There’s going to be plenty of speculation over where BYU quarterback Zach Wilson will be taken in the 2021 NFL draft during the next three-plus months.
That comes with the territory for prospects seen as first-round talents.
Wilson burst onto the NFL radar with a standout junior year in Provo, and now his name is included among the top quarterback prospects available in this year’s draft class. What would be the best NFL scenario for Wilson, who appears poised to become the first former Cougars quarterback to be taken in the first round in nearly 40 years?
Here’s a look at five teams who could be in the market for Wilson’s services among franchises who own draft picks in the top half of the first round, with contract details via Spotrac.
New York Jets
No. 2 overall pick in 2021 NFL draft
2020 starter: Sam Darnold (signed through 2021; $920,000 base salary in 2021)
It would be telling if New York chooses to use the fifth-year option — which will be likely more than $25 million, per NorthJersey.com — on Darnold this spring. That seems highly unlikely, considering the USC product is coming off his worst season in three years as a pro; he completed 59.6% of his passes for 2,208 yards, with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 12 starts this year.
Would the Jets be willing to bring a young quarterback on their roster and move on from Darnold, when there are numerous positions where upgrades are needed? Wilson to the Jets has been a popular choice in recent mock drafts, while Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields could be another intriguing option there.
What the franchise does for its new head coach also could factor into what the Jets do with the No. 2 pick. The team has a projected $62 million in salary cap space, per Spotrac, under the $175 million salary cap. It wouldn’t be surprising to see New York trade down for more draft capital as well. No matter what, there are few notable offensive playmakers on the Jets’ roster, and Pro Football Focus had the team’s offensive line rated fourth-worst in the NFL in 2020.
No. 4 overall pick in 2021 NFL draft
2020 starter: Matt Ryan (signed through 2023, $23 million base salary in 2021)
Ryan is a four-time Pro Bowler who once led the franchise to the Super Bowl, and he’s on contract with Atlanta for the next three years. The last time Atlanta had a first-round pick this high, it drafted Ryan. Could the Falcons again decide to go after a young quarterback, seeking the eventual replacement for the 35-year-old Ryan? It would be a scenario similar to what former Utah State quarterback Jordan Love has, learning under Green Bay All-Pro Aaron Rodgers right now, which could be beneficial for Wilson.
In Atlanta, Wilson would have some solid pass catchers in wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones, as well as tight end Hayden Hurst. The Falcons are a strong passing team; Ryan was fourth in the league in passing yards this year (4,581) and added 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Will the Falcons keep players like Ryan and Jones around, with the team seeking a new head coach and general manager? Recently, owner Arthur Blank was noncommittal about retaining Ryan and Jones, according to NFL.com, saying he didn’t want to handcuff a new regime if the Falcons’ current players didn’t fit their vision. Who the new coach and GM will be has huge implications for how Atlanta utilizes that first-round pick.
No. 8 overall pick in 2021 NFL draft
2020 starter: Teddy Bridgewater (signed through 2022, $17 million base salary in 2021)
The Panthers used the free-agency path last offseason to find their quarterback, signing Bridgewater to a three-year deal after he spent two years as a backup in New Orleans. His 2020 numbers were OK, but they didn’t amaze — 3,733 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions — and Carolina stumbled to a 5-11 finish.
That’s led to talk of the long-term future of the position for the Panthers, and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport even reported Carolina brought in former Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins for a visit; Haskins was recently waived by the Football Team. That’s an indication that Carolina, which is in the market for a new general manager, is trying to look at all its options at the position under coach Matt Rhule, who was in his first year with the team last year.
It would make sense, then, that the Panthers are serious contenders to select a quarterback with their top-10 pick. At No. 8, Wilson could be among a number of quarterbacks in play at that spot. In Carolina, the former BYU star would have the chance to line up in the backfield with one of the game’s most dynamic running backs, Christian McCaffrey, and throw to veteran wide receiver Robby Anderson.
San Francisco 49ers
No. 12 overall pick in 2021 NFL draft
2020 starter: Jimmy Garoppolo (signed through 2022, $24.1 million base salary in 2021)
Garoppolo missed much of the 2020 season because of injury, one year after helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl. Injuries played a huge role in San Francisco’s 2020 season, with others like George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford and Deebo Samuel, among others, missing significant time. That gives one hope that the 49ers, who finished the year 6-10 but had five losses decided by one possession, could return to postseason contention rather quickly.
There has been plenty of media speculation about San Francisco possibly moving on from the veteran Garoppolo. It’s possible the 49ers could hang on to Garoppolo for another year — or through the end of his contract the year after next — and draft a quarterback with a high pick, though they may need to trade up if they want Wilson, while North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Alabama’s Mac Jones could be available at 12. Garoppolo would count more than $26 million toward the cap this year, with just $2.8 million of dead cap space on his contract, according to Spotrac.
If Wilson ends up in San Francisco, not only would he join another former BYU star — All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner — in the Bay Area, but he would have some nice offensive tools to work with in the tight end Kittle, young receiver Brandon Aiyuk and running back Jeff Wilson. The 49ers also had one of the better offensive lines in 2020: PFF rated San Francisco’s ninth-best in the league.
New England Patriots
No. 15 overall pick in 2021 NFL draft
2020 starter: Cam Newton (unrestricted free agent in 2021)
The Patriots signed Newton to a one-year deal last offseason after Tom Brady headed to Tampa Bay. Things haven’t worked out for the former MVP in New England, as he threw for just 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions — he did rush for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns — while the Patriots finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
That’s led many to believe New England will again spend this offseason looking for a long-term solution at quarterback, with the other signal-callers currently on roster including Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. It’s been nearly 30 years since the Patriots last used a first-round pick on a quarterback — they selected Drew Bledsoe first overall in 1993.
New England could again search for a starter via free agency, or Newton could even stick around for another year to help transition to a new, younger quarterback. The Patriots very much appear to be in the market to draft a quarterback this year, though any young QB could be in for a tough 2021 if they are asked to start as a rookie. New England finished 2020 averaging only 327.3 yards and 20.4 points per game, both sixth-worst in the NFL.
Wild card: Miami Dolphins
No. 3, No. 18 overall picks in 2021 NFL draft
2020 starters: Tua Tagovailoa (signed through 2023, $780,000 base salary in 2021) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (unrestricted free agent in 2021)
Miami, a 10-win team this season, could shake things up early in the first round of the draft, thanks to owning the No. 3 pick because of a previous trade with Houston. The Dolphins were in the playoff hunt going into Week 17, and that No. 3 pick, plus owning the No. 18 as well, gives them some serious draft capital to help build a team that looks poised to return to the playoffs next year.
On one hand, Miami could use the third overall pick to trade off to a QB-needy team and collect more draft picks. That, in turn, could make Wilson or another quarterback be a serious contender to be selected at that spot.
There’s been some analysis among media types in recent days — something not uncommon this time of year— surrounding Tagovailoa’s rookie season, and that’s included the possibility of Miami making a switch at quarterback. During wild card week, there were reports about Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson seeking a trade, and that could have implications throughout the NFL QB market. In his most recent mock draft, CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso has Miami trading for Watson, then the Texans using the No. 3 pick to select Wilson.
Other possible QB suitors
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars are locked into the No. 1 pick and are expected to take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford has been a rock for the Lions, who have the No. 7 pick, since Detroit took him with the top overall pick in 2009. There is a growing sentiment, though, that Detroit could be seeking a fresh start, especially with this year’s rookie quarterback class that would give the Lions several options that high in the draft.
Denver Broncos: Denver, which owns the No. 9 selection, has started another young quarterback, Drew Lock, the past two years. Lock has turnover issues, though, and the lowest completion percentage in the NFL. Last year, the Broncos loaded up on wide receiver talent in the draft and could be looking for a new quarterback to lead the offense.
Washington Football Team: Washington, which has the No. 19 pick, went through a handful of quarterbacks this season due to injury and ineffective play. Former Ute Alex Smith led the team to a 5-1 record in his starts, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Football Team search for a new franchise starter under coach Ron Rivera.
Chicago Bears: Chicago, which has the No. 20 pick, declined the fifth-year option on Mitchell Trubisky last year, and he was benched for a time this season in favor of Nick Foles before Trubisky returned to the starting role and helped the Bears reach the postseason. Trubisky is set to become a free agent in March.
Indianapolis Colts: Philip Rivers signed a one-year deal with Indianapolis, which owns the No. 21 pick, and helped the Colts reach the postseason. A young quarterback could also be in the cards for Indianapolis, which lost to Buffalo in a tight game during wild card weekend.
New Orleans Saints: The Saints, whose first-round draft pick is yet to be determined, could be this year’s Green Bay Packers, a team that goes searching for a young quarterback late in the first round. With questions surrounding Drew Brees and possible retirement, New Orleans has former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston on its roster, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see another QB thrown into the mix via the draft.