaii, becoming the youngest quarterback to start a game for BYU.
A three-touchdown performance to open his career gave him the starting role, and he was firmly entrenched in that role for the next two years. His freshman campaign’s standout game was his great four-touchdown performance against Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl as he led the Cougars to victory. Wilson was named the MVP of the game after the strong performance.
After the season, Wilson would undergo shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. He had dealt with it since high school, but it progressively worsened over time during his freshman season. Nonetheless, he was ready to take the field healthy for his sophomore campaign as the starter. In that Sophomore campaign, it was a rough go of things. He only had 11 touchdowns to nine interceptions and was plagued by a right-hand injury that he had to have surgery on. Essentially, it became a throwaway year for the promising quarterback.
Rebounding from surgery
With the injuries behind him, Wilson still was the favorite to start at quarterback for BYU in his junior campaign after showing some tremendous flashes during that rocky sophomore season. Against Massachusetts in particular, Wilson threw for four touchdowns, including one that was a perfect throw down the middle of the field to hit his receiver in a small window on a post route. That throw was a flash of potential and showed what would come in 2020 as Zach Wilson launched his campaign for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Zach Wilson lights up UCF in the Boca Raton Bowl
In likely his final college performance, Wilson may have put his best performance to date on tape. Facing a solid UCF team, the BYU quarterback looked poised to dominate from the jump.
The highlight of the night was an excellent throw on a go route, one of many NFL-level throws he made. Wilson somehow snaked the ball into a tight window with his receiver smothered by the cornerback. That is what makes a throw like that so encouraging. It is an NFL-level throw that few quarterbacks make at this point in their careers.
Wilson’s mobility was on display the entire game. He scampered for a touchdown on a designed quarterback keeper. Classically, he made one “wow” throw on the run. Stepping up into the pocket, Wilson rocketed a ball between two defenders on a deep post route. It hit his receiver in the helmet and was a perfectly placed football. To be able to make these flash throws with stark consistency is exciting for NFL teams and evaluators.
Outside of the obvious phenomenal plays for Wilson, it remained a strong game. He was poised and went through his progressions with swiftness and ease. There was zero doubt that he had his mojo on Tuesday night as the Cougars offense was lighting it up. When he had to use his eyes as a weapon to look off safeties, he did that at a high level.
It was overall just an above the line performance from the BYU quarterback on all accounts. The arm talent was fantastic. His accuracy was on point the entire night. Wilson did not make many bad decisions or roll into unnecessary pressure. That was a performance that turns the heads of NFL scouts.
Wilson vs. Justin Fields
Now, it is time to have that discussion between Justin Fields and Wilson. With many dazzling throws from Wilson and some concerning games from Fields on the tail end of the year, the two seem to be trending in opposite directions. Yet, this is a race that continues to be painstakingly close.
Take Fields’ struggles against Indiana, for instance. Fields displays a real issue with his internal clock that gets him into trouble too often. Wilson, on the other hand, seems to roll out of too many clean pockets. The two have dueling weaknesses that still leave no slam dunk winner. Fields snails through his progressions at times. Meanwhile, Wilson does not adjust enough to post-snap rotations on the back end of the defense. Both of these players are guys with the mobility and dynamic arm talent to be franchise signal-callers.
How high can Wilson go?
Ranking Wilson as the second quarterback overall at this point is not a crazy idea. For what it’s worth, Wilson continues to make NFL throws and elevate an offense with decent supporting players at best. Without him at the helm, BYU does not find the success that it had this past season. However, there is a real risk with his mental processing issues and pocket management at times. San Diego State presented Wilson with a golden opportunity that he jumped on. Methodically reading through the defense and taking what is given is never easy for a guy like Wilson. Still, he passed the test against the Aztecs and took what was available.
Fields, meanwhile, still has chances to jump his stock back up. He runs as hard as any quarterback I have ever seen not named Cam Newton. Fields has the necessary arm talent and kills defenses out of structure. If he can show any improvement in that internal clock, Fields can skyrocket once again up boards. The issue is that internal clock leaves him vulnerable to turnover-worthy plays.
The bottom line right now is, regardless of your preference, both of these quarterbacks look like franchise quarterbacks. Wilson deservedly is on the upward trend, but counting out Fields with his skillset is foolish. It will be a debate all of the draft season between two strong prospects at the most important position on the field.
Zach Wilson carves up the Aztec defense to victory
San Diego State came into Provo with one of the best defenses in the NCAA. Yet, after they met the seemingly immovable object that is quarterback Zach Wilson and the BYU offense, they left Saturday with a loss. Despite a typical lack of help from his weapons, Wilson carved up the Aztec defense for three touchdowns and over 300 yards. It was a surgical display from Wilson as he hit passes to all three levels of the field.
Wilson showcases his anticipation
San Diego State came into the game trying new tricks. Instead of letting Wilson scramble around and fire the ball down the field, they stayed disciplined in their rush lanes and took away the deep passing game. It forced Wilson to use his mind and instead process the defense and their disguises, rather than make the magic happen outside of structure.
The good news for Wilson is that not only did he pass the test, he aced it. Wilson’s anticipation was on full display all night. He routinely hit quick throws to the sideline and was unafraid of attacking the middle of the field. He was throwing guys open in tight windows with ease.
Wilson was firing bullets outside the numbers before the receivers had even broken down on deep curls and comebacks. San Diego State had zero answers for Wilson as he broke down their impressive defense. Even without his deep passing attack, Wilson was solid. He proved that he could take what was given to him and work inside structure with good processing and decisiveness. Playing hero ball is great, but it is comforting to know that Wilson can do both. He can hit those sharp routes on time and develop that rapport with his receivers.
Wilson still gets his daily dime
While the deep ball was gone for most of the game, Wilson was able to showcase one amazing throw on a key third-and-nine. Given a go route against single-high coverage, Wilson took his chances and fired a beauty outside the numbers. It was a perfect back-shoulder ball that only his receiver had a chance to get. The cornerback knew he had strong coverage and even got a hand in at the catch point, thanks to the receiver inviting contact, but it was a perfect throw by Wilson.
This game showed another side of Wilson that he flashes intermittently. He proved that he could stick to a rhythm-based offense that is within structure. With lots of rollouts and play action, timing and anticipation were key for Wilson. He processed the defense that was trying to take away his main strength. Instead of faltering, he rose to the occasion. It’s a game that should only improve his already skyrocketing draft stock. He has a chance at being the second quarterback off the board behind Trevor Lawrence.
BYU loses, but Zach Wilson still shows his appeal
BYU scheduled a last-minute slugfest with a hungry, upcoming Coastal Carolina team. It resulted in a tough 22-17 loss for the Cougars, but the good news for quarterback-needy teams is that this loss was not on superstar Zach Wilson. While it was one of his stiffer tests of the season, Wilson appeared ready for the big game and played well. Make no mistake: This was not a game to write home about for Wilson, but he was the best player on the BYU offense and was the reason they could compete.
Wilson made plenty of NFL throws
The dazzling throws were there all night. Wilson made one particular throw across his body that looked much easier than it should have. He was rolling to his right and somehow contorted his arm all the way across his body and put a perfect pass on his receiver for a key first down. Another phenomenal throw was a 60-yard bomb that hit a tightly-guarded receiver right in the chest. The consistency with which Wilson hits deep throws is continuously astounding. Unfortunately, that ball was not caught, despite it being a phenomenal throw.
Everything Wilson did in this game was good, from an NFL Draft stock standpoint. He was under pressure often and used his feel in the pocket and mobility to extend plays. Some plays outside of the pocket were outstanding, such as the aforementioned cross-body throw. The truth of the matter is that Wilson’s pass-catchers were actively detrimental. Wilson was the victim of drops, questionable play, and an overall lack of focus from a group that has been rather solid all season. This loss cannot be put on Wilson because he gave BYU the spark they so desperately needed in this game.
Wilson’s final drive speaks to his intangibles
That final drive was all Wilson, too. BYU barely had any time, yet Wilson marched them 90 yards down the field to nearly win the football game. They were one yard short, and Wilson could not have thrown his final pass any better. This was the first time Wilson had to face any adversity in a clutch moment, and he rose to the occasion. By marching BYU down the field and nearly snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, Wilson proved he is the quarterback spark plug that keeps BYU going. These attributes can not be overlooked.
The Coastal Carolina game probably does not move the needle all that much for Wilson. He played his game and was the best player on the field. He was a tough out in a clutch situation and showed that he could drive his team down the field. These moments are not too big for Wilson. That clutch gene will only increase his stock. Aside from that, Wilson needs to keep up this level of play in the future. His stock is rising with each additional game of tape. By the time April rolls around, Wilson could be the second quarterback taken off the board, and for good reason.
Zach Wilson has a short, but dazzling day against North Alabama
In what was never expected to be a tough game for BYU, they proved that North Alabama was no match for them in short order. By halftime, quarterback Zach Wilson was done for the day after the clinic he put on against North Alabama, further strengthening his NFL Draft profile. Darting around the field and throwing four touchdowns in the first half, Wilson made quick work on the North Alabama secondary. Even though the competition was not great, Wilson put on display NFL throws and traits that few quarterbacks could make.
His last touchdown throw of the game was an exemplary example of this performance. Wilson rolled slightly in the pocket and then reset his feet and fired a beautiful throw 60 yards in the air for a deep completion. It is just the latest example of an absurd Wilson throw that should not look as easy as it had. Even better, Wilson went through his progressions and showed off a pragmatic mental process post-snap when his first and second reads were not open. It was a complete play that showcased Wilson’s intriguing traits.
For Wilson, a lot of his flashes revolve around impressive arm angles. His first touchdown throw epitomized this. Being pressured and rolling back on his feet, Wilson twisted his wrist at an odd angle to fire the ball over the pass rushers and defensive backs for a touchdown. It was off his back foot, too. Wilson’s ability to make these crazy throws outside of structure and in the pocket makes him a game-changer that can elevate an offense.
Take his second touchdown throw as evidence for his pinpoint accuracy and impressive arm talent. Wilson was in a clean pocket but fired a perfect throw outside the numbers on a “go” route into the back corner of the end zone. There was zero chance the defensive back could make a play at the catch point. By making these throws in the deep passing game, Wilson unlocks the Cougars’ offense.
In today’s NFL, you have to be able to work out of structure, and Wilson’s did that in spades on Saturday. Wilson was pressured by multiple North Alabama defenders in his own end zone but somehow slithered out of the pocket for a 40-yard run. It was all about feeling the pressure and then making magic happen. Wilson broke one tackle off the edge and stepped up in the pocket to daylight.
Overall, it was a strong game from the BYU quarterback; however, one concern keeps popping up. Most notably, it is the fact that Wilson is struggling to get consistent accuracy on some out routes that go deep outside the numbers. It seems to be more of an issue with mechanics more than anything. Wilson’s arm angles are fantastic and defy normal quarterback mechanics, but Wilson gets sloppy and becomes scattershot with his footwork on these out routes. The arm talent is there, but the consistency on those throws is a necessary box left unchecked.
Zach Wilson rises to the challenge against Boise State
One of the biggest questions that Zach Wilson had to answer for his NFL Draft stock was his ability against quality competition. Until this week, the best school he played was a Houston team that has proven to be average. NFL eyes were on his performance against the Broncos, and Wilson stepped up to the task and then some. Wilson led the BYU Cougars to a convincing 51-17 victory over a ranked Boise State team. It was a game that is likely going to skyrocket Wilson’s stock for a good reason.
It seems like every week, he proves his ability to extend plays and make ridiculous throws outside the pocket. In the third quarter against Boise State, Wilson scrambled outside the pocket after feeling pressure to his left. He fired a ball downfield without his feet set, and it was a bullet, ending in a completion. The ball was perfectly placed and showcased his ability to generate torque without a set base. It is a play that guys like Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, Joe Burrow, and others have made before while extending the play with their legs. The throws were impressive all day.
Making all the throws
I have pointed out Wilson’s adaptability and throwing back-shoulder throws, and he proved that once again, too. In the back of his own end zone, Wilson stood in the pocket and fired a bullet to the back-shoulder of his receiver, where only he could get it. Most importantly, Wilson processed the coverage pre-snap and took his chance against tight man coverage. It speaks to his confidence and ability to trust his receivers and his arm in those tight-window throws.
Even off of play-action, Wilson made a fantastic throw up the seam on a wheel route. His mechanics are smooth and clean. His stable footwork and tremendous ability to engage his core allow him to uncork balls with consistent accuracy and velocity. The natural arm talent is great, but the mechanics maximize it with a smooth, quick release and that snap through his core.
Arm talent galore
Everything you see with this passer’s arm is special throws. He flings frozen ropes that go forty yards in the air with ease. They are precisely placed in the perfect spot. Wilson had more throws than I could count that exhibited these traits. He even had one dime where he threw a ball from one hash to the opposite sideline. Unsurprisingly, it was another perfect toss. Make no mistake, Wilson rose to the challenge and then some.
After this great performance by Zach Wilson, it appears he is proving he is a legitimate NFL Draft prospect. The throws he makes are throws a lot of NFL quarterbacks can not make. In the modern NFL, he has an ideal skillset. Wilson can extend plays, feel pressure, has precise accuracy, and improving mental processing skills. There is no doubt that Zach Wilson can go in the top 10 of the NFL Draft if it happened right now. I am not sure that is the ceiling, either. Wilson is flying up boards, and rightfully so, given his exceptional performance.
Zach Wilson dazzles with throws against Western Kentucky
Although facing a weaker opponent, there was undeniable energy around BYU quarterback Zach Wilson’s performance against the Hilltoppers on Saturday. In fact, Wilson may have pulled off his most impressive throw of the entire season on Saturday. His 224 passing yards and three touchdowns register as a solid day, but that does not speak to the quality of the throws he made in tight coverage. The Hilltoppers did not make it easy on Wilson as he tried to navigate the defense.
Wilson’s most impressive throw of the day looked like something Kyler Murray or Patrick Mahomes would pull off. Feeling the pressure, Wilson rolled out to his left. He saw a gap in the middle of the offensive line and worked back inside there with his eyes downfield. Without his feet being set at all, Wilson rocketed a ball at least 40 yards in the air right to his tightly covered receiver. The defensive backs were right there in extremely tight coverage, and Wilson had one of the most accurate throws I have seen in college football this season. It was truly dazzling.
Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy
That accuracy is something that the BYU quarterback carries with him outside the numbers as well. Earlier in the day, Wilson hit his receiver on a deep ball outside the numbers and dropped it right into his bucket. It was not a super flashy throw like the previous one, but an NFL-caliber throw Wilson made. Hitting a receiver in tight coverage, the margin for error is minuscule. Even with the outstretched arm of the defensive back, Wilson put it right where he needed to do it.
On another touchdown throw, Wilson flashed his mental capacity over the middle of the field. With a post route against cover two, the BYU quarterback knew he had to thread the needle in another tight window. His savviness to look the safety off to the boundary and then fire the ball into a tight space is shrewd and impressive. That is an NFL level play from him to move the safety to create space in a narrow alley.
Leading by example
Not all the throws were magical like those two, but they were precise and perfectly placed. Especially in the quick passing game, Wilson does a tremendous job of leading his receivers and allowing them to pick up big YAC yards due to that. That was the most impressive thing about his short to intermediate accuracy.
Moreover, the biggest thing that stood out on this day was how vocal the quarterback was with his BYU teammates. He made sure the guys were set, and the team atmosphere that Wilson creates on offense is fantastic. You can tell he is a leader who is loved and appreciated by his teammates. But that does not mean tough love does not come around to make sure everything goes well.
Zach Wilson rockets himself onto the 2021 NFL Draft radar
Once a no-name quarterback at BYU who had shown flashes but was often injured, Wilson is proving in his 2020 season that he has impeccable upside. In 2019, he had spotty accuracy to all levels of the field, but especially to the deep portion of the field. That all changed in 2020, however, as Wilson is consistently hitting his receivers in stride. Despite a soft schedule, Wilson is proving he can make this NFL throws in tight windows.
Outside versus inside the pocket
He has a special ability outside the pocket to make plays most players can not make. In the modern NFL, mobility is becoming more important, and Wilson has that. His feel for pressure in the pocket is calm but a pragmatic one. He does well to stand in the pocket and takes hits if needed but does a great job of moving in the pocket to find the creases to either extend the play or take off when necessary.
Against UTSA, the Roadrunners ran a stunt to the left side that collapsed Wilson’s far left side as the tackle was stunned back. However, Wilson felt the pressure, stepped up in the pocket, and fired a rocket across his body to his man over the middle of the field without even setting his feet. Few quarterbacks have the arm talent and ability to hit that play consistently, but Wilson has this ability.
Even against Texas State, Wilson made a throw that quarterbacks should never make by conventional wisdom look easy. Feeling pressure from his left, the BYU quarterback rolled out to his right. However, no one was open to his side, and Wilson set his feet and fired a frozen rope across the field for a touchdown. That is great vision and patience to find anyone that was open anywhere on the football field.
Appraising Wilson’s approach to the game
This is a gunslinger mentality that people will find fun and love. It does end badly sometimes for Wilson, however. His interception against Navy was a ball that he forced when nothing was there. That is a prime decision-making issue. With his accuracy, I can not blame him for taking a chance, but sometimes he needs to learn to check it down. That is smart quarterback play, not being conservative. With Wilson’s arm, he will get plenty of opportunities to push it down the field.
Considering all the early season NFL Draft hype, Zach Wilson cemented himself against his biggest test in Houston. With 400 yards passing and four touchdowns against the Cougars, Wilson proved he can dice up anyone he faces this season. Wilson proved his adaptability to play down the field and has thrown several great back-shoulder throws in the game. However, when Wilson sees no one open on other plays but feels the pressure, he takes it himself for a hefty scamper.
Everything Wilson has done this year has shown a willingness to process coverages and make the tough throws whenever necessary. Some flaws could lead to more turnovers at the next level, but Wilson has flashed his dynamic arm talent consistently to prove his precise accuracy.
Zach Wilson’s best NFL Draft fits
The more time that goes by, the higher BYU quarterback Zach Wilson’s NFL Draft stock rises. It is hardly crazy to think there is a chance Wilson could go in the top 10 and even above Trey Lance. Even still, the back half of the first-round is not a bad place for him to go either. It leaves Wilson a dynamic range of fits when discussing where he would be best suited to land.
Wilson in Foxborough?
The first intriguing one is the New England Patriots. It is time to face that this year has not gone as planned for Cam Newton and Bill Belichick. While that can certainly change for both down the stretch, Wilson is a fascinating fit with Josh McDaniels and that offensive staff. His dynamic ability to make plays out of structure would be totally new to the Patriots offense, and it is one where he could develop quite nicely with a strong offensive line already in place.
Other team fits
A little bit further down, the San Francisco 49ers have to be looking at the potential options for a quarterback. This is certainly no guarantee by any means, but Jimmy Garappolo has been underwhelming and is now injured. If Kyle Shanahan wishes to upgrade to a more dynamic passer in the system, Wilson could be that guy. The 49ers do have an out in Garappolo’s contract as well. The fit with that great offensive staff and personnel is natural for a young quarterback.
Lastly, the Indianapolis Colts are an exciting fit, as well. Frank Reich is an offensive mastermind and has been for a long time, and they have pieces both on the offensive line and on defense where if Wilson plays at a high level immediately, he could catapult this team up another level. Phillip Rivers is not getting any younger, and if Wilson drops to the twenties, Chris Ballard may be tempted.
Other teams need a quarterback but may not be in the top tier when it comes to the best fits for the BYU product. The Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Football Team, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, and New York Jets find themselves in this category. All of these teams could take a shot at a quarterback but may not be fantastic fits. Or, they will likely go with another quarterback. Teams could sit on the outskirts of where Wilson will likely fall in the draft as well.
Utilize Pro Football Network’s Mock Draft Simulator to see where a player like Zach Wilson may end up in the 2021 NFL Draft.