When BYU signed a young quarterback from Corner Canyon in December of 2017, it hardly made a splash.
Yes, Zach Wilson had led the Chargers to the 5A semifinals and had offers from places like Cal, Oregon State, Fresno State and Hawaii — but he wasn’t considered a game-changer.
Three-and-a-half years later, that young-faced gunslinger with the strong arm and a knack for making tough plays look easy is on the cusp of Cougar history.
No BYU football player in history has been selected higher than No. 5 in the NFL draft, with quarterback Jim McMahon and defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah sharing that honor.
Now, barring something unexpected, Wilson is set to shatter that glass ceiling.
He is the overwhelming favorite to be drafted by the New York Jets with the No. 2 pick. It’s become such a certainty that, according to DraftKings.com, a $100 bet on Wilson at No. 2 will only result in a $2 profit.
There is always a chance the Jets have been misleading the football world about their intentions — or an even less likely chance that the Jacksonville Jaguars will take Wilson instead of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick — but no matter what it seems virtually assured that Wilson will be a Top 3 selection. The San Francisco 49ers has the No. 3 pick and is also in the market for a quarterback.
But along with the recognition for his accuracy, playmaking and potential inherent in being taken so early in the draft also come sky-high pressure and expectations.
And history isn’t on Wilson’s side.
Recent history shows that being a quarterback drafted in the first round isn’t a predictor of success. ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit noted on a conference call earlier in April a historical trend that 33 quarterbacks were drafted from 2009-19, but only 10 were average or above average when playing in the NFL.
And for all of BYU’s historic success at the quarterback position, only three have been on Super Bowl-winning teams: Steve Young with 49ers, Jim McMahon with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, and Marc Wilson with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders.
But Young knows quite a bit about the QB position in the NFL, both as a Hall-of-Fame player and as a long-time analyst for ESPN. He said on ESPN’s “Flight Deck” podcast on Wednesday that he believe Wilson can be great at the next level.
“Every generation has a handful of guys that define the position,” Young said on the podcast. “He’s set up to be one of those. Now, can he go get it? Can he go do it? There are a lot of filters and a lot of hurdles and a lot of things you have to go through to get there, but I think he’s the No. 2 pick for the Jets because of what that looks like, because of his potential.”
Young said the growth that Wilson showed in the 2020 season gives a team like the Jets hope that he can continue to make big improvements as a player.
“It’s who he is and he got a chance to show it (in 2020),” Young said on the podcast. “The more he showed it, the more the rest of us were like, ‘Holy crap, he does things you’re not supposed to be able to do until you get in the NFL.’ ... It was amazing what he put on tape. There were times I watched him and it was like, ‘Is this kid for real? Can he really do these things?’ He did it week after week.”
Young is pretty sure the Jets are set on which way they want to go and aren’t going to pull any last-minute surprises.
“In the NFL draft, nothing is truly set until you put the name in, but short of some terrible review or something that comes out that changes the nature of what they’ve underwritten for Zach, it feels like there’s no question he’s their guy,” Young said on the podcast. “They’ve had him locked in for quite a while.
“That’s through a lot of rigor. Joe Douglas doesn’t play the fool. The man is very intent. He’s got rings on his fingers. He knows what he’s looking for. He knows this is kind of a defining moment for him. I think he’s done whatever he possibly can to vet this situation and it became pretty obvious to me that they’ve locked in on him.”
The 2021 NFL draft will take place in Cleveland, and is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. MT. Coverage will be on ABC, ESPN and the NFL Network.