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Eagles 2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: BYU QB Zach Wilson

If the Eagles go quarterback early, they’ll love the playmaking ability of BYU’s Zach Wilson

NCAA Football: Texas State at BYU USA TODAY NETWORK

Philadelphia’s quarterback situation is murkier than perhaps any other team in the league. The Eagles are clearly willing to trade incumbent starter Carson Wentz — but the market, once rampant, has suddenly run still, and the steep asking price from Philadelphia may force a Wentz return in 2021. Would the Eagles have a quarterback competition with Wentz and second-year pro Jalen Hurts, who took over for Wentz when he was benched last season? Who would win that competition? If they trade Wentz, will the job go to Hurts outright — or will the Eagles look at quarterbacks at the top of the NFL Draft?

There are many dominos left to fall, but as we transition to draft season, I’ll be working through scheme fits and scouting reports for all of the top players that could end up in Philadelphia. It’s only appropriate, for the quarterback factory, that we start with a quarterback.

Today, I’ll be walking through the evaluation and team fit for BYU QB Zach Wilson.

Scouting Report

Strengths

Arm Talent (+)

The clear and immediate strength for Zach Wilson is his arm talent. No area of the field is inaccessible to Wilson at any given time. The ball flies off his hand whether he’s releasing from a clean platform in the pocket, a rollout with pressure in his face, a sidearm flick across his body, or anything in between.

Because of the velocity he can generate from all angles, Wilson regularly makes aggressive plays late in the down. He often takes far-hash throws to isolated backside receivers when other quarterbacks would read out frontside concepts, electing to throw late jump-balls deep down the field and scramble in the face of pressure instead of checking the ball down. He wants the big play, and he hunts it.

Mobility (+)

In order to make the decisions that Wilson makes and play with the aggressiveness he likes, he needs to be elusive and mobile — and he is. Wilson has been comped at times to Johnny Manziel (The Mormon Manziel!) and Kyler Murray (The Mormon Murray!) in recognition of his scrambling ability at a diminutive size.

Wilson isn’t particularly fast on a straight line — he doesn’t bust out many long, chunk runs — but he’s springy and explosive. He’s very light on his feet in the pocket, which helps him evade surprising pressure, and he often makes the first defender miss in space on designed runs or scrambles. Jalen Hurts was clearly a more effective runner at Oklahoma than Wilson was at BYU, but any front office that valued Hurts’ ability to create with his legs in last year’s draft (i.e. Philadelphia) would value the same with Wilson.

Poise (+)

Man, Wilson just doesn’t care. He regularly eats hits for the sake of making big-time throws, has excellent performance on long and late downs, and even when he’s on his big-play hunting vibes, he’s still able to make good decisions with split-second warnings.

The most encouraging sign for a team projecting Wilson to the league, beyond his clear NFL-caliber tools, is how confidently he plays. Wilson will take his lumps in the league — all rookies do — but I don’t imagine he’ll get down quickly or start doubting his own game. He may need to learn how to be more risk-averse, but you’d rather him be too bold than too timid in the face of big plays and critical moments. Wilson is a gamer.

Weaknesses

Anticipation/Timing (-)

Wilson is a see-it thrower who would rather wait until his receiver is into his break, and then hit him with a laser beam, than throw into his break and hit him with anticipation. Because Wilson is so good at throwing off-platform, his drop footwork can become a bit lazy — and when his feet aren’t married to the timing of the route, the ball will come out late. Again, Wilson can often get the ball there in time with his arm talent — but we know the NFL plays so much faster than college. It’ll be harder for Wilson to get away with such little mistakes at the next level.

Size (-)

Wilson is listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds by BYU — frankly, I believe neither. I make Wilson more so in the 6-foot-1, 205 pounds range, which isn’t a huge drop-off from his listed numbers, but is still significant. A 6-foot-1 build would put Wilson in the Baker Mayfield/Colt McCoy/Chase Daniel family of athletic comps, and would firmly put his height in the conversation of limiting factors for his stock.

Wilson’s height doesn’t affect him much in terms of PBUs — he has such a delightful sidearm release to work his arm into throwing windows and avoid defenders — but it does affect his willingness to attack the middle of the field. BYU infrequently asked Wilson to attack the intermediate hole of the defense with deep digs, crossers, and sit routes — and even when given the option, Wilson often went elsewhere. His heavy diet of out-breaking and deep vertical throws is reminiscent of Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray — two more short kings who can struggle to target the middle of the field.

Scheme Fit

Under OC Jeff Grimes and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick in Provo, Zach Wilson enjoyed an interesting blend of the prevalent college offense (Air Raid) and prevalent NFL offense (wide zone play-action) that made BYU perhaps the most entertaining X’s and O’s team last season. Wilson worked from the gun, center, and pistol to work a wide zone rushing attack that set the foundation for BYU’s passing approach: rollouts, three-level floods, and isolated vertical patterns to create one-on-one deep opportunities.

When in clear passing situations, the Cougars would leave their condensed formations to spread out some athletes and work common Air Raid ideas like Mesh, Y-Cross, and Shallow Cross.

When I broke down the Nick Sirianni offense last week, I highlighted just how heavily they rely on such heavy crossing concepts like Mesh and Shallow Cross to get the ball quickly to athletes in space. Wilson’s experience reading Mesh will be beneficial to his Eagles’ transition, though Wilson often would neglect the mesh altogether for the sake of throwing the isolated, backside route — as we discussed above.

If the Eagles want to run their offense through Wilson, they must find a receiver who can win on these isolated vertical routes. Last year’s first-round pick Jalen Reagor was forced into this role at times last year, but with his inexperienced releases and poor catch point play, is not a fit for such a role in the future. Players like John Hightower and Marquise Goodwin have deep speed, which could work for Wilson’s long arm, but he’s more accustomed to throwing to catch-point players on back-shoulder targets. A healthy Alshon Jeffery would be perfect in this role — but the Eagles haven’t had that for years.

The Eagles are also not positioned, from a talent or scheme perspective, to implement the wide zone, play-action approach that currently runs rampant in the league. They hired Sirianni, who ran a very traditional West Coast offense in Indianapolis; last year, they hired Rich Scangarello and tried some of the Kyle Shanahan-inspired stuff with very little success. The Eagles’ big offensive line is better suited to power concepts and inside zone, which they’ve always ran under OL coach Jeff Stoutland.

The Eagles did find ways to work play-action rollouts into the offense once Jalen Hurts took over for Carson Wentz last year, but Sirianni’s quarterbacks — Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, and Philip Rivers — all rarely were taken out of the pocket by design. Wilson absolutely requires an offense that is willing to roll him out with intention.

Price

Wilson is currently the leader in a thick QB2 race behind Clemson star QB Trevor Lawrence. Ohio State QB Justin Fields and NOrth Dakota State QB Trey Lance both have a chance of taking Wilson’s spot, but Bet Online currently has Wilson as a significant favorite. Not enough to say it’s written in stone, but it’s a substantial difference at this time.

As such, the Eagles shouldn’t expect to see Zach Wilson fall to six. It’s possible, and they’ll be sure to do their due diligence on him in case it happens — but it’s unlikely. If they fall in love with Wilson, he will likely require a trade-up in the first round to secure.

At six overall, they’re in a decent spot to make a small move forward, but they’d need to find a dance partner and still pay a decent price. In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jets moved up from 6 to 3 with the Indianapolis Colts. The cost? Two second-round picks, and a future second-round pick to boot. Pretty steep.

The Jets made that trade before the draft — they didn’t yet know what quarterback would be available at 3 overall. That makes things a little bit cheaper. If you tried to make the same trade on draft day, the other team could hold you hostage on a running clock, likely with other suitors on the table. The Eagles should expect to use at least a future first-round pick in any trade to move up from 6 overall.

Verdict

It’s hard not to fall in love with Wilson’s arm and say “Okay, we’ll figure the rest of this out later.” I’m sure the Eagles’ coaching and scouting staffs will evaluate his advanced repertoire of NFL throws and playmaking and fall in love with him as a project.

With that said, it’s difficult to style Wilson as an ideal scheme fit for a traditional West Coast offense. He doesn’t play with the optimal sense of rhythm and spacing and is too willing to default to backyard football; his aversion to the middle of the field can be limiting. If Sirianni also wants to stick with a pocket passer, as he’s had for the last few seasons, then they won’t value Wilson’s throw-on-move ability as much as other teams.

Wilson would be a fine pick at 6 and projects as a future starting quarterback, but I’d be surprised if the Eagles value him enough to trade up for him at the top of the first round. I’d be stunned if they end up with Wilson on the team come April.