Zach Wilson is going from BYU to NYC, shouldering enormous Big Apple expectations with the New York Jets.
Wilson was selected as the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night after being linked to the Jets for the last few months. He’s now the blond, blue-eyed face of a frustrated franchise that has gone 10 seasons without making the playoffs — and 52 without reaching the Super Bowl.
“There’s not another team I’d want to play for besides the Jets,” Wilson said on NFL Network shortly after being drafted. “We’re going to be a special team. We’re going for the Super Bowl.”
In a move to protect Wilson, the Jets then traded up to the 14th overall pick to get USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.
The 6-foot-2, 214-pound Wilson made a massive jump in his development — and on teams’ draft lists — while throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdown passes and just three interceptions last season for BYU. He also broke Steve Young’s school record for completion percentage with an eye-popping mark of 73.5 percent.
New York was also scheduled to pick No. 23 overall, marking the first time it has had two first-round selections since 2013 when cornerback Dee Milliner (No. 9) and defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson (No. 13) were taken.
The Jets have been fruitlessly searching for decades for a quarterback to emerge from the massive shadow of Joe Namath, who led the franchise to its only Super Bowl in 1969. There have been flashes of individual and team success from several players under center since. But none has produced consistent enough results to solve the team’s seemingly endless quarterback quandary.
Since Namath was taken in the first round of the AFL draft in 1965, the Jets have used their first selection in the NFL draft on a quarterback six times: Richard Todd (1976), Ken O’Brien (1983), Chad Pennington (2000), Mark Sanchez (2009), Sam Darnold (2018) — and now Wilson.
And the Jets and their fans are hoping the former BYU star is finally the answer.
Some have been skeptical about how smooth Wilson’s leap to the NFL will be since he played a schedule that was low on top-flight opponents. But the 21-year-old gunslinger has impressive accuracy and outstanding zip on his passes from multiple arm angles. Those skills were on full display last month during his pro day at BYU — with Jets general manager Joe Douglas, coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur all in attendance.
That performance appeared to seal the Jets’ desire to make Wilson their quarterback. Douglas officially created that opportunity by trading Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in 2018, to Carolina for a sixth-rounder this year and second- and fourth-rounders next year.
It marked a disappointing end to a once-promising tenure for Darnold, who the franchise hoped would someday lift the Jets to sustained success with him leading the charge as one of the NFL’s top playmakers at his position.
That never happened. And now that responsibility falls to Wilson, whose baby-faced looks belie his ultra-confident and competitive nature.
His quick feet and hands make him a seemingly perfect fit for LaFleur’s offensive scheme — the “Shanahan System” — which includes lots of play-action, screens, outside zone runs and jet sweeps and is predicated by pre-snap motions.
But Wilson has some other dubious history to contend with: The Jets have picked No. 2 overall in the NFL draft just two other times — and they turned out to be among the franchise’s biggest busts. They traded up in 1980 to take Texas wide receiver Johnny “Lam” Jones, who had just 138 catches and 13 TDs in seven seasons. Penn State running back Blair Thomas was drafted 10 years later, and injuries and inconsistency limited him to only 2,009 yards rushing and five TDs in four years.
Wilson had some injury issues in college, including surgery to repair a torn labrum before the 2019 season and a wrist injury that also required surgery and caused him to miss four games. But he bounced back from those ailments with a spectacular junior year and the Jets were confident enough in Wilson’s health moving forward that they didn’t hesitate.
Wilson, a native of Draper, Utah, is Mormon, one of six children and also of Hawaiian ancestry — his middle name Kapono means “righteous.” His father Mike was raised in Hawaii and played defensive line at the University of Utah. That’s where Mike met his future wife, Lisa Neeleman, whose family includes several successful entrepreneurs and business people in the airline and medical industries.
Now their son will be tasked with leading an NFL team for what the Jets and their fans hope — finally — is many winning years to come.
This is a breaking story. Please check back for updates.