At last, after all the endless (and largely pointless) speculation about the NFL draft, the big event will finally take place Thursday (and end Saturday), which means we can move on to other important sports issues, such as next year’s draft.

The 2021 draft of course has special interest to Utah fans because one of their own has been the most discussed prospect in the nation the last couple of months. Zach Wilson, who was playing for Draper’s Corner Canyon High four seasons ago, is expected to be the second pick of the draft behind Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Only a combined 22 players from BYU, Utah and Utah State have been taken in the first round of the NFL draft. If Wilson is drafted with the second pick, he would be the second-highest draftee ever from an instate school, behind Utah quarterback Alex Smith in 2005. Merlin Olsen, Phil Olsen, Jim McMahon and Ezekial Ansah — drafted third, fourth, fifth and fifth, respectively — were the next highest drafted players.

Merlin Olsen, the third pick of the 1962 draft, is the highest drafted Utah native.

At the quarterback position, only a handful of Utah prep products have ever been selected anywhere in the draft — among them, McMahon, Brandon Doman, Scott Mitchell, Luke Falk, Gifford Nielsen and Terry Nofsinger.

It has been widely reported the Jets will use their No. 2 pick in the draft on Wilson. If that happens, it will be with some trepidation on both sides. The Jets have a terrible history with quarterbacks, and Wilson comes with a few concerns himself.

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Wilson has the kind of rare arm power that draws comparisons with Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. He made that clear last season and in spring workouts for scouts. He also earns high praise for his ability to throw “off platform” — on the run or off balance, and for his athleticism — specifically, his ability to run and to elude the pass rush, a la Russell Wilson and Mahomes. He ran for 642 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons at BYU. His remarkable accuracy and ball placement also earn high marks. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, he has good size, as well.

Wilson put up first round-type stats last season. He completed 247 of 336 passes — a phenomenal completion rate of 73.5% — which went for 3,692 yards. His passer rating was an off-the-charts 196.4. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, simply look at two key numbers: touchdown passes to interceptions — a remarkable 33 to 3 — and yards per attempt — a whopping 11 yards.

His season passer rating is the highest in BYU history, which is saying something at a school that has had 11 quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft, including McMahon, Steve Young and Marc Wilson, plus Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.

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Those are his assets. There are some things that might keep NFL executives awake at night as they try to predict future performance. The most obvious problem is that Wilson has a small body of work. He had one sensational season, but it was preceded by a mediocre season in which he threw 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. By comparison, Mahomes had three prolific seasons — each progressively better — collecting 11,252 yards and 93 TDs, compared to Wilson’s 7,652/56.

Wilson also missed three games in both his freshman and sophomore seasons because of injuries. He did manage to play his entire senior season injury-free.

NFL execs also have to ask themselves how much of Wilson’s senior-year performance was a result of the competition, something that was debated endlessly during the season. Because of the pandemic, BYU had to rebuild its schedule with teams that also had game cancellations, which resulted in a collection of weak opponents. The Cougars’ schedule ranked 104th in the nation.

He also rarely faced any pass rush, leaving him long seconds to look for receivers. When he did face a team that brought pressure — Coastal Carolina — he completed only 19 of 30 passes, for 240 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the team’s only loss of the season.

Wilson’s performance in NFL workouts since the season ended appears to have made NFL scouts and front offices overlook the questions they might have had a few months ago. He has wowed them with his arm strength and accuracy, and that likely will make him one of the first players off the board on Thursday.


NFL first-round draft picks

Utah State (5)

Jordan Love, 2020

Phil Olsen, 1970

McArthur Lane, 1968

Bill Munson, 1964

Merlin Olsen, 1962

Utah (8)

Garett Bolles, 2017

Star Lotulelei, 2013

Alex Smith, 2005

Jordan Gross, 2003

Kevin Dyson, 1998

Luther Elliss, 1995

Norm Thompson, 1971

Lee Grosscup, 1959

BYU (9*)

Ezekiel Ansah, 2013

Rob Morris, 2000

John Tait, 1999

Jason Buck, 1987

Shawn Knight, 1987

Trevor Matich, 1985

Todd Shell, 1984

Jim McMahon, 1982

Marc Wilson, 1980

* Does not include Gordon Hudson and Steve Young, who were first-round picks in a special 1984 supplemental draft of players in the United States Football League.