When the 2021 NFL season kicks off this fall, there’s a possibility two former BYU quarterbacks could be starting for their respective pro teams.

Rookie Zach Wilson is the presumed starter for the New York Jets, while Taysom Hill will be in a QB competition with Jameis Winston for the New Orleans Saints.

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Several national publications have released 2021 NFL starting quarterback rankings for all 32 teams since the league’s draft three weeks ago, the latest from Pro Football Focus. Both former Cougars appear in the bottom third of PFF’s rankings, a similar theme in other rankings as well.

Here’s why both Wilson and Hill will have plenty to prove this season.

Pro Football Focus’ rankings

  • Winston/Hill, No. 24

Both Hill and Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, are tied together in every NFL starting quarterback ranking, as they will compete to replace the now-retired Drew Brees. 

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“It’s been 15 years since Sean Payton had to really worry about who would be the Saints’ starting quarterback heading into a season,” PFF’s Bruce Gradkowski wrote. “Payton made the decision to go with Taysom Hill over Jameis Winston when Brees missed four games last season. It was a smart move considering that Hill plays multiple roles in the Saints offense and was already in the flow of the season. Even though Hill went 3-1 during that four-week stretch, that doesn’t mean he has the leg up going into 2021.”

New Orleans Saints quarterbacks Jameis Winston (2) and quarterback Taysom Hill (7) go through drills during practice at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. Winston and Hill will be in a quarterback competition this year to replace now-retired Drew Brees. | Gerald Herbert, Pool, Associated Press

Most pundits give Winston the edge, not a surprise considering his five seasons as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“As a starter, Winston annually ranked among the league leaders in positively graded throws, but he’s always right there near the top in turnover-worthy-play percentage as well,” Gradkowski wrote. “The Saints offense ranked 31st in deep pass attempts (38) last season — Winston’s aggressiveness will give this offense a facelift and the opportunity to cash in on more explosive plays in the passing game. Winston brings tremendous physical ability and was able to back up Brees a year ago and observe how he prepares on a daily basis. Sean Peyton’s offensive mind and ability to call plays could revitalize Winston’s career.”

Other quarterbacks close to Hill/Winston in the PFF rankings include San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo (No. 22), Indianapolis’ Carson Wentz (No. 23), Detroit’s Jared Goff (No. 26) and New England’s Cam Newton (No. 27).

  • Wilson, No. 30

Wilson comes in last among three rookies on the PFF list, behind Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence (No. 21), the top overall pick in the 2021 draft ahead of Wilson at No. 2, and Chicago’s Justin Fields (No. 25). 

“Wilson is as natural as it comes at throwing the football. He also brings the type of athleticism and off-platform throws we see from the best quarterbacks in the NFL,” Gradkowski wrote. “He had the highest single-season passing grade of the PFF College era (95.5). Only 13.6% of Wilson’s throws beyond the line of scrimmage were deemed uncatchable this past season, the lowest rate in the FBS. The big question will be how fast he can learn the playbook and adapt to the speed of the game. The biggest adjustment for young quarterbacks is how fast the pocket collapses — and making good decisions while it happens.”

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The quarterback Wilson is replacing in New York, Sam Darnold, is now with the Carolina Panthers and comes in at No. 28. The two will face each other in Week 1 when the Panthers host the Jets

Second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa of Miami is also one spot above Wilson, while Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts (No. 31) and Denver’s Drew Lock (No. 32) come in below Wilson.

Other QB rankings

  • NBC Sports has Wilson and the Hill/Winston combo essentially switching places, with Wilson at No. 23 and the Saints QBs at No. 30. 
  • “Wilson shot up draft boards last college football season to become the consensus second-best quarterback, thanks to ridiculous arm talent,” Dylan Mickanen wrote. “One large concern is his ability to operate under pressure however given the ample pocket time he received at BYU.”
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  • CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora lists the NFL starting quarterbacks in tiers, with Winston — no mention of Hill — listed under Tier 5, aka “Guys, veterans and place holders,” while Wilson is in Tier 7, “The jury is out,” along with guys like Tagovailoa, Hurts and Mac Jones, the Patriots’ first-round pick this year. 
  • “Wilson is going to end up playing sooner than he should, and I would suspect Week 1. Huge jump he is being asked to make, and he had few games against elite competition in college,” La Canfora wrote.
  • “Winston barely got to play in New Orleans a year ago and I believe Sean Payton will cull the best out of him … but he also is on a very cheap one-year deal and the Saints will be looking to upgrade,” La Canfora added.

  • USA Today’s Mike Jones categorized each NFL team’s QB situation, with 10 teams among the “elite” and “very good” categories at the top of the list, followed by seven in the “solid” category. Wilson and the Jets show up in the “uproven” category, while Hill and the Saints are among six teams in the final category, “shaky.”
  • “Does he have enough around him to succeed early? Will durability be a factor for the BYU product?,” Jones wrote. “Wilson could benefit from a seasoned veteran to lean on in the quarterback room. But for now, the Jets are going young: rookie head coach (Robert Saleh), rookie offensive coordinator (Mike LaFleur), rookie QB.”
  • On the Saints situation: “Drew Brees is gone, and now Sean Payton must choose between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. Winston has a big arm and can rack up the yards and touchdowns, but he also guesses and throws far too many interceptions. Hill is extremely athletic but isn’t an NFL-caliber passer.”