Zach Wilson poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the NFL Draft stage after being selected by the New York Jets. Wilson is the highest pick in BYU history at No. 2. (BYU Photo)

Zach Wilson goes to New York Jets as highest NFL draft pick in BYU Football history

Quarterback Zach Wilson became the highest-drafted player in BYU Football history after the New York Jets took him with the No. 2 overall pick on the first night of the NFL Draft on Thursday.

“I’m so excited for the opportunity. This is a dream come true for me,” Wilson said on the draft stage. “I wouldn’t believe it until the day it happened, but this is exactly what I was hoping for.”

The previous highest picks in BYU history were both taken fifth overall: quarterback Jim McMahon in 1982 and defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah in 2013. Wilson is the first BYU player to be taken in the first round since Ansah, and the first quarterback drafted from BYU since John Beck in 2007.

Beck, now a quarterback coach in California, worked with Wilson during the summer of 2020, helping the BYU star take his play to the next level and have a breakout season last fall. Wilson led the Cougars to an 11-1 season and a top-10 ranking in 2020, during which he threw 33 touchdowns and had just three interceptions.

Zach Wilson throws in front of scouts and players at the BYU Pro Day on March 26, 2021. Wilson put on an impressive passing display and went viral on social media with a deep throw. (Preston Crawley)

Rumors about Wilson to the Jets began to swirl soon after the end of the Cougars’ dominant season but were solidified on BYU’s Pro Day in late March when Wilson wowed scouts and coaches with an impressive passing display at the Indoor Practice Facility in Provo.

The way was paved for Wilson to be the man in the Big Apple when the Jets traded away their starting quarterback, Sam Darnold, on April 5, just a week after Wilson’s Pro Day performance.

Wilson’s arm talent has drawn comparisons to perennial MVP candidates Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, highlighted by his strength and ability to throw on the run and from tough angles. With an opening at the quarterback position in New York, Wilson will likely be the starter to open the 2021 season.

“These guys need a good quarterback, a good leader, and I think I’ve got those qualities,” Wilson said. “I can’t wait to get to work. I love the coaching staff and everything they have to offer, and I can’t wait to get to New York City.”

Zach Wilson interacts with a New York Jets fan on stage at the NFL Draft in Cleveland. Wilson high-fived several Jets fans in the audience and said he “can’t wait to get to New York City.” (BYU Photo)

Wilson is the fifth BYU player to be drafted by the New York Jets in the NFL Draft, joining defensive back Chris Farasopoulos in 1971, wide receiver Lloyd Jones in 1981 and offensive lineman Eric Bateman and fullback Dustin Johnson in 1998.

A native of Draper, Utah, Wilson was a dual-sport athlete in basketball and football at Corner Canyon High School before graduating early in 2018 and joining BYU for spring ball in what would have been his final semester in high school. He originally committed to Boise State, but BYU coaches Kalani and Fesi Sitake aggressively recruited Wilson in the final weeks before signing day, and won over the family with BYU’s proximity to Draper as a major selling point.

Wilson was named the starting quarterback midway through his freshman season in 2018, the youngest in BYU history, and capped off an exciting opening campaign with a perfect performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in which he completed 18 of 18 pass attempts. Following the bowl game, BYU receiver Dylan Collie said he believed Wilson would be, “one of, if not the greatest quarterback in BYU history.”

Becoming the highest draft pick in BYU history currently helps Wilson’s case among the BYU greats, as he looks to become the latest in a long line of Cougar quarterbacks, including McMahon, Steve Young and Ty Detmer, to carve out a successful NFL career.

The NFL Draft continues on Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1, with several Cougars expected to be taken in the last six rounds. Offensive lineman Brady Christensen will likely be the next BYU player taken after Wilson, projected to go in the second or third round on Friday. Wide receiver Dax Milne, defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga and tight end Matt Bushman look to be the final Cougars taken on Saturday.

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