football

From BYU to NYC – Zach Wilson is Prepared For the Spotlight

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

The first superstar I worked with was Steve Young, a terrific high school quarterback at Greenwich High (Ct.) and BYU. He was smart, athletically gifted and handsome – a can’t miss kid who almost missed.

 He shocked the world by signing with the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League. He wasn’t merely criticized for snubbing the NFL, he was vilified. He flopped in Tampa Bay and rode the bench in San Francisco until succeeding Joe Montana as the 49ers quarterback, which again brought its share of scorn.

He never flinched.

“Playing at BYU helped me for the rest of my life, because it is such a unique place,” Young told me years later, after he had bombed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was traded to San Francisco where he sat behind Joe Montana, eventually replacing the greatest quarterback in 49ers history, a changing of the guard that again made him the villain in the eyes of many.

“It’s more than a university and a football program and you’re more than a player. You’re part of a worldwide community. I wouldn’t call it pressure because you understand you’re part of something so much bigger than yourself. It prepares you for life on and off the field.”

That gives you an idea of why BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, from Draper, Utah, population less than 50,000, might be ready to handle the pressures that come with being a quarterback in the Big Apple, population almost 20 times that of Draper.

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

Timeout. Did Wilson just come as close as possible to anointing himself the Jets savior? Did he just declare himself to be a good quarterback and a good leader?

The young man already has the looks to land more than a few endorsements, with those ocean-blue eyes and light sandy-brown hair coiffed in a style that a surfer might want to jump a wave. Aaron Rodgers is “his guy,” and Jets fans can only hope he’s so successful that if in a decade Wilson says he doesn’t want to return to New York the subways stop running and Wall Street stops trading.

“Love the confidence, love the energy, love the passion,” said Jets GM Joe Douglas. “One of the things that really stood out was just his intensity. He sat on the edge of his seat. He was close to the camera. You could tell how intense and focused he was. The mental horsepower … was just really impressive.”

Impressive enough that the Jets made him the second quarterback taken after Trevor Lawrence and before Trey Lance (No.3 to San Fran), Justin Fields (No. 11 to Chicago) and Mac Jones (No. 15 to New England). He certainly appears to be the most confident, bordering on cocky, of the group.

“When a team isn’t doing super well and you can go in there and actually be a key piece to where it flips that organization around, that’s so special,” he said. “I’m so excited — me, along with this new coaching staff as well — to go in there and flip this thing around.”

To help him do that, the Jets traded up from No. 23 to No. 14 with Minnesota to take USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. The hope is that Vera-Tucker and last year’s No.1 pick, Mekhi Becton give Wilson thee blindside protection that former QB Sam Darnold never enjoyed.

The Giants traded down with the Bears to No.20 and took Florida playmaker Kadarius Toney. Along with Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram and a healthy Saquon Barkley, quarterback Daniel Jones has plenty of options.

But the 2021 draft for New York football fans was about Wilson. If he becomes the franchise quarterback the Jets have been seeking since a cocky guy named Joe Namath led them to their only Super Bowl victory, it won’t matter if he worse stats than any of the other QBs, especially Jones, who might fill the void created when Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay.

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“I’ve heard from multiple sources how talented this team is, but maybe the pieces didn’t align,” said Wilson, who needs better sources. “I’m so excited to get in there and figure out what we can do to make it better.”

DRAFT WINNERS

Baltimore Ravens – Traded tackle Orlando Brown to KC for the 31st pick to go along with their own pick at No.27. They used those picks on Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman, who we had right behind the Big Three of Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DaVonta Smith, and Penn State edge Jayson Oweh, one of the best athletes in the draft.

Chicago Bears – When you’re quarterback room is comprised of Andy Dalton and Nick Foles and you move up to take the player many believe is the second-beat QB in the draft, Justin Fields, you win.

Miami Dolphins – Brian Flores keeps adding playmakers. Waddle has drawn comparisons to Tyreek Hill. DE Jaelan Phillips was our favorite defensive player in the draft. He could be the next Jason Taylor.

Minnesota Vikings – They had Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw as thee player they might have taken at No.14. They acquired two third-round picks from the Jets to slide down to No.23. And still got Darrisaw.

Cornerbacks – Jaycee Horn went No. 8 (Panthers), Patrick Surtain II went No.9 (Broncos), Caleb Fairley went No.22 (Titans), Greg Newsome II went No. 26 (Browns) and Eric Stokes went No.29 (Packers). This just in: It’s a passing league. A team better have great DBs. Five went in the first round.

DRAFT LOSERS

Las Vegas Raiders – The tore apart one of their strengths, the O-Line, only to use the No.17 pick on Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood, who almost could have been had in the second round. At worst, the Raiders could have traded down, acquired assets and still gotten Leatherwood. At least they didn’t take another speedy wide receiver.

New Orleans Saints – With a real need for a WR to complement Michael Thomas, the Saints went with Houston DT Payton Turner, who like Leatherwood could have been had in Round 2. And there are a bevy of quality DTs still on the board.

UNDECIDED – We had 25 of the 32 players taken in the first round in our final mock draft. Here comes summer school.

SECOND ROUND PLAYERS WE LOVE

Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama – The Tide has gotten a reputation, rightly so, of being Wide Receiver U. Ever notice how many dominating DTs there are in the league?

Carlos Basham Jr, DEE, Wake Forest – With all due respect to those five CBs, the best pass defense is a great pass rush.

Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue – No position has become more valued in the pass-first NFL than slot receiver.

Ronnie Perkins, LB/Edge, Oklahoma – We’re setting the over/under on personal foul penalties in his rookie season at a staggering five. Man does he play mean.

Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina – Now that the Jets have their QB and OG, a back with toughness and breakaway speed sure would be nice.

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