A reporter from New York on a national teleconference Wednesday posed a couple of questions about BYU quarterback Zach Wilson to ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbsteit that have been brought up a lot in recent weeks:
- If Wilson is drafted by the New York Jets, can a kid from Utah handle the pressure of New York?
- How much should be read into BYU’s cobbled-together 2020 schedule when evaluating Wilson?
Herbstreit’s answers were about as accurate as they can be two weeks before the 2021 NFL draft takes place.
“You know how hard it is trying to predict how a player — whether it’s baseball or football or basketball — how they’re going to project from a personality standpoint into that market,” Herbsteit said, answering the first question.
But Herbstreit said Wilson has a mentality that might make a difference if he does end up being hyper-scrutinized in the Big Apple.
“What I liked about Zach Wilson is this guy has a chip on his shoulder,” Herbsteit said. “He wears a wristband that says ‘prove them wrong.’ I was like, ‘who you trying to prove wrong, my man? Everyone loves you.’ But it’s just he wasn’t recruited heavily. He grew up in Salt Lake and his dad played at Utah, but Utah didn’t recruit him. I think from that point on he had a chip on his shoulder and he has not let it go.”
Herbstreit said he believes that Wilson’s mental toughness is something that would be key if he did go to the Jets.
“I don’t think I personally would question it,” Herbstreit said. “I’d be careful of looking at him with his baby face and growing up in Utah and judging the cover of book on just what you see. This kid’s got some good wiring. I love guys that are mad. I love guys that are out to prove everybody wrong. He’s not emotional about it or he’s not on social media saying, ‘you’ll see!’ It’s nothing like that.”
Herbstreit summed up what he sees in Wilson by saying he has “an internal fire that that’s burning.”
To answer the second question, Herbstreit initially noted that Wilson played for three years and had other wins over good teams (likely thinking of wins at Tennessee and over USC in 2019).
But he also gave a lot of credit to the across-the-board improvements the Cougars made in 2020.
“He took a step up to a whole different level this year obviously and some of that may have had to do with their competition,” Herbstreit said. “I think some of it had to do with just they were better. They’re better around him. They were better on the offensive line. They were deeper there and better in the backfield. They were good at receiver. They even lost an All-American tight end who would have been taken them to another level before they played their first game.”
Herbstreit also pointed out that Wilson might have helped himself even more if BYU had played its original schedule before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Cougars to basically start over.
“I would have loved to have seen them play against some of those Pac-12 teams and some of the Big 10 teams as it were scheduled, but we didn’t get a chance to see it,” Herbstreit said. “But I don’t think it takes away from the player that he is. The commitment to work on his game I think is there and I don’t think it’ll change.”
Herbstreit said that he thinks if Wilson goes to the Jets, New York fans will “fall in love with a kid as far as his attitude and determination.”
Herbstreit also added a word of caution about getting too excited about any of the top quarterbacks being touted in the 2021 draft.
He pointed to the historical trend that 33 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round from 2009-19, but only 10 were average or above average when playing in the NFL.
“Given what happened up until last year, two-thirds of these guys aren’t going to make it,” Herbstreit said. “It makes you think No. 1: Why is it so hard to evaluate this position? Why do so many guys not make it when you look at them on paper and you break their film down and you think, ‘oh man, this guy’s definitely gonna make it. We’re only analysts, people on the outside. These NFL scouts, these NFL GMs, these head coaches, they lose their jobs because they miss on quarterbacks — and yet they continually miss. I don’t know why it is.”
While the future may turn out to be harsh for Wilson and the other top quarterbacks, the only way to know if they can buck the trend is to give them that chance.
It starts with what happens in the NFL draft. Herbstreit will be a part of ESPN’s draft coverage as well as a “QB21 with Kirk Herbstreit” series on the network (premiering April 17-20) which features conversations with six of this year’s top prospects: Justin Fields (Ohio State), Trey Lance (North Dakota State), Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Mac Jones (Alabama), Kyle Trask (Florida) and Wilson.
Herbstreit, however, said he is ready to end the guessing and see what will actually happen.
“I’m looking forward to the draft finally getting here,” Herbstreit said. “It seems like it’s been months and months of build up and analysis. I think all of us are ready, like every year. You get to early April and it’s time to for these guys to move on.”
Wilson as well as the other Cougar prospects will find out their draft fate when the 2021 NFL draft takes place from April 29-May 1.