2021 NFL Draft QB Rankings: #3, Zach Wilson

I understand the hype around this kid. Really, I do. I get why people say he shares a lot of the same traits as Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. He can throw on the run; he’s got that flair where he makes impossible throws look easy. Really, I understand the hype. I’m sure everyone has seen The Throw:

There’s not a single football fan out there that did not make this face after they watched that clip: 😯

That throw defies the laws of physics. You’re not supposed to be able throw that far accurately while you’re moving in the opposite direction.

But let’s get a hold of ourselves here: it’s just a throw during a pro day. Justin Fields did it during his, too.

And hell, Sam Darnold did it during an actual NFL game, and everybody still thinks he’s trash.

All I’m saying is that it seems like people are getting a little too over their skis with overreacting to Zach Wilson’s pro day tape.

In 5 years, if Wilson’s a bust, we’ll ask ourselves: “How did we not see this coming?” And the answer will be that we all got swept up in the hype over his pro day.

It feels like this guy has come out of nowhere and it’s just not sitting right with me. I like when there’s a paper trail; when players have established track records and we know a lot about them. I like quarterbacks who are heavily vetted and who we’ve seen lots of. Known quantities. Zach Wilson, who played at BYU, and who most people didn’t know anything about until two months ago, does not meet the criteria.

It doesn’t mean he’s automatically going to be a bust. Not at all. But it does mean we could be overrating him significantly; falling in love with his potential, or the idea of him, rather than the reality.

He didn’t play a single Power Five opponent in 2020. Not one. This is because BYU is like Notre Dame, an independent program that does not play in a conference. The virus screwed everything up for everybody in college football, but it especially screwed things up for independents because everybody else went to a conference-only schedule, which meant independents had to scramble to come up with new schedules given that they weren’t allowed to play Power Five teams. Notre Dame simply joined the ACC temporarily, but BYU was forced to cobble together a schedule of non-Power Five teams.

As a result, we saw Zach Wilson’s stats skyrocket in 2020 compared to 2019:

I don’t like to get too bogged down in stats when it comes to college QBs, but if you’re wondering why nobody was talking about Wilson after 2019 yet everybody’s talking about him now, this is why. He had an 11:9 TD:INT ratio in 2019, and a 33:3 ratio in 2020 (or 11:1).

In fairness to Wilson, I’m sure part of that is due to natural improvement from his sophomore year to junior year. But to see such a massive jump like that from one year to the next is a little suspect. He went from a largely unknown prospect to suddenly the greatest thing since sliced bread. A lot of it has to do with the fact that BYU’s schedule in 2020 was drastically easier than it was in 2019.

Still, though, what we’re really looking for here is the arm talent. We have to look at the tape and isolate Wilson and see how he looked. Is he accurate? Does he have touch on deep passes? Can he throw into tight windows? Does he have pocket awareness? Does he make bad decisions? Is he mobile? We can evaluate a lot of these things irrespective of competition, although if a guy is constantly throwing to open receivers, it does make it harder for us to evaluate his throwing ability (this is a big problem when it comes to evaluating Mac Jones).

When we break down the tape of Zach Wilson, there’s a lot of impressive throws. I can see why people say he reminds them of Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers; he has that ability to scramble around in the pocket, then out of the pocket, and throw darts while on the run or off balance. It’s like he’s more dangerous when it seems as if he’s about to be sacked.

Even though BYU played a cupcake schedule in 2020, I did not see Wilson’s wide receivers running wide open all the time like we saw with Mac Jones’ receivers at Alabama. I saw Wilson display a consistent ability to fit the ball into tight windows and place the ball in the perfect spot for his receivers. There are a lot of very pretty throws in his highlight reel. I’m talking like perfectly-placed throws where his wide receivers don’t have to even move their hands, much less adjust their bodies to make the catch.

I also saw surprising quickness and speed, too. Wilson isn’t as fast as Justin Fields, nor did he run anywhere near as much as Trevor Lawrence, but he’s definitely got the ability to run. He can make plays with his feet for sure. It’s the athleticism you want to see in a modern QB. Again, I understand exactly why people say he’s got a lot of the same traits as Mahomes and Rodgers. He doesn’t seem to lose accuracy when he has to throw on the run. He throws the ball with a lot of zip and velocity, but he also has the ability to put touch on the ball and float it. I don’t know that he has the absolute cannon of an arm that Rodgers and Mahomes have, but he definitely has a lot in common with them.

But I also saw a lot of clean pockets and designed plays. Even when he’d roll out of the pocket and throw on the run, it seemed like it was all designed and he was locked-in on his first read the whole time. I didn’t see a whole lot of improvising and progressing through his reads. This is probably because it simply wasn’t necessary very often for him; a lot of times his first read was open, so he threw to the first read. This isn’t to say that he never demonstrated an ability to progress through his reads: there are multiple examples of him doing just that and making great throws once he finds the open man.

I’ll admit: even though I’m suspicious of this kid’s meteoric and sudden rise up draft boards, it’s hard not to be impressed with his game tape. He has that gunslinger/playmaker flair that is now the sign of a great NFL QB. I see exactly what everyone’s talking about when they rave about him.

I am putting him ahead of Mac Jones because I see Wilson as more of a playmaker. I see more pure arm talent in Wilson. Mac Jones can be good in the NFL, but he has to be in a great system. Wilson will probably be able to compensate more for any deficiencies or weak spots on whatever team he lands on. In other words, I see Wilson, rather than Mac Jones, as the guy who is more able to carry a franchise (rather than the other way around). It’s not to say Wilson will be able to singlehandedly turn the Jets around, because no QB in this draft can do that. So I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Mac Jones has more success early in his career if he lands with the 49ers and Wilson lands on the Jets.

Overall, I’d be more comfortable putting the whole franchise on Zach Wilson’s shoulders over Mac Jones. Wilson is a dynamic playmaker with higher upside potential than Jones.

But you’re going to tell me Justin Fields, who has been the consensus #2 QB in this class since 2018, is going to get jumped in the final month by a guy who didn’t even play one single Power Five opponent in 2020, come on. Just stop it.

To be completely honest, I think a lot of this sudden hype for Zach Wilson has something to do with the fact that he’s probably going to the Jets and a lot of the sports media is New York-based. We barely hear a peep about Trevor Lawrence these days. Have you noticed that? He’s the best quarterback prospect in a decade and we barely hear a word about him. Why is that? Well, because the Jets can’t get him. We used to hear about Trevor Lawrence all the time when the Jets were the favorites to land him, but once they dropped down to the #2 pick, we stopped hearing about Trevor Lawrence. Zach Wilson Mania began.

I’m not saying there’s some conspiracy going on here. I’m just saying, a lot of the sports media is New York-based and therefore New York-biased. It’s natural, it’s human nature. People try to suppress their regional biases and personal fanhoods, but you can’t do it completely. So once the Jets were confirmed to miss out on Lawrence, the NY-based media began to pump up Zach Wilson as the real prize of the 2021 NFL Draft. Because he’s the guy the Jets can get.

Wilson is my #3 QB prospect. I understand the hype, but I’m not going to get swept up in it.

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