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BYU’s Zach Wilson is projected as a top-10 NFL draft pick, but how did he get here?

A year ago, Wilson was part of a three-man race for the starting quarterback gig. Now, he could be the No. 2 quarterback selected in the draft.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

With the NFL draft just around the corner, BYU’s Zach Wilson has scorched his way into the top of the mock draft charts and is expected to be a top-10 draft pick — maybe even a top-5 pick.
But a year ago, when the Cougars were getting ready to open spring ball, Wilson was caught in a three-way battle for the starting quarterback gig. So how did he get to this point, poised to possibly be the second quarterback selected in the 2021 draft?
Easy — Wilson didn’t compete with anyone other than himself.
Plus, it also helped that the junior was finally healthy and not dealing with injuries like in 2019.
“During that time, I didn’t feel like I was competing with anyone,” Wilson said. “I mean, it’s always a competition anyways. I feel like, how you look at it, it’s always a competition — the best player aways plays. And I was competing against the same guys that I was going against the year before … so it was really the same thing for me. I just felt like I had something to prove, not necessarily that I was losing it.”
BYU assistant coach Aaron Roderick, who was recently promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, said the transformation Wilson went through was the result of a relentless work ethic, resulting in getting a little better every day.
And, at the end of the day, his improvement this year was the culmination of all the reps, practices, throws and everything else he’s done over the last three years, Roderick said. The only fault the coach has found in his quarterback is that Wilson can be cheap and sometimes eats crappy food, but otherwise takes really good care of himself.
“He’s just working at it and never stopping, never feeling like he’s arrived,” Roderick said. “That’s why I think he’s going to continue to be great. He’s still far from his ceiling. He’s got so much ability and he worked so hard at it and he’s never satisfied. Who knows how good he can end up being some day.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) as BYU hosts USC, NCAA football in Provo on Saturday Sept. 14, 2019.

Putting in the work

A lot’s been said about Wilson’s road trips to California to workout at 3DQB, a quarterback camp co-owned by former BYU quarterback John Beck. Just about every broadcaster commented about it during the Cougars’ nationally-broadcasted games.
But Wilson actually started attending 3DQB back in 2018.
Beck first met Wilson after completing his first spring ball. Wilson’s cousin was a client of Beck’s and his uncle knew he needed to get the young Wilson a spot at the coveted camp. Wilson started practicing out there in the summer of 2018.
Beck was immediately impressed by what he saw from Wilson.
“For an early high school graduate who got to participate in spring ball, I was impressed with his understanding and knowledge of the game,” Beck said. “I could tell that he had come from, it must have been a school that was, I want to say, kind of pushing the envelope on combinations of routes, what the quarterback was needing to process at the line of scrimmage. He just had a really good understanding of this offensive versus defensive game that goes on within the game.”
The big jump in improvement, however, may not have happened had the pandemic not happened.
In previous years, Wilson had only been able to attend 3DQB for an occasional weekend, sometimes missing out on a workout in California for two months. But, with the country essentially shut down, including the BYU campus and athletic facilities, Wilson was able to drive or fly down to Huntington Beach more often and was able to spend longer periods of time there.
Having less time between workouts is what helped Wilson retain what he was learning at 3DQB better, Beck believes, and therefore helped the BYU quarterback improve by leaps and bounds.
“Usually, when we got Zach, the first day — almost always — was shaking off a little bit of rust, because usually what happens is when he goes back to throw we don’t see him for, let’s say six weeks,” Beck said. “... What he was able to do, when he was able to stay for an extended period, he didn’t really have to go through those shaking off the rust days or kind of like getting dialed back in. And it actually turned into building days where he got to just stack one on top of another, on top of another, on top of another. So, we got to push Zach more this offseason than we’ve ever been able to push him before.”

What people are saying

Two national sports outlets (NBC Sports and Pro Football Focus) have Wilson as the No. 2 overall pick, heading to the New York Jets. Todd McShay and CBS Analyst Ryan Wilson both see the BYU quarterback heading to the Atlanta Falcons as the No. 4 pick. And SB Nation predicts Wilson will go to the San Francisco 49ers as the No. 12 pick.
Ryan Roberts, scouting director for NFL Draft Bible, is confident Wilson could be picked as early as the second quarterback, but no lower than the fourth quarterback. Although he’s fairly certain the BYU quarterback will be picked sooner rather than later.
“Wilson showed huge improvements, mostly due to his amount of comfort,” Roberts said. “He was playing fast and making much quicker decisions.”
BYU’s ability to play, and be one of the first teams to play, in 2020 also played a large role in Wilson growing his resume and getting it out there, Roberts added.
“He has a larger resume and his consistency throughout the entirety of the season,” Roberts said. “Pure arm talent, athleticism, play out of structure, it’s all there.”
On Friday, ESPN college football analyst David Pollack joined Mike Greenberg on ESPN’s Get Up to discuss Todd McShay’s latest NFL Mock Draft and had a lot to say about Wilson.
“He scares the crap out of me because my comparisons that keep coming to mind when I watch him are too good,” Pollack said. “Man, I keep looking at him and he’s got such a smooth, natural ability. He just floats off his back foot and flips it like Aaron Rodgers. He just runs to his left and throws it 60 yards downfield like Patrick Mahomes.”

Preparing for the next step

With the 2020 season in the rearview, Wilson is fully focused on getting ready for the draft. So, the Draper native has moved to Irvine, Calif., for the next few months to continue working out with Beck at 3DQB.
Wilson plans to stay there until BYU’s Pro Day in late March.
Wilson is working on film and interview prep, and just trying to learn what it’s going to take to play at the next level. He’s also trying to stay level-headed regardless of what comes his way.
“I know it’s going to be a lot of transition, but I think it’s going to be great,” Wilson said. “... I’m super excited. I really can’t say much more than that. [I’m] super, super excited to pursue my dream of trying to play in the NFL.”
When it came down to deciding on what to do — stay at BYU for his senior season or take his shot at going pro — Wilson said it was easier than he expected. But still, the contrast of where Wilson is now compared to a year ago isn’t lost him.
“Last year I was not thinking I would be in this position, trying to declare for the NFL draft,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m excited to be where I’m at. It definitely was a surprise, but I know we would have a better year.”
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Josh Newman contributed to this story.
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