2021 NFL draft prospects: BYU QB Zach Wilson

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Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

BYU QB Zach Wilson

6-foot-2, 210 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.19 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Swashbuckling, freewheeling creator with great arm talent who sometimes makes things tougher than they need to be.

Games watched: Western Kentucky (2020), Houston (2020), Coastal Carolina (2020), UCF (2020)

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit, Wilson reneged from his early commitment to Boise State and landed with the Cougars. He played in nine games as a true freshman, starting seven and completed 120 of 182 passes (65.9%) for 1,578 yards, 12 TDs and three INTs. He also ran 75 times for 211 yards and two TDs.

After undergoing offseason shoulder (labrum) surgery, Wilson missed spring practice before returning in the fall to complete 199 of 319 passes (62.4%) for 2,382 yards, 11 TDs and nine INTs, also rushing 67 times for 167 yards and three TDs in nine starts. He missed four games midseason after suffering a broken thumb but returned to start the final four games.

In 2020, Wilson completed 247 of 336 passes (73.5%) for 3,692 yards, 33 TDs and three interceptions, rushing 70 times for 254 yards and 10 TDs in 12 starts for the 11-1 Cougars. Following the season, he declared early for the 2021 draft.

Upside: Loose, twitchy thrower who puts the entire field in play. Truly natural passer. Quick release — ball just shoots out of his hand. Delivers the ball beautifully, even when his mechanics aren’t perfect. Turned in a pro day showcase — arm talent was on display in all its splendor.

Completed nearly 75% of his passes in 2020 with an average depth target of 10.5 yards, per PFF. Compiled 33-3 TD-INT ratio and averaged more than 300 pass yards per game last season. Seven career games with 300-plus yards, two or more TD passes and no picks. Only three career games with two interceptions. Drastic improvement in downfield accuracy from 2019 (34 % on throws of 20-plus yards) to 2020 (62.5).

Layers some beautiful touch throws, even downfield. Executes play-action really well. Ball placement at times is elite — can put it where only his receiver can make the play. Dices up zone seams. Shows the ability to go through progressions. Outstanding out of structure, thrives when plays break down. Very difficult for opposition to game plan for.

Some true wizardry to his game. No-look and half-look passes, sometimes right past a defender’s earhole. Ridiculous arm-angle manipulation — can deliver from right off the ear, shoot from his hip, or anything in between. Already throws against his body better than some NFL quarterbacks do. Quick RPO balls to catch defenses napping — fires them like he’s starting a double play from shortstop. Thrives when throwing on the move, especially when he’s stepping into his throws.

Throws with great anticipation. Made a bunch of Sunday timing throws — often outside the numbers, on a rope. Doesn’t have a Josh Allen-like cannon but will dish out eight or 10 dimes per game. Can throw it 60-plus yards in the air. Outstanding confidence in his arm and in his receivers — lets it rip before the wideout makes his break. Gutted a few overeager safeties — smells blood in the water.

Scrambling can’t go overlooked. Some real twitch as a runner. Accomplished baseball slider already. Can be used in read-option game. Spins out of would-be sacks and lives to fight another day — can wear down pass rush and coverage over four quarters with his ability to extend plays. Quick feet in the pocket to reset and be a double threat.

Natural athlete with cutthroat competitiveness — plays with a big-play mindset. Quick thinker when the pressure is on — artist with a flair for the dramatic. Has a big personality to hold up to the white-hot glare of a big market. Raised his game in a dramatic way in 2020 despite pandemic constrictions.

Downside: Slim build for a scrambling QB. Injury history — shoulder (which lingered from high school) and thumb injuries 2019. Struggled with turnovers down the stretch in 2019 after returning from the broken thumb.

Doesn’t always step into his throws — not a true “drive” passer. Drifts in the pocket and muddies his footwork, banking on his arm strength to bail him out. Leads to some misses that should be made. Will sail some throws and leave a few short of the mark. Still learning when to throw the fastball and when to use the changeup. Too casual and lazy with his mechanics — not everyone can play like a Patrick Mahomes highlight reel.

Makes things more difficult than they need to be — lives and dies by the sword. Passes up the layup for the trick shot. Throws some hospital balls — will get his receivers killed with a few of the high-and-over-the-middle throws he made last season. Can get itchy when the rush comes — sees color flash, skips some reads and lets it fly. Rushes through his progressions — bypasses some wide-open targets.

Gets way too cute at times. Can be his own worst enemy with some backyard tendencies. Too many jump balls in college that could be picks on Sundays. Bails out of the pocket too early. Thrived in a diverse, RPO-heavy, misdirection-fueled offense that had great receiving talent and pass protection — offensive line created a bulwark on most pass reps.

Ball security is an issue — 13 career fumbles in 30 games (28 starts). Carries the ball a bit low at times and could be victimized by backside strips. Way too fast and loose early in his career with his approach, and there were signs of it trickling into his 2020 play. Coastal Carolina game raised some decision-making concerns.

Level of competition was highly lacking in 2020 — zero Power Five opponents on the schedule. Career mark of 2-4 vs. ranked teams. Was not initially named a team captain on upperclassman-stacked roster (but he was on the team’s leadership council). Will let his emotions boil over at times, although he is said to have cooled down in that regard.

Best-suited destination: It has been widely speculated that Wilson is destined to be picked No. 2 overall to the New York Jets, and we like the potential fit. New offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur figures to draw heavily on the Kyle Shanahan system under which LaFleur worked in San Francisco, emphasizing the wide-zone run, play-action and heavy pocket movement.

That’s where Wilson thrived — outside the pocket, creating space and opening up possibilities with his arm, his legs and sometimes both at once. How Wilson handles structure will be interesting, and he won’t have the same caliber of pass protection or open looks he did at BYU. There will be an adjustment period amid the flashes, though, so expectations must be tempered.

Did you know: Wilson is in line to be BYU’s highest draft pick ever. The school has produced nine first-round picks, with Jim McMahon (1982) and Ziggy Ansah (2013) both going fifth overall. Since the 2011 draft, BYU has had only six picks.

Player comp: Jeff Garcia, but with a stronger arm.

Expected draft range: Top-3 pick