The NFL draft process is a long, labored one and there are plenty of opportunities for prospects to build themselves momentum to roll up draft boards. In many cases, the risers of the draft process have earned it by dispelling notions about them as players. But with that big of a window to collect new information, there are also plenty of instances of people losing sight of what the objective is in the NFL draft: to find and select good football players. And the product on the field is often (though not always) the best indicator of who is who.
Enter Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson.
Wilson put on a show Friday night in a 51-17 smackdown of the Boise State Broncos in a clash of ranked college football teams. Wilson continued his potential Heisman finalist campaign with another dominant performance and three or four more throws that will simply make your eyeballs fall out.
Wilson appears to be the 2021 version of Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, and Mitch Trubisky—an off-the-radar quarterback prospect entering the season who has exploded on the scene and built himself an undeniable case as a top quarterback prospect. Nearly everyone you can ask would say that Burrow, Murray, Mayfield, and Trubisky were generally considered fringe top-100 picks at the start of their final season before becoming the respective QB1 of each of the last four NFL Drafts.
Wilson isn't likely to continue the streak; it's hard to imagine he's going to be able to pass Trevor Lawrence and for what I've seen of both players, I would still covet Ohio State's Justin Fields over him at this point as well. But Wilson's passed former North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance for me, personally. And it isn't particularly close, either.
So much of the NFL draft process is looking for reasons to not draft a player. Medicals? Level of competition? Personality? What is going to jump off the page as a disqualifier for teams?
So when NFL teams hold the resumes of Lance and Wilson up alongside one another, what are they going to see? Wilson may end up playing in twice as many career games based on how the Cougars' season goes. He's the one who has played (and dominated) more recently, as Lance played just one game this season before declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic's upheaval of college football. Wilson has every bit of the ability to win with his legs as Lance, even if he's not quite as dynamic or explosive. Wilson is providing his dominant season against a better level of competition than Lance. And for as gifted as Lance's arm is, Wilson's surgically-repaired shoulder is just as impressive this season. Lance's advantages will lie in his youth and the absence of a throwing shoulder medical procedure, but that will probably be it.
Watching Wilson come out and throw 40-yard frozen ropes on the move or drop the arm slot to "turn two" as if he were a shortstop at second base when riding the mesh point on his RPO reads simply induces giggles at this point. That isn't to say his process is perfect. His aggressiveness can get him into trouble at times and the comfort he's currently playing the position with right now can sometimes lead him to be reckless with the football—both from a ball security standpoint and for the well-being of his receivers when they're targeted in tight windows. But damn it, it's working. And whoever ends up getting their hands on Wilson will be tasked with finding the right balance of his brilliant creativity for the position and staying married to fundamentals and core principles of the position. If that coach can do that, Wilson is going to move the needle for someone at the pro level.
This shouldn't be considered a eulogy for Lance, the NFL draft prospect. But given the card that each player has been dealt this season and with how Wilson continues to seize the moment, the writing is on the wall that his resume is going to be more appealing for NFL evaluators come the spring.
There's no point in denying that anymore. All aboard the Zach Wilson QB3 train!