2021 NFL Draft: Zach Wilson Red Flags, Examining the Trends & Risks

SI Fantasy analyst Michael Fabiano runs through the red flags surrounding rookie quarterback prospect Zach Wilson out of BYU
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I’m a fan of trends. You know the old saying, credited to writer and philosopher George Santayana, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” That quote could be particularly relevant in the case of BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. The young signal-caller is expected to be the second overall pick of the New York Jets in the 2021 NFL Draft. Sam Darnold's trade to the Panthers makes it a virtual lock that Wilson will be under center for the Men in Green when next season starts.

Here’s the problem. There are a ton of red flags when it comes to Wilson. That’s not hyperbole, either. In fact, many trends suggest that Wilson has a much better chance to bust than he does to find success both for the Jets and fantasy football managers alike.

Think I’m crazy? Well, maybe.

Let's take a look into his college career, trends of BYU quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Men in Green's utter failure to select the right field generals in previous drafts.

BYU vs. Boise State has huge New Year's Six and potentially, College Football Playoff, implications.

Wilson at BYU

Wilson was bananas good last season, throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also rushed for 254 yards and scored 10 times on the ground. He throws an amazingly effective deep ball, completing 74.1 percent of passes of 30-plus air yards in 2020. That was the best of any FCS quarterback in the last nine years. The kid has made what some would call impossible throws, stroking it deep on the run or off-balance with relative ease. No one is arguing that the talent is present.

For all of his positives, however, there are also some concerns. Wilson can be labeled a "one-year wonder," as his first two seasons at BYU weren't all that impressive. In fact, he wasn't even guaranteed the starting job heading into 2020. While I wouldn't call him brittle by any stretch, Wilson also dealt with shoulder and hand injuries in college.

Wilson also played behind an elite offensive line. Per PFF, he finished with a 96.5 grade in a clean pocket and under no pressure and a 74.1 grade when under pressure. The talented field general also didn’t face what you would call “elite” competition during his breakout season. Wilson went a mere 2-4 in his career against top-25 competition.

BYU Quarterbacks in the NFL

The Cougars haven't had a lot of success in producing fantasy stars at the quarterback position. Steve Young was without question the cream of the BYU crop at the next level, but he was the exception and not the rule. Aside from Young, the best signal-callers to come out of the school are Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon, Robbie Bosco, and Max Hall. None of them made a great statistical impact in the NFL.

BYU has also not had much success as it pertains to its players going in the first round of the NFL draft. Young was picked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft, so he doesn't factor into this research. Overall, the Cougars have had 10 players go in the first round of the NFL draft. Two of them, Marc Wilson (1980) and Jim McMahon (1982), were quarterbacks. The rest were a mix of offensive linemen and defenders, none of whom made a major impact in the NFL. Does this mean Wilson will be next? Of course not, but it’s still a notable trend for BYU alums.

Jets Quarterbacks in the NFL Draft

Some NFL teams just can’t get it right when selecting a quarterback in NFL drafts. The Jets are the poster boys for that trend. Let’s start back in 1983 when the Men in Green selected Ken O'Brien with the 24th overall selection. He went ahead of Dan Marino, one of the best quarterbacks of all time. While O'Brien had a few decent seasons, he had more than 15 touchdown passes just twice with New York.

Now, let's fast forward to 1991 when the Jets took Browning Nagle in the second round. He finished his career with more interceptions than touchdowns. Jeff Blake was a sixth-rounder in 1992, but much of his statistical success came with the Bengals, and he only had two good fantasy seasons. Over the next several years, the Jets drafted Glenn Foley (1994) and Chuck Clement (1997) before landing Chad Pennington with the 18th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. He wasn’t terrible, going 32-29 during his time with the Jets, but a fantasy asset he was not. In fact, Pennington never threw for more than 3,352 yards in a season. He also had more than 19 touchdown passes once (2002).

The following seasons saw Gang Green shoot even more blanks at quarterback, as the likes of Brooks Bollinger (2003), Brad Smith (2006), Kellen Clemens (2006), and Erik Ainge (2008) did nothing at the next level. Only Clemens was more than a fourth-round pick, but plenty of late-round quarterbacks have gone on to great things (Tom Brady!)

mark-sanchez

If you're a diehard Jets fan, now is the time you might want to skip down to the next few paragraphs. In 2009, they made Mark Sanchez the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft. He had one good fantasy season in 2011 when he produced 3,474 passing yards and 26 touchdown passes. However, he was helped by his six rushing touchdowns, which was a complete outlier during his time with the Jets. Overall, Sanchez is best known for the "butt fumble" when he ran into the keister of lineman Brandon Moore and lost the ball.

Not good.

New York drafted two quarterbacks in the second round over the next seven seasons, including Geno Smith (2013) and Christian Hackenberg (2016). Smith was very rarely relevant in fantasy football circles, and Hackenberg never attempted an NFL pass.

Now to their most recent failure … Sam Darnold. The USC quarterback was the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he was never once a top-25 quarterback from a fantasy standpoint. I wouldn’t place all the blame on him, though, as the Jets gave him very few weapons on offense and inexplicably hired Adam Gase to be their head coach after he was fired by the Dolphins. Now in Carolina after a recent trade, maybe Darnold will reach his potential. He certainly didn’t do it while in the Big Apple, however.

Here’s one last note that is certain to drive diehard Jets fans mad.

Since 2012, Gang Green has mostly failed to make the right choice in the first round of the NFL draft. Quinton Coples (2012) and Dee Milliner (2013) were both cut, while Sheldon Richardson (2013), Calvin Pryor (2014), Leonard Williams (2015), Darren Lee (2016), Jamal Adams (2017), and Darnold (2018) have all been traded. The jury is still out on Mekhi Becton (2020). Is Wilson next in line to be another New York draft flop?

Jets Offensive Talent

To put it bluntly, New York doesn't have any star commodities. They added Corey Davis as a free agent, but he’s never had a 1,000-yard season in the NFL. Gang Green also added veteran Keelan Cole, but he’s been unspectacular in the NFL. Jamison Crowder is a fine slot receiver, and Denzel Mims has upside, but neither is what I would call a world-beater. Chris Herndon had some fantasy sleeper appeal, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Oh, and their current No. 1 running back is Tevin Coleman.

Conclusion

There's a lot of excitement around Wilson right now, and he's shown the talent and skill to be a potential impact-maker at the next level. However, the trends we've seen with BYU quarterbacks at the NFL level and the Jets' historical failures as an organization in drafting signal-callers raise some concerns. Fans of Gang Green would argue that the past doesn't matter. General manager Joe Douglas is a brilliant mind who will change the direction of the franchise. Those things could be true.

Still, would anyone be surprised if Wilson were just another in a long line of failed Jets first-round draft picks? Or that for all of his talent, he couldn’t get the job done at the next level like so many other elite quarterback prospects? Fantasy fans, especially those in dynasty leagues, might want to think twice before investing heavily in him.


MORE ARTICLES FROM MICHAEL FABIANO

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for all of the latest breaking fantasy football news and the best analysis in the business!

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