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A dazzling Pro Day with the Jets’ head coach and GM in attendance, and a couple of blockbuster trades that shook up the top of the NFL draft, left many around the NFL believing the Jets have made their big quarterback decision. They certainly do seem to be leaning towards BYU quarterback Zach Wilson as their next Quarterback of the Future.
And on Friday, Wilson sure showed everyone why.
The 21-year-old was as good as advertised, and maybe even better during his Pro Day performance out in Provo, Utah on Friday. With Jets GM Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur looking on, he showed off his arm strength, his accuracy and made some unbelievable throws. He showed off a remarkable knack for moving in one direction, then somehow throwing in the other, getting the ball 40 or 50 yards down field seemingly with just a flick of the wrist.
“He’s special,” said one NFL scout. “He makes some throws that are just ridiculous and he barely breaks a sweat doing it. I get why everyone rates (Clemson’s Trevor) Lawrence No. 1. But if this kid played against better competition, he might be going No. 1 instead.”
Wilson is not going to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft – Jacksonville is so locked in to Lawrence that their new coach, Urban Meyer, wasn’t even at Wilson’s Pro Day -- but he is almost certainly going to be selected second. The only question has been whether the Jets will take him or whether they’ll trade the pick to someone that will.
That question may not have been definitively answered on Friday, but the hints are getting stronger:
The Jets were the only team to send their GM, head coach and offensive coordinator to Wilson’s Pro Day. Not only is that a powerful trio -- and exactly the three who would want to see the Jets’ 2021 quarterback in person – but it may be a telling travelling party, too. Saleh and LaFleur did not join Douglas at North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance’s Pro Day two weeks ago.
The San Francisco 49ers traded up from the 12th pick to the third pick in the draft, sending two future first-round picks and a future third-round pick to the Miami Dolphins to get there. Teams don’t make moves like that if they’re not jumping up for a quarterback. And though they reportedly did not have any trade talks with the Jets about the No. 2 overall pick, maybe there’s a reason why. Given all the connections between the 49ers and Saleh, their former defensive coordinator, it’s impossible to believe they didn’t have some inside info about the Jets’ intentions before making their deal with Miami. Did they know they wouldn’t be able to pry that pick away?
The Dolphins later traded the 12th pick to Philadelphia to move back up to No. 6. The Eagles reportedly first tried to trade up to No. 3, apparently with their eyes on Wilson. But they apparently concluded Wilson wouldn’t be available at No. 3 – notable since Douglas worked for Eagles GM Howie Roseman two years ago, so he likely has some insight into the Jets’ plans, too.
None of that guarantees the Jets will select Wilson, of course. They still have potential trade-down partners at 8 (Carolina) and 9 (Denver) if they choose to stick with quarterback Sam Darnold. Of course, if they don’t, both those teams could be potential trade partners for Darnold, too.
But if they do take a quarterback – still at least a medium-sized “if” – there doesn’t seem to be much of a mystery about whom that will be.
“I don’t know how anyone passes on him at No. 2,” said another NFL scout. “I know it’s a cliché, but you watch him and you just say ‘Wow’ more than (with) any other quarterback in this draft. He can throw from any arm angle, from any body position. He makes throws other quarterbacks can’t make, and they’re all right on target.”
The fact that he did it against a schedule filled with mid-major teams (or less) didn’t stop Wilson from rocketing up teams’ draft boards last fall. He wasn’t on anybody’s list of top college quarterbacks when the season began, coming off a mediocre sophomore season that included surgery on his throwing hand and throwing shoulder
But it didn’t take long for that to change. The 6-2, 214-pound Wilson lit things up for the Cougars last season, completing 73.5 percent of his passes for 3,692 yards with an astonishing 33 touchdowns and only three interceptions. By the end of the season, in the eyes of many around the league (if not most), he had moved ahead of Ohio State’s Justin Fields, who had been the consensus No. 2 for most of the college season.
Fields’ Pro Day, for what it’s worth, is in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday and Douglas is expected to be there, so his evaluation of the top quarterbacks may not be over. And it’s always possible he hasn’t made his decision yet either. Multiple NFL sources have said there’s been no indication the Jets are serious about entertaining trade offers for Darnold yet, even though Douglas said he’ll listen if anyone calls. And several sources familiar with Saleh’s thinking have said the Jets coach is a Darnold fan.
Whether he’s a Wilson fan now will be clear in about five weeks -- actually less, since it’ll be clear in the days leading up to the first round on April 29 whether the Jets are trying to trade Darnold or the No. 2 pick. The only thing that is clear is that pick became even more valuable on Friday, after Wilson showed why whoever gets him could be getting a star.