From Provo, Utah to the Big Apple, Zach Wilson was (seemingly) always the guy.
Zach Wilson’s meteoric rise up NFL Draft boards in 2020 was one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2020 college season: While Trevor Lawrence was considered the de facto No. 1 prospect in the draft, four passers — Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones.
As Joe Douglas decided to move on from Sam Darnold, he zeroed in on Wilson as the next great hope for Jets fans aching for a franchise passer since the days of Joe Willie Namath (and Ken O’Brien). Many were confused by the pick, citing Wilson’s size and lack of competition as major red flags.
Here’s why the Jets decided to make the BYU passer the highest-drafted quarterback in the school’s history:
Why did the Jets draft Zach Wilson?
There were a more than a few reasons why the Jets decided to put the keys of the franchise in Zach Wilson’s hands, despite several capable passers on the board at No. 2.
Wilson had a stellar Pro Day at BYU (he skipped the combine), and all of his measurables came back bigger than expected (6-2, 210 height and weight).
During the preseason, coach Robert Saleh praised Wilson’s poise, recall and “process” on more than one occassion, but the two biggest reasons were likely Wilson’s arm strength and the offense that New York was planning to run underneath Mike LaFleur.
While Wilson isn’t the biggest passer, he boasted, arguably, the best arm of any of the quarterbacks in the draft. That was on full display during Wilson’s now-famed Pro Day at BYU, when he uncorked an absolutely effortless bomb down the middle of the field, which sent the internet ablaze:
In addition to pure arm strength, Wilson’s ability to throw off platform, from unorthodox angles and with touch and velocity was also a big sticking point for the Jets, and it’s been apparent through six games this season, that’s a trait that’s carried over from college.
It also helps that Wilson is pretty sound as a passer (well, mechanically, at least). While he has a propensity to throw off of his back foot, it’s not something that would hinder him long-term, and clearly not an issue the Jets felt they can’t coach out of him.
Maybe more than anything, Wilson comes from a similar system at BYU, and has familiarity with the Shanahan scheme. The Jets felt that the scheme, run by offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur — himself a disciple of the Shanahan offense — would be a major help to Wilson’s learning curve in the NFL.
While the results have yet to manifest themselves (Wilson has thrown four touchdowns to nine interceptions on the season), Wilson’s college success with BYU should translate in some way if he continues to develop once he returns from injury.
Hed coach Robert Saleh explained the reasons why the scheme would benefit Wilson after the Jets selected him in the 2021 NFL Draft:
Robert Saleh discusses how Zach Wilson fits in the West Coast Offense:
“During his pro day, they ran a lot of the routes that we run…you could see him having success in our system” pic.twitter.com/135RwuJwXb
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) April 30, 2021
“A lot of the principles that he played in college, you can see it,” Saleh said after Wilson was selected in the 2021 Draft. “You can see him making all those throws; You can see him making the deep bench route to the sideline, you can see the over-the-middle throws, the boots, the play-action pass game, you can see all of it.”
Saleh and GM Joe Douglas would say that the Pro Day helped solidify the decision, both with his performance at getting to meet him in person.
As an added bonus, Wilson’s personal coach John Beck was recently added to the Jets staff to try and add another voice to the room to help ease Wilson into the NFL. Wilson had visited Beck in California during the Jets’ Bye Week earlier in the season, leading to Saleh to ask: Why isn’t he just on staff?
Robert Saleh on the decision to bring John Beck aboard:
“[Zach] went to see John on the bye week, and we said, ‘Why not just bring him here?’ Now there’s a really good plan to get him through the rest of the year.” pic.twitter.com/3u9guYhGik
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) November 2, 2021
“We’re going to do everything we can to help the quarterbacks,” Saleh said after the move was made. “Obviously, everything that we do, every decision that we make, it is what it is, it’s for the quarterback room.”
Beck, former NFL QB, is also very familiar with the Shanahan system, as he played underneath Mike Shanahan (and his son Kyle) with Washington between 2010 and 2011.
We’ll see if it all works out and Wilson rewards their faith in a few weeks.