A recent CBS mock draft had the Carolina Panthers drafting BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at No. 7 in next year’s draft. Shortly thereafter, CSR’s intrepid managing editor, Bradley Smith, went on record stating he’d love to see the Panthers land Wilson because he has “superstar” potential and could leave people in the future asking “why didn’t this guy get picked No. 1 overall?”
Since it’s Christmas season and the time of year we implore Santa Claus for our most desired gifts, my only wish to Ol’ Saint Nick is for the Panthers to land Zach Wilson.
Before proceeding I need to disclose my biases here. I was born and raised outside of Salt Lake City, Utah and am a lifelong BYU fan. Both my wife and I graduated from Brigham Young and we take our kids on a campus stroll every summer when we road trip from North Carolina to Utah to visit family. Here at CSR I write an annual, totally biased pre-draft column asking Marty Hurney to select Cougars players. And, by the way, I’ve nailed each of these picks in running back Jamaal Williams (2017), linebacker and future Pro Bowler Fred Warner (2018), and starting linebacker Sione Takitaki (2019).
I’ve watched a lot of Zach Wilson over the last three years and folks, he’s legit. He makes multiple NFL throws every game. He slings the ball with both power and precision. He has great awareness in the pocket. He’s mobile, elusive, and his ability to throw on the run reminds me a bit of Patrick Mahomes. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds he’s got adequate size for the NFL. While it’s impossible to predict which college quarterbacks will succeed in the pros and which ones will underwhelm, I’ve seen enough from Zach that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him grow into a true franchise quarterback. If you haven’t seen his full skills on display, just watch a couple of minutes of this highlight video and judge for yourself.
Rather than doing a traditional player breakdown about arm strength and throwing angles which plenty of other sites have already done, I’ll answer the two biggest questions that people usually ask me about BYU players which are: 1) How good was the competition he played against? and 2) How old is he (in other words, did he serve a two-year Church mission)?
Strength of competition
Questioning the quality of BYU’s opponents is fair. As a football independent BYU is - in my humble but also 100% correct opinion - journeying through a scheduling wasteland. The Cougs normally play a few Power Five teams every year with mixed results then pile up several meaningless wins against teams like The Juilliard School of Dance.
Zach has been good against solid competition though. As a true freshman in 2018 he took over the starting job mid-season and faced two good teams at Boise State and at No. 17 Utah. In those two games he went a combined 38-of-56 for 456 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also rushed for 109 yards and a score.
In his junior year he faced Tennessee (win), No. 24 USC (win), and No. 21 Washington (loss) and went a combined 65-of-104 for 789 yards with three passing touchdowns, one rushing score, and one interception. He also had a so-so game against No. 14 Utah when the entire team was awful and he went 21-of-33 for 208 yards, zero TDs, and two interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 43 yards against the Utes.
While Wilson was good as a freshman and sophomore, he’s made the leap in this his junior season and has elevated his game to a completely different stratosphere. I could tell during his first two years that he was good, but this year he has been simply spectacular. Unfortunately, BYU’s 2020 schedule got destroyed by COVID and they were forced to scrub games against Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, Missouri, and Stanford and replace them with the likes of Navy, Troy, and Western Michigan.
But in the three games that mattered most this year - at Houston, at No. 21 Boise State, and at No. 18 Coastal Carolina - Zach was spectacular. In those three road games he went 66-of-93 for 1,000 yards, eight touchdowns, and one interception (on a Hail Mary). In those three games he also rushed for 103 yards and a score. BYU’s schedule may not always be elite, but Wilson has been elite when playing against quality opponents.
Zach Wilson’s age
One question that surrounds most BYU players is their age because many of them choose to serve two-year missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU.
Zach Wilson hasn’t served a mission and just turned 21 in August. While he is reportedly a member of the Church, he hasn’t appeared to show interest in serving a mission since arriving at BYU. Missionary service for Church members isn’t compulsory, rather it’s a voluntary commitment that requires significant desire, sacrifice, and preparation. It’s highly unlikely Wilson would choose to serve a mission at this point.
So, Zach Wilson won’t be Taysom Hill when it comes to age, starting his first NFL game at 30. If Wilson declares for the 2021 draft, he’ll be a standard 21-year-old rookie.
Please, Santa, grant me this wish!
Santa, baby, my Christmas list only has one item this year - Zach Wilson in a Panthers uniform in 2021. He could sit his rookie season while learning from Teddy Bridgewater and letting offensive coordinator Joe Brady mold Wilson to fit the Panthers offense. I think part of the reason the Panthers signed Bridgewater to the contract they did was for him to tutor his replacement throughout 2021, then cut ties in 2022. Zach Wilson would fit this timeline.
I think a mixture of Zach Wilson’s skills, Joe Brady’s mind, and the Panthers versatile offensive weapons could be a perfect match. BYU’s sensational quarterback donning a Panthers uniform is my only Christmas wish. I’ve seen enough of Wilson to know he’d be the gift that keeps on giving to Panthers fans.
How would you react if the Panthers drafted Zach Wilson?
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