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The pros and cons of going pro for Zach Wilson

BYU signal caller projected to be among the top 10 picks in the NFL draft

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) takes the snap and spins to deliver a pass as BYU and Boise State play a college football game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. BYU won 51-17.
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson takes the snap and spins to deliver a pass as BYU and Boise State play at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Zach Wilson has announced that he will forgo his senior season at BYU and enter the NFL draft. Just for fun, let’s debate the pros and cons.

From a financial standpoint, it is an understatement to say this is a sound decision. The reason for attending college is to prepare for a career and earn a good living, and he has certainly done that. He will be awarded the kind of money that will affect him and his family for generations.

The Green Bay Packers gave Utah State quarterback Jordan Love a guaranteed four-year $12.4 million contract last spring, plus a $6.6 million signing bonus, after drafting him with the 26th pick of the first round. If he never plays a down of football in the NFL, he’s set for life.

Almost no one believes Wilson will be taken that late in the draft. He’s projected to be among the top 10 draft picks. Last year’s 10th pick of the draft, offensive tackle Jedrick Wills, was given a guaranteed four-year contract worth $19.8 million, plus an $11.9 million signing bonus.

But, setting aside financial considerations — if that is possible — things aren’t so certain. Is this a good decision in Wilson’s development as a player (let’s call the risk of injury a financial consideration and exclude it from the following discussion)?

Point: He had one good (no, great) season, preceded by two average seasons. At least statistically, he was only BYU’s second best quarterback as a sophomore (and possibly third best). Because of an injury to Wilson, Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall started at quarterback and had superior pass efficiency ratings. Wilson actually regressed as a sophomore, throwing for 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions and averaging only 7.5 yards per attempt.

Counterpoint: Joe Burrow also had just one great season in college and he went on to produce a tremendous rookie NFL season, even though it was cut short by a season-ending knee injury in the 11th game. He was nothing more than an adequate quarterback until his senior season, when he delivered a Heisman Trophy-winning performance while leading his team to the national championship.

Burrow’s statistics for his penultimate season at LSU were similar to those of Wilson’s penultimate season at BYU — Burrow had a pass efficiency rating of 133.2, Wilson 130.8.

Both had spectacular numbers in their final college seasons.

Burrow: 5,671 passing yards, 60 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 10.8 yards per attempt in 15 games.

Wilson: 3,692 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 11 yards per attempt in 12 games.

On the other hand, Burrow played five years of college football (or 38 games), compared to Wilson’s three (30 games). He also played against much stronger competition than Wilson.

Point: Wilson’s one great season was played under exceptional circumstances that were caused by the pandemic. As a result, he played against weak competition. BYU’s schedule ranked 106th in the country, by far the worst of any school in the top 30 of the Sagarin computer rankings.

Counterpoint: There have been many successful NFL quarterbacks who played against worse competition while playing for small schools — Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois), Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois), Carson Wentz (North Dakota State), Kurt Warner (Northern Iowa), Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard), Rich Gannon (Delaware), Joe Flacco (Delaware), Steve McNair (Alcorn State), Phil Simms (Morehead State), Doug Williams (Grambling). Seven of them were starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl and four were voted Super Bowl MVPs.

Second counterpoint: Wilson’s 196.4 pass efficiency rating last season would be good even if he did it against air.

Point: Another year at BYU would give Wilson 12-13 more games of experience, which is better for his development than standing on an NFL sideline for a season.

Counterpoint: It didn’t hurt Aaron Rodgers to stand on the sideline for three seasons waiting for the Brett Favre era to end. Rodgers is expected to win his third NFL Most Valuable Player Award this month and will follow Favre into the Hall of Fame.

Second counterpoint: It would be almost impossible for Wilson to top this year’s performance next season, especially if the pandemic relents and a normal football season is allowed to proceed, which would include a much tougher schedule. Burrow benefited greatly from returning for his senior season, but he also didn’t have the same NFL prospects after his junior season that Wilson has now.

Point: There are plenty of cautionary tales about leaving school early for the draft, including that of John Walsh. The former BYU quarterback was widely rated as a first-round pick and passed up his senior year to enter the 1995 draft, only to fall to the seventh round. He never played a down in the NFL. Then there’s a more recent example. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, who threw 50 touchdown passes during his one and only year as a starter, was the 15th pick of the 2019 draft and he’s out of the NFL now.

Counterpoint: That won’t happen to Wilson, but there are no guarantees, whether he enters the draft this year or next.