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Analysts break down Zach Wilson’s game, may question his competition, but does it matter?

Whether the Jets draft Wilson at No. 2 or not, the former BYU QB is about to make generational money

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BYU’s Zach Wilson applauds teammates as they participate in pro day in Provo, Utah.

BYU’s Zach Wilson applauds teammates as they participate in pro day in Provo on Friday, March 26, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Ahh, the anonymous collection of expert analysis.

It’s a nifty tool. You get someone to speak openly about a topic with the promise you’ll never identify them, have free rein. It’s kind of fun, like salty gossip. You don’t like to gossip but curiosity conjures up the imagination: What are they saying?

This was the case of a recent NFL draft piece in The Athletic by veteran reporter Bruce Feldman. You have to credit him for his work in approaching two dozen NFL coaches and scouts to get their take on a trainload of college players, leading off with the highest-ranked position — the quarterbacks.

You can read Feldman’s exhaustive work here.

Feldman asked specifically about Trevor Lawrence going No. 1 to Jacksonville. A consensus from the QB coaches he spoke to was that Lawrence was solid, impressive and the best of the draft.

Feldman directed a question to his collective minds about BYU’s Zach Wilson.

One QB coach had concerns about Wilson’s level of competition, (No SEC, Pac-12, or Big 12 defenses faced), being able to operate in a tight pocket when he had a lot of space last season at BYU. 

Another told Feldman: “Some of the stuff he does is jaw-dropping. You’re watching him and going, ‘Don’t throw it! Don’t throw it!’ But then he does and makes the play. He’s crazy on the field with his decisions. He has that snap release; he’s really accurate, especially making those off-balance throws. It’s like he can just flick it 55-60 yards.”

A third QB coach Feldman spoke to said when Wilson was good, he was really good and when he wad bad, he was very bad. He worried about Wilson’s chances for success going to the Jets. 

The Jets lack an offensive line to provide protection, have an unproven head coach, and questionable surrounding talent in a city that devours struggling athletes.

Said he, “I could see Zach being a Pro Bowl QB quickly like (Justin) Herbert or I could see him being like Drew Lock. If I had to bet money, I’d bet it doesn’t work out for him with the Jets. Zach playing right away in that market with his playstyle — woof — that’d make me really nervous.”

Two things. There is plenty of sentiment nationally that going to the Jets is a sinkhole. Listen to nationally syndicated sportscaster Colin Cowherd, who began his career at KVBC in Las Vegas.

Cowherd believes of all the top QBs in the draft, Wilson has the greatest chance of being an NFL bust — mainly because of the failures of the Jets, playing in a very good defensive division against veteran head coaches.

Now, me.

I don’t think Cowherd has it out for Wilson. But he likes to be a contrarian and Wilson’s received a lot of high praise the past two months. It fits that Cowherd would take that angle and he isn’t wrong about the Jets. It’s Kryptonite, even for a super QB man.

Those critical of Wilson’s 2020 opponents have a point — he didn’t face the schedule he was supposed to and we will never know what that would have meant for both BYU’s record and Wilson’s numbers.

Wilson did face a No. 21-ranked Boise State in 2020 and led BYU to a 51-17 win, completing 22 of 28 passes for 360 yards and a 221.9 rating. In 2019 he helped BYU to a victory over No. 24 USC, a team that beat Utah 30-23. He also led BYU to an overtime win over the SEC’s Tennessee in Knoxville. The Vols were not very good early but got better as the season went on, finishing with six straight wins, including a 23-22 victory over Indiana in the Gator Bowl.

To say Wilson hasn’t had success against top talent isn’t exactly true. But he and his BYU teammates also had unexplainable losses in 2019 in one of the most inconsistent seasons in memory. They beat USC and Tennessee and lost to Toledo and South Florida.

This provides fodder to those who want to discount Wilson’s 2020.

The biggest tests Wilson ever faced, in my opinion, were playing against Utah’s defenses in 2018 as a true freshman and 2019, his sophomore year. In both those seasons, Utah had one of the best overall defenses in the Pac-12. He was 0-2. In fact, under pressure, he threw three pick-sixes in those two games.

On the other hand, as a freshman, he ran for 90 yards on that Utes defense in 2018. That doesn’t happen often at all. Under Kyle Whittingham, Utah traditionally creates a tinderbox for QBs

And Wilson led BYU to a 27-7 lead with 5:28 remaining in the third quarter. It was BYU’s defense, losing rusher Corbin Kaufusi, and Utes freshman QB Jason Shelley (33-yard TD run late) and a pair of touchdowns by Armand Shyne that defeated BYU that night, 35-27. Wilson, for his part, had 204 yards passing and two touchdowns with a 145.0 efficiency rating in that game.

We can all buy the argument that in 2020, Wilson had it easy. But playing an easy schedule doesn’t equate to having inferior abilities. Ask Josh Allen (Wyoming) or Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State) or Jim McMahon.

Or you can accept that that schedule was weak and he still made some incredible throws and racked up some gaudy numbers. He should have.

So, here’s some analysis from a source that’s not anonymous. I’ve covered two college QBs who were Super Bowl MVPs, Steve Young and McMahon, and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, who helped lead BYU over No. 1 Miami. 

I’ve opined about five College Football Hall of Fame QBs (Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, McMahon, Young, Detmer). They all played similar schedules to what Wilson faced in his career.

Wilson has just as good an arm as McMahon and Marc Wilson. He’s as accurate as Young and Detmer. He is more mobile and creative than Nielsen, who etched out a successful NFL career.

Playing for the Jets would be a huge career hurdle, even for Joe Montana. It may make him bust, but that shouldn’t mean he couldn’t earn that second contract if drafted by a better organization like the 49ers. He could.

Wilson just signed with Nike. If taken No. 2, he will earn generational money.

Bottom line? He is going to the bank, regardless of what any of us say.

And he worked hard to earn it.