Zach Wilson will be a top pick in the coming NFL draft, not the top pick.
Some longtime NFL experts believe Wilson should be the No. 1 selection in the draft. After the quarterback’s pro day at BYU, Gil Brandt, who’s been evaluating league talent since his days 60 years ago with the Dallas Cowboys, tweeted out:
“If you pinned me down and forced me to pick between Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, I might pick Wilson. It’s that close for me. Honestly, I’m surprised the Jaguars’ new head coach [Urban Meyer] didn’t show up at BYU’s pro day.”
Everyone else from 31 NFL teams did.
Wilson’s almost certain to be the second overall selection, by the New York Jets on April 29. If he is, he’ll be the first No. 2 overall NFL pick ever from a school in Utah. Not bad for a quarterback who wasn’t even slated in as BYU’s starter a year ago at this time, battling as he was for the job with dudes named Baylor and Jaren.
Aaron Roderick, then the Cougars’ QB coach and now their offensive coordinator, said at that time the decision would be pushed to a later date. “We will determine in fall camp who is one and who is two and who is three,” he said. “… Right now we just don’t know what our time frame is going to be.”
Regarding Wilson, Roderick added: “He knows he has to get better. That’s part of the process at BYU.”
He got better. The process worked.
The questions now become: Will it work in the NFL? How much better can Wilson get?
He is widely considered by people in the league who are paid a whole lot of money to know such things as the second-most valued prospect — behind Lawrence — playing the most valued position of all, coming out of college football this time around.
That designation doesn’t mean as much as some might think when it comes to sure bets in pro football, especially at the shifty QB spot.
To say taking a quarterback in the first round is a ticket to gaining a longtime leader and star for the team that identifies and picks him is dubious, at best. From 2009 to 2016, as reported by ESPN, 22 quarterbacks were taken in the first round, none of whom is projected to be starting for that original team this coming season. Three are current starters somewhere across the league.
All of which suggests the Jets are taking a gamble by picking Wilson, not so much based on his own talent, rather on the odds. Maybe those odds increase among the highest picks, but it’s far from absolute.
What is it, then?
An educated crapshoot.
And the Jets are well aware. Their use of the No. 3 overall pick in 2018, on Sam Darnold, who was one of the worst-rated QBs in the NFL last season for reasons that weren’t his alone, just got shipped off on account of the team’s intention to draft a new quarterback.
Looking at it from the other direction, whether that is good news for Wilson or bad is up to the observer to swing at for himself. The Jets have been neither successful in recent times, nor a soft landing spot for quarterbacks. Darnold was supposed to be a franchise guy, a player who in the aftermath said he thought he’d lead the Jets for two decades. That lasted all of three years.
Wilson is next up.
Unless he’s not.
A few mock drafts run against the popular projection, suggesting that former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is the real target of New York and that Wilson will fall one spot to San Francisco, a fall that Wilson might celebrate, considering the circumstances in and around the 49ers are more favorable.
Given the wheel, would Wilson rather drive a Lambo or a Honda? If he’s A.J. Foyt, perhaps it won’t matter.
For what he’ll get paid, he could buy a garage full of either or both.
All the smoke screens and hubbub and BS aside, New York is the likely destination.
At Wilson’s pro day, he said he’d be happy to be drafted by whichever team wants him. I mean, what’s he supposed to say?
If Wilson, in fact, goes second, it will be a singular occurrence for a school in Utah, the highest local pick since Utes quarterback Alex Smith went No. 1 in 2005. There have been first-round picks from schools in Utah, including some upper-half selections in the past. But not a huge number.
Smith stands alone as the only top overall pick.
BYU’s Steve Young went No. 1 in the NFL’s supplemental draft in 1984, after playing in the USFL for two seasons. BYU tight end Gordon Hudson went No. 22 in that same supplemental endeavor.
Other general first-rounders include Utah State’s Merlin Olsen (defensive tackle) at No. 3 in 1962, Utah State’s Phil Olsen (defensive tackle) at No. 4 in 1970, BYU’s Ziggy Ansah (defensive end) at No. 5 in 2013, BYU’s Jim McMahon (quarterback) at No. 5 in 1982, Utah State’s Bill Munson (quarterback) at No. 7 in 1964, Utah’s Jordan Gross (offensive tackle) at No. 8 in 2003, Utah’s Lee Grosscup (quarterback) at No. 10 in 1959, BYU’s Shawn Knight (defensive tackle) at No. 11 in 1987, Utah State’s MacArthur Lane (running back) at No. 13 in 1968.
Utah’s Star Lotulelei (defensive tackle) went at No. 14 in 2013, BYU’s John Tait (offensive tackle) at No. 14 in 1999, BYU’s Marc Wilson (quarterback) at No. 15 in 1980, Utah’s Kevin Dyson (receiver) at No. 16 in 1998, BYU’s Jason Buck (defensive end) at No. 17 in 1987, Utah’s Norm Thompson (defensive back) at No. 17 in 1971, Utah’s Luther Elliss (defensive tackle) at No. 20 in 1995, Utah’s Garett Bolles (offensive tackle) at No. 20 in 2017, BYU’s Todd Shell (linebacker) at No. 24 in 1984, Utah State’s Jordan Love (quarterback) at No. 26 in 2020, BYU’s Trevor Matich (center) at No. 28 in 1985, BYU’s Rob Morris (linebacker) at No. 28 in 2000.
A load of good players in that bunch. And many more who were selected in the second and third rounds.
Few of them got the kind of run Wilson has received ahead of the 2021 draft. That’s a blessing and a curse, especially if he ends up in New York, a place where big-time glory comes to those who win, and wicked shame comes to those who don’t. Wilson’s handlers must be doing their best to prepare the kid from Draper for the unavoidable onslaught.
The storm surge is on its way. It’s already here.
After BYU’s pro day, New York’s Daily News had a full-page display of Wilson with the headline: “Broadway Zach!”
Made you wonder what Joe Namath thought of that.
Again, this is the kid who prior to September hadn’t fully established himself as University Avenue Zach. Suddenly, he’s a top sports story in the country’s biggest city.
The carry will be heavy no matter where he goes. San Francisco would be no stroll across the Golden Gate, modern 49ers quarterbacks having a substantial legacy to uphold. The spotlight everywhere, anywhere will burn hot.
Wilson, then, finds himself where he always thought he wanted to be, where he always dreamed he’d be, a spot only one other major college player out of a Utah school has bettered — in the NFL draft’s 2-hole.
It’s up to him to conquer a city and a league by climbing out of it.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.