2021 NFL Draft: BYU quarterback Zach Wilson scouting report

The Carolina Panthers select Zach Wilson in the first round of this 2021 NFL mock draft (Photo by Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
The Carolina Panthers select Zach Wilson in the first round of this 2021 NFL mock draft (Photo by Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Zach Wilson, 2021 NFL Draft
2021 NFL Draft prospect Zach Wilson #1 of the BYU Cougars (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

The Bad

The most important red flag that continues to come up is Wilson’s decision-making when throwing against tight coverage. Wilson has the accuracy to throw into tight windows, no one is denying that. But on multiple occasions in 2020, Wilson threw to wide receivers who barely qualified as being open, who would then take the brunt of one or more defenders in tight coverage.

Now, receivers obviously expect to get hit (it’s football, after all), so there is a level of interpretation as to how important an NFL general manager might consider this issue. But across multiple games at BYU, Wilson threw a dozen or so passes that would make even the most nihilistic general manager wince at how battered some of BYU’s receivers were in 2020.

To his receiver’s credit, most of these passes were reigned in for a completion and watching the all-22 film does exonerate Wilson (to a degree) on several of these questionable passes. On several of these occasions, a linebacker or safety dropped down or fell back on a delayed movement, leaving a seemingly open receiver suddenly bracketed by defenders.

General managers and coaches may justify ill-timed passes from time to time. But will NFL wide receivers go that extra mile if they think their quarterback is putting them in danger? Especially when some of the situations were when BYU had a sizeable lead or was on an early-down. That is not a situation when you need to press.

Wilson will likely be asked about some of these plays at this year’s Combine. If he hopes to get drafted early in the 2021 NFL Draft, he should be prepared for these questions and have some solutions to avoid this in the future.


The 2020 game that highlights Wilson’s flaws the most as a quarterback has to be against Coastal Carolina, the only loss for BYU all season. Both teams went into the game undefeated and it serves as a warning to NFL general managers how far Wilson still needs to go.

The breakdown goes like this: after a middling performance going into the second half, the BYU offense came out swinging in the third quarter with design plays. We’re talking screen passes, offensive line movements, multiple motions nearly every down, even two double passes in the same half. With the pressure on Wilson, he attempted to roll out several times on option plays and looked unconvincing in his execution.

After facing pressure all evening, Wilson’s mechanics and decision-making faltered. After a few late-shots (read: cheap shots) from a Coastal Carolina pass-rusher and a particularly aggressive defense, Wilson’s confidence seemed shaken, leading to more erratic decisions.

On a 3rd and 30 play, Wilson decided to carry the ball himself and attempt to lateral a defender after gaining only 10-yards. Not surprisingly it didn’t work and he took a real nasty hit on the way down…on a third-down he had little shot of converting. There were also nine minutes left and the opponents were up less than a touchdown.

On another play earlier in the game, Wilson took the ball for a run up the middle, got the first down and then decided to lead with his shoulder against a player that looked to have 50 pounds on him instead of just sliding. Dangerous decision making for a quarterback with two major injuries in the last two years, especially for a player hoping to go early in the 2021 NFL Draft.

It is easy as an analyst to judge a split-second decision that goes badly and hold it against the passer and some of these incidents do deserve a third-degree. But just as these plays show a passionate quarterback, they also show one who still needs to learn when it is better to yield and fight another down.

Next up on the Wilson red flags list are some of his mechanics when under pressure. Specifically, his tendency to rely too much on his raw arm strength to get the ball out and not going through the motions needed to maximize his throw. On plays where Wilson is passing off-platform or when the pocket breaks down, he seems to prioritize getting the ball out instead of taking the extra half-second or so to properly place his feet and wind up his throw.

Some general managers might think this is a convenient problem to have; after all, he can launch the ball 30-plus yards with just his raw arm strength on the run.

But for a quarterback that has already had to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, how much fun will it be in five to ten years to throw like that? Especially when pass-rushers hit harder and cornerbacks are much better at covering wide receivers, leaving the margin for error that much smaller. Wilson has a great arm and his strength will benefit him in the NFL. But to depend too much on it is inviting trouble for the young upstart.

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Luckily, this really is a convenient problem to have for Wilson. He has shown time and again to have great mechanics in the pocket and can plant his feet effectively to maximize the throw. His ability to throw on the run and off-platform rivals the likes of Mahomes.

Fixing a few discrepancies in his game should be relatively easy for an NFL quarterbacks coach to train out of him. If he is to be drafted early in the 2021 NFL Draft, if a general manager is going to bet their careers on Wilson, he will need to show a willingness to improve the flaws in his game.