Each year as the college football season progresses there are risers and there are fallers within the draft circuit. In some years, they are extrapolated into extreme scenarios that see a once unheralded prospect develop into a can’t-miss athlete at the next level. Joe Burrow was exactly that last season after one of the most dominant campaigns from a quarterback in NCAA history. Looking at this year’s class, Trevor Lawrence became the poster child for 2021 draft-eligible quarterbacks the day he arrived on campus at Clemson, while Justin Fields and Trey Lance have enjoyed an exponential rise to stardom.
Zach Wilson, like Burrow, was relatively unknown within the high school circuit. A 3-star recruit out of the quaint town of Draper, Utah, Wilson transformed the BYU Cougar offense in his three years under center. Arguably the most talented quarterback in the draft outside of Lawrence, Wilson’s unique skill set lit the college football scene on fire.
From his innate ability to work outside the pocket—a must in the NFL—to his ball placement and arm talent, Wilson has skyrocketed up draft boards.
“We are splitting hairs here a little bit, but I would [take Wilson over Lawrence] as a matter of fact,” former NFL MVP Joe Theismann said. Not shy to ever mince words, Theismann elaborated on his stance, saying he just “love(s) the way he [Wilson] throws the football.”
“It’s hard to teach. We’ve seen people learn to perfect it a little bit. But he has all the natural skills. He’s got a live arm. He’s got a strong arm. He can put touch on it. He can gun it. He’s big. He’s six-three. He’s not a small guy. He moves around with great athleticism and I just think that to me from watching him play quarterback, he looks really ready.”
His film speaks for itself. But how will it translate?
As it is with every first-year quarterback, scrutiny comes with the job. He played at BYU; not Clemson, not Ohio State—like Lawrence and Fields. The level of competition and transfer of play has been a question surrounding Wilson since his first snap for the Cougars. Lawrence and Fields (ACC and Big Ten) face NFL-caliber talent on a week-to-week basis. BYU is an NCAA Independent, meaning they are not bound to a conference and have free rein over who they play year to year. Wilson played the cards he was dealt, and continuously showed his ability to win each hand he was presented.
Long story short, it shouldn’t matter where an athlete competed in college. There’s an old scouting adage that says “if you can play, they will find you.” Justin Herbert had no issue showing that this year, on his way to earning Rookie Offensive Player of the Year honors.
A former standout at Oregon, the Pac-12 has never been known as a dominant conference. Since the departure of Marcus Mariota from the Ducks program, the Pac-12 as a whole has failed to show any relevance on a national stage. Did that lead to Herbert slipping to No. 6 in the 2020 draft? Maybe. Burrow was the shoo-in at No.1 overall—similar to Lawrence—but should he have been the third signal-caller taken behind Tua Tagovailoa? Probably not.
Moving forward, it’s within a franchise’s scouting department to project a certain prospect’s career not only in his rookie season but years down the round. This projection is magnified immensely when taking a potential new face of the franchise in the draft, and teams must get it right.
Wilson will enter the NFL out of a primarily one-read system at BYU, meaning the offense predicates itself on plays designed for one player. Dax Milne served as Wilson’s top target within the high-flying Cougars offense, totaling career-highs in receiving yards (1,188), catches (70), and touchdowns (8). Wilson wasn’t asked to consistently slide protections, audible, and make three to four reads through his progression from play to play like he will within an NFL offense. He did, however, show the ability to work from both under center and in shotgun, which is occasionally a difficult adjustment for select quarterbacks making the jump to the NFL game.
Looking ahead to potential suitors, it’s hard to ignore newly hired Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and his new West Coast system in New York. A former member of the Shanahan coaching tree, LaFleur will now deploy a modified West Coast scheme littered with college-style assimilations for the Jets offense. His system not only takes pressure off of the quarterback—huge for a rookie—but it permits the passer to work outside of the pocket, opening up the offense for sandlot-style plays that Wilson thrives on. Boot-option, motion, screens, run-pass options, LaFleur throws a lot at a defense, and Wilson’s skill set could flourish in the Big Apple.
Some may say Wilson’s rise was due to his feasting on substandard competition. Others argue his style of play won’t last. To those critics, turn on the All-22 film and let me know what you see.
Wilson has every tool in the shed, and his NFL-ready game will soon rejuvenate an NFL franchise back to relevance.
- Jun 24, 2022
- Jun 22, 2022