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BYU Football: How Zach Wilson Rocketed the NFL Draftboards




Zach Wilson and Aaron Roderick, BYU’s third-year starting quarterback and third-year quarterbacks coach, look like they’re having an absolute blast playing and coaching football this season.

Why shouldn’t they? Both are football junkies to the nth degree, are part of a Cougars team that is undefeated in mid-November and ranked 8th in the national polls, and Wilson is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate, albeit a long way, because he honestly doesn’t play for a Power Five program.

What’s more, Wilson puts on video game-style tracks, and the junior looks like a slot to be taken in the first few rounds of April’s next NFL draft, perhaps the third QB to be taken after Clemsons Trevor Lawrence and Ohio States Justin Fields, a topic that will cover most of the rest of this article, we promise.

But there’s an underlying rage in how both men have approached this magical BYU season, Roderick admitted Wednesday night in a Zoom meeting with reporters, shedding some more light on what drives the youthful-looking player and coach in 2020.

I still have an inbox full of hate mail from people who didn’t want him to be the starting quarterback this year, Roderick said. So we both had, I would say, a chip on our shoulder every day this season.

So much for that big grin and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-esque headband, the baby-faced Wilson always seems to be sporty. Telling more about what drives this young man is a wristband that simply says, “Prove They Are Wrong.”

His lifelong friend and roommate Dax Milne said: He is much more intense than people think.

Wilson has not definitively stated that this will be his last season in Provo, but there is no player, coach, family member or anyone else with close ties to the Drapers Corner Canyon High product who believes that hell is back. His parents have already talked to some of the most prominent agents in the business.

And he continues a meteoric rise of NFL mock design boards, a development that seemed unimaginable three months ago when the Cougars had a potential quarterback competition in fall camp, but had only a few games on their schedule. If Wilson signs for millions next summer, as expected, BYU athletics director Tom Holmoe should get a cut.

The story of the NFL design process so far was Wilson’s ascension, wrote The Athletics Dane Brugler, who had a 6-foot-2,212 lb. Wilson going sixth overall last week. The competition on BYUs’ schedule (the Cougars receive 0-3 North Alabama Saturday at 1pm at LaVell Edwards Stadium) doesn’t excite evaluators, but his library of throws is why he’s top-10 in talks. His excellent instincts, arm talent and accuracy keep NFL teams buzzing. Some in the league believe he can go higher than sixth.

That group includes Eric Edholm from Yahoo Sports, who wrote on Wednesday that quarterbacks could go 1-2-3 in the draft for the first time since 1999 (Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith) and placed Wilson at number 3 on his way to the Washington Football Team. Much depends on where teams end up, of course, especially those with QB needs.

This would be the highest a Cougar has ever set up, Edholm wrote.

How Heavy is the NFL Interest?

Roderick said he spoke about Wilson with nearly every team in the NFL last week during BYU’s bye week.

I think it was just about every team, Roderick said. They make their own decisions about his game. That is their job. They have scouts and judges and they are good at what they do and they make their own decisions about what they think of him as a player.

Roderick said he mostly answered questions about Wilson’s personality, ambition and make-up as a person, how he interacts with his teammates, what kind of leader he is, what kind of character he has, his ability to learn, his intelligence, all those kinds of things.

Things that are well documented locally and on almost weekly ESPN broadcasts of BYU games. An argument could be made that during this time of BYU’s agreement with ESPN and a large social media presence, Wilson has gained more national exposure than any athlete in BYU sports history who is not called Jimmer.

So what does Wilson tell his best friends on the team? Star receiver Gunner Romney isn’t saying I’m not going to reveal his secrets or anything, Romney said, but does acknowledge that it’s a topic of conversation almost daily.

It’s quite a problem. It’s great for him. I am super happy for him, super proud that he gets what he deserves, said Romney. It is definitely something we bring up. I just want to pick his brain and see what he thinks and see what his future will bring.

Clearly, Wilson is not driven by the need to provide money for his family, his friends say. His family lives in a sprawling, spacious house in Draper, his father (former Utah defensive tackle Mike Wilson) has done well as the owner of a number of convenience stores and laundromats, and his maternal uncle, David Neeleman, is the founder of several airlines including JetBlue, WestJet and Azul Brazilian.

BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who also handles calls about Wilson from NFL scouts, but not nearly as much as Roderick, who spends 99% of the time with Zach, said the QB covers his newfound fame and that he handles a lot of the troop defenses thrown at the Cougars this season by overwhelming opponents.

We want to help all of our players who have the opportunity to move on, Grimes said.

Model suppliers also contribute.

Last week, ESPNs Mel Kiper Jr. Wilson ranked No. 13 in the design, while his colleague Todd McShay had Wilson at number 16.

Kiper wrote: Wilson is legit. I included him in my quarterback rankings last month and called him the guy you can get to know better now and he’s still flying under the radar.

Wrote McShay: What an increase for Wilson. I like its competitiveness and robustness in the pocket, and it has a high-end ability to extend play. His accuracy on the deep ball is also excellent.

USA Today says Wilson could go to No. 5 if Washington is in that position.

With a Patrick Mahomes-esque tendency to connect with low blows and play outside the pocket, Wilson deserves the top five attention, Luke Easterling wrote.

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