Looking all of 13 years old, Zach Wilson took the field, dropped into the pocket, drilled a perfect spinner into the open arms of Aleva Hifo, to the roars of fans in the stadium surrounding the freshman’s personal show of precocious promise.
That was a couple of years ago, back at the beginning, when Wilson, having that appearance of a kid who’d just stepped out of a Clearasil commercial, wowed his coaches at BYU enough for them to promote him as their starter at quarterback, the youngest ever at the school. He teased those coaches and fans, gave them a glimpse of what might come next. In that first start, he helped the Cougars crush a bad Hawaii team, but, just like now, the caliber of competition was a mere detail, mattering little.
What did matter was this: The fresh-faced teenager could play.
But what also mattered was the aforementioned: He was, in the rugged terms of football, a mere baby. A neophyte. A novice.
He had much to learn, much to experience, much to overcome, including losses, injuries, frustrations that come by way of playing with an eager mind, sometimes overeager, blind swagger and a compromised body.
What Wilson had an abundance of — despite his less-than-ample list of suitors/recruiters — was talent. Still, in his second year, he battled, beating teams like Tennessee and USC, but losing to teams his Corner Canyon High School squad might have defeated, as the Cougars finished 7-6. Worst of all, he contributed to those losses, making costly mistakes, burping up turnovers.
He, indeed, had seen a little bit of everything in his early career, from jubilation to anger, glory to blame, potential to poor play, rehab to realization.
But he had only dreamed … this.
A stellar season, an undefeated season, a season during which he’s pitched the ball all over the yard with uncommon accuracy, dealing touchdowns galore, with only a couple of interceptions, gaining all kinds of accolades, spurring talk of him being a legitimate Heisman candidate, and now multiple projections of him as a rising darling in the coming NFL Draft.
That last one is a doozy — and very much the real thing.
One pro talent evaluator recently whispered an unusual observation about the Cougar QB, at least for someone in his profession: “He looks like he’s having fun.”
Here’s what’s most fun for Wilson: He is, in fact, rocketing up NFL Draft boards.
Scouting reports from pro personnel people have him ascending, impressed by his playmaking, his quick release, his mobility, his arm talent, his creativity, his confidence. Yeah, there are times when he bails out of the pocket too soon, or commits an error of judgment, but the highs are canceling out the lows.
And creators of mock drafts have bought in, big time. In many of those projections, Wilson has moved into the third slot of available quarterbacks, behind everybody’s favorites, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, players who are expected to go at the top of the draft, some predictors listing them as overall Nos. 1 and 2.
ZACH WILSON’S 2020 SEASON
Comps. Atts. Pct. Yds. TDs Ints. Rating
166 221 75.1 2,512 22 2 87.2
But Wilson is listed in numerous mocks as a top 10 pick, too.
CBS Sports' most recent guess has him going fifth, to the Washington football team. In its synopsis, it reads: “This probably represents Wilson’s absolute ceiling, but the long-term stability of the quarterback spot is such a question mark right now for Washington that this would make sense.”
NBC Sports has Wilson going to the Bears at No. 17, saying: “Zach Wilson … could be a ‘karmic’ selection for Chicago, considering how the last time a first-round quarterback drafted from BYU [Jim McMahon] led the Bears to its only Super Bowl victory. Wilson displays great mobility and throws well on the run. He is accustomed to playing in a spread offense and his escapability allows him to extend plays and perform well in clutch moments.”
USA Today also predicts Washington will take Wilson at 5. “Perhaps no player at the collegiate level has made greater strides this season than Wilson, who has thrown 22 touchdown passes with just two interceptions. With a Patrick Mahomes-like penchant for connecting on deep strikes and making plays outside the pocket, Wilson is worthy of top-five consideration.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune puts Wilson at 14, taken by the Vikings. “His arm talent and improvisation skills are … impressive.”
A number of other mock drafts have Wilson headed to Washington, including profootballnetwork.com’s Kyle Newman, who wrote that he is “potentially the third quarterback off the board. He did it by showing off his athleticism, elite arm strength, and creativity both inside and outside the pocket. His style of play is sure to remind many evaluators of the likes of Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes coming out of school. Wilson seems an easy fit in Washington.”
Other mocks listed the BYU quarterback in the first round not at all. WalterFootball.com has him as a likely 2nd-to-3rd-round pick, saying he could move into the late-to-mid-first round.
As would be expected, the more recent draft versions have him higher, as his hey-look-at-me-now showings have garnered ever-more increasing notice. Apparently, the light competition against which Wilson is posting his stats, where the pressure is more comfortably handled and the windows are larger — just like in his first start — and his newfound success doesn’t seem to be bothering a lot of those doing the forecasting. They see what many see — a hot quarterback flat spinning it.
Despite all the preceding information, and the fact that Zach’s parents have already met with agents, there is the chance, since Wilson is just a junior that he’ll ignore the hubbub and stay at BYU to throw a gazillion more touchdowns for the Cougars next season.
Wilson may still look like he’s 13, but he wasn’t born yesterday.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.