BYU's Zach Wilson is widely viewed as the second-best quarterback prospect available in the 2021 NFL Draft behind Clemson's Trevor Lawrence. Wilson had been a starter for two seasons but did not gain traction as a draft prospect until the early portion of the 2020 season. The Cougars have a rich history in producing productive NFL quarterbacks from Marc Wilson to Jim McMahon to Hall of Famer Steve Young. Will Wilson be next? The runner-up for Mr. Football as a high school recruit in Utah could now become the second pick in the draft later this month.
Here are some of the traits that led to his rise:
1.Capable of throwing from several arm angles
Although Patrick Mahomes has been given a lot of credit for the fascination of being able to throw from different arm angles, Aaron Rodgers was doing it long before Mahomes arrived on the scene. Wilson has a bit of Rodgers to his game in the way that he is able to create a lot of power through his hips without planting his feet in the ground. Players with this ability often have a baseball background and that has become an interesting box on the scouting checklist. BYU's website lists basketball in the background of the Utah native, but not baseball.
In a lot of cases, the ability to throw from different arm slots is a sign of a natural athlete. When watching Wilson play, he is very naturally gifted. His entire body works in unison.
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2. Arm strength on the run
Wilson is not going to challenge Josh Allen, Rodgers or Mahomes in a long-distance throwing competition but the dip between throwing with planted feet in the pocket and off-platform is not substantial. In the modern NFL, there is value in a player that can extend plays and allow pass catchers time to work open.
The throw that created excitement at Wilson's pro day is a perfect example. He faked a handoff right and rolled left before making a 55-yard pass look effortless. A quarterback capable of throwing on the run from different arm angles is a threat until the play is dead. Wilson locks his eyes downfield even when pressured. Defenders do not have the comfort of chasing the quarterback out of the pocket and considering that a win.
3. Pinpoint accuracy
Each of Wilson's three collegiate seasons have ended with a higher completion percentage than both of Allen's collegiate seasons starting. His lowest was 62.4% in 2019 and his highest percentage (73.5%) came this past season. The junior essentially completed three of every four pass attempts in 2020. There were instances of his wide receivers going up to make plays for him. Every quarterback has some of those plays but they are not going to be as common in the NFL.
4. Dual-threat potential
Wilson is not going to be confused with Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray but he has more than enough speed and quickness to compile yardage on the ground. He had 70 carries for 254 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2020. The mere possibility of being able to escape and get yardage on the ground is enough to keep defenses honest.
5. Improved decision-making
In his first two seasons as a starter, Wilson had 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In his most recent campaign, he threw 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His play validates an improved player making throws with better ball placement and putting fewer passes at risk of being intercepted.
Of the five quarterbacks projected to be taken in the first round, Wilson has the second-lowest sack percentage on dropbacks (3.3%). Alabama's Mac Jones (3.2%) has the best percentage and Ohio State's Justin Fields (9.3%) has the worst. Lawrence checked in at 4.5%.
For projections of where Wilson will be taken, check out CBSSports.com's mock drafts.