The New York Jets have selected BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the second overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft tonight.
The Jets took Wilson one selection after the Jacksonville Jaguars kicked off the draft as expected in selecting Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall.
"You never truly know until it happens on draft day, but this is what I was hoping for, this is what me and my family were praying for, is to be in this situation and go play for the Jets," Wilson, one of 13 prospects on site at the NFL's draft headquarters in Cleveland, said shortly after his name was called as the Jets' second overall pick of the draft around 8:33 p.m. ET and he exchanged stinging hand slaps with Green & White fans along the runway en route to a big bro hug with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"When you can be a key piece that actually flips an organization around, I think that's so special. So I'm excited, me along with this new coaching staff as well, to go in there and try to do the best we can to flip this thing around."
Wilson, who wore uniform No. 1 in his last five seasons of high school and college football, turns 22 in August at the scheduled start of Jets training camp. Despite his age and baby face, he demonstrated NFL-level skills during his junior season at BYU in 2020 and at his pro day, when he delivered long throws off-balance and on the money. And he has spoken of having a chip on his shoulder that fires him up to put his best product on the field every game.
He comes to the Jets as the first draft choice of first-year head coach Robert Saleh and the second first-rounder taken by general manager Joe Douglas and his personnel team since Douglas arrived as GM in June 2019. Last year the Jets grabbed left tackle Mekhi Becton 11th overall and now they have placed their new rookie quarterback behind "personal protector" Becton and his offensive line with the anticipation of having Wilson lead the Jets offense in the 2021 season.
"Love the confidence, love the energy, love the passion," Douglas ticked off about the traits that impressed the Jets about their new QB. "In our Zoom calls, one of the things that really stood out was his intensity. He was on the edge of his seat, close to the camera. You could tell how intensely focused he was. ... Every hurdle that we had in our predraft process, he felt like he cleared them."
"The things we value out of our quarterback play, he checks every box," Saleh said of Wilson. "Arm strength and accuracy? Check. Making off-schedule plays? Check. Making right decisions of where he needs to go without turning the ball over? Check. He's a special young man. His mental horsepower is through the roof. We're really excited to have him with the New York Jets."
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Wilson arrives after Sam Darnold, the Jets' starter for the previous three seasons, was traded earlier this month to Carolina. The Panthers sent three draft picks to the Jets in the trade — their sixth-round compensatory pick, No. 266 overall, in this year's draft, plus second- and fourth-round selections in 2022.
Wilson joins a Jets quarterbacks room headed by new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, QBs coach Rob Calabrese and passing game specialist Greg Knapp and containing at the moment third-year QB Mike White and second-year signal-caller James Morgan. He takes on the role of the Jets' QB of the present and the future after meticulously building himself into a top-flight passer and field general in high school and college.
At Corner Canyon High in Draper, UT, Wilson threw for 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions and posted a 9-1 record as a senior. In his last two seasons as the CCHS starter, he had 44 TDs to 13 INTs and a 15-5 record.
Despite his scholastic showing, he received no initial scholarship offers from the University of Utah or Brigham Young University and committed to Boise State. He decommitted from Boise and signed with BYU after a late recruiting visit urged by Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake.
Wilson then emerged as a college force in his junior season at BYU last year, leading the Cougars to an 11-1 record, their third bowl game and their second bowl win with him at the offensive controls. He completed 73.5% of his passes — the seventh-best single-season accuracy in college football history — for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdown passes and just three interceptions and was sacked just 11 times. He also ran for 10 more TDs and 254 more yards on 70 carries.
For his college career he completed 67.6% of his passes for 7,652 yards, 56 TDs to 15 INTs and ran for 15 TDs.
Wilson is the eighth QB taken by the Jets in the first round all-time and tied for the second-highest draft position, matching Joe Namath being selected second overall out of Alabama in the 1965 AFL Draft. The first QB picked by the Jets in Round 1, Sandy Stephens of Minnesota in the 1962 AFL Draft, never played for the team. The other first-round flingers were Richard Todd (6th overall, 1976), Ken O'Brien (24th, 1983), Chad Pennington (18th, 2000), Mark Sanchez (5th, 2009) and Darnold (3rd, 2018).
Wilson is also the Brigham Young draft choice selected the highest not only in Jets franchise history but in the NFL since the 1967 start of the common draft.
Five other Cougars were top-15 picks prior to Thursday night: DE Ezekial Ansah (2013, No. 5, Detroit), QB Jim McMahon (1982, No. 5, Chicago), DT Shawn Knight (1987, No. 11, New Orleans), T John Tait (1999, No. 14, Kansas City), and QB Marc Wilson (1980, No. 15, Oakland).
And the Jets have drafted only four other BYU players previously, none higher than Round 3, which is where they tabbed safety/kick returner Chris Farasopoulos 58th in 1971. None of the other three Cougars picks — WR Lloyd Jones (Round 8, 1985), and T Eric Bateman and RB Dustin Johnson (Rounds 5-6, 1998) — played a down for the Green & White.
The hope and plan now is for Wilson to come in and play many downs, games and years as one of the leaders of Saleh's Jets.
"I'm a big believer in bringing the guys around you together, having a strong connection with them, so that's the leader I'm going to be," the QB said. "I'm going to be the man they can look up to and call for any advice, any help they ever need. And as a player I'm going to make sure I'm in the facility every single day giving it everything I have, because I want to do whatever I can to make sure this team is on the right track and we're getting all the right things done."
This year's sixth-round choice from Carolina is part of a historically large amount of draft capital that Douglas and the Jets have compiled over the next two seasons. After the drafting of Wilson, the Jets tonight have another first-round choice, 23rd overall from Seattle in last year's trade of S Jamal Adams, then have eight more picks over the next two days for 10 in all. Next year they have assembled 11 selections, including five picks in the first three rounds.