- Longtime Jets beat writer for New York Daily News
- Syracuse University graduate
Hoping to end years of losing and quarterback instability, the New York Jets selected BYU’s Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, making him the franchise’s highest-drafted quarterback since Joe Namath in 1965.
After the Jacksonville Jaguars took Trevor Lawrence with the top pick, the Jets opted for Wilson over the three other highly rated quarterbacks in the draft class: Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones.
For weeks, Wilson-to-the-Jets was deemed a foregone conclusion around the league, especially after Sam Darnold — the No. 3 pick in 2018 — was traded to the Carolina Panthers on April 6.
Wilson was asked on the ESPN broadcast when he knew he would be picked by the Jets.
“You know what, I wouldn’t believe it until the day it happened. But this is exactly what I was hoping for,” he said. “So excited for the opportunity and I know we are going to have something special. I can’t wait to get to work.”
The Jets, coming off a 2-14 season, are counting on Wilson to upgrade the position. They haven’t had a true franchise quarterback since Namath, who was drafted No. 1 overall in the AFL and 12th overall in the NFL.
The Jets are the first team in the common draft era (since 1967) to select two quarterbacks within the top three overall picks in a four-year span, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“These guys need a good quarterback, a good leader. I think I got those qualities and I can’t wait to go in there. I love the coaching staff, I love everything they have to offer, and I can’t wait to get to New York City,” he told ESPN.
Wilson, the franchise’s sixth first-round selection at quarterback since Namath, was a breakout star during the 2020 college football season. After a disappointing, injury-plagued sophomore year, he reclaimed his starting job in a three-way competition and led BYU (11-1) to its best season in 25 years.
He passed for 33 touchdowns and ran for another 10, while throwing three interceptions. Deemed a late-round pick at the start of the season, Wilson’s draft stock soared as he played his way into the first-round conversation and solidified his status with an exceptional pro day performance on March 26.
The Jets preferred Wilson over Fields, Lance and Jones because of his arm strength and accuracy, his quick release, his movement skills and his competitiveness. They see him as an ideal fit in their new scheme. Coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, both former assistants with the San Francisco 49ers, are installing the system used by Kyle Shanahan.
Some scouts have compared Wilson to Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes because of his ability to throw from different arm angles. At the same time, there are questions about him, starting with durability.
Only 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Wilson had surgery in 2019 to repair a labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder. He also had surgery during the 2019 season to fix a broken right thumb.
He rebounded from the injuries and delivered a stellar 2020 season, but it came against a schedule that had no Power 5 opponents. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, BYU had to juggle its schedule on the fly and was rarely tested as a result.
As a starter against AP-ranked teams in his career, Wilson went 2-4, with eight touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Wilson joins a Jets team with no experienced quarterbacks. The only quarterbacks on the roster are 2020 fourth-round pick James Morgan and former practice squad player Mike White, neither of whom has regular-season experience.
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