Big-name stars like Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields have long been on the national scene, but there's one prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft's deep quarterback class who didn't emerge until this past season: BYU's Zach Wilson.
The 6-foot-3 junior is my No. 2 quarterback in this class behind Lawrence after a superb 2020 campaign that saw him throw for 3,692 yards and complete 74 percent of his passes for 33 touchdowns (against just three picks) while leading BYU to a 11-1 record. However, there are still big questions for evaluators to consider about Wilson's game in the months leading up to the draft. His one year of elite production will have to be balanced against the fact that the Cougars played a relatively weak schedule in 2020 and lost to the only ranked team they encountered (Coastal Carolina, No. 14 at the time).
That said, the first things that jumped out to me when watching the tape on Wilson were his field vision and anticipation. Regularly able to find the second receiver in his progression, Wilson read the blitz and showed an ability to slide in the pocket, refocus and locate the open target. He was quick to know where to throw it and did so with a quick release. He displayed enough arm strength -- something scouts questioned early in his college career when he played with an injured shoulder that required surgery -- to make all the throws, and showcased the ability to throw accurately when rolling out to his right and left. When the play broke down, Wilson improvised, moved outside the pocket, found the open target and made accurate throws. He has above-average accuracy on short and long passes with good touch on the deep ball and ability to make off-balance throws, as well as throws into tight windows.
Overall, I view Wilson as a better prospect than Sam Darnold (third overall pick in 2018), Daniel Jones (sixth overall pick in 2019) and Tua Tagovailoa (fifth overall pick in 2020) were coming out of college. Free agency will have an impact on the outlook for the draft, but with Wilson looking like a probable top-10 pick as a quarterback with the skill set and instincts to play in any system, here are the four teams that I view as the best fits for the BYU passer right now.
First-round picks: Nos. 2 and 23 (via Seahawks) overall
The Robert Saleh era begins with a decision to make at the game's most important position. The Jets must weigh whether it is better to draft a promising prospect like Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick or stick with Darnold, who's been inconsistent over his first three seasons. I recently wrote that there are many coaches around the NFL who feel like Darnold could jump-start his career the way Ryan Tannehill did with the Titans now that the Jets are transitioning to Mike LaFleur's system, which features a zone-run scheme with an emphasis on play-action and bootleg passes. Wilson would do well in this type of offense with his ability to run and throw on the move.
First-round picks: Nos. 3 (via Texans) and 18 overall
GM Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores said in their joint press conference earlier this month that Tua is the team's starter. They may very well stick with their investment in Tua and use their pair of first-round picks to surround him with talent. There's also the possibility the Dolphins will trade down from the No. 3 spot for more picks. There are a lot of unknowns right now, especially for the Miami offense. After all, the team has yet to hire an offensive coordinator. Depending on the system, Wilson could be too enticing for the Dolphins to pass on.
First-round pick: No. 4 overall
Matt Ryan isn't getting any younger, so the clock is ticking on finding the QB of the future. The Falcons might decide to use the fourth overall pick on help for Ryan's supporting cast if they think they can win now, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see them take a player like Wilson to eventually succeed Ryan. Though Wilson would likely sit and learn for the foreseeable future, he'd fit well into new head coach Arthur Smith's offensive system.
First-round pick: No. 8 overall
Carolina's new general manager, Scott Fitterer, has made it clear that the Panthers will evaluate every position on the roster, including quarterback. I view the position as a big area of need for the team. Teddy Bridgewater is not the long-term answer but could continue to be the bridge QB until Wilson is ready to start. The BYU product would fit well into Joe Brady's offense that emphasizes high-probability throws and play-action passes off a zone-rushing attack. Pairing Brady with Wilson and a talented surrounding cast, it's easy to envision the young QB having success here. This might be the most favorable landing spot for him in the top 10 right now.