For the NFL teams not advancing to the Divisional Round of the playoffs, it’s officially draft season. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson skyrocketed up draft boards all across the football landscape this season thanks to his immense talent mixed with other-worldly production. Some pundits have him as the top quarterback prospect after Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. For others, Justin Fields of Ohio State gets that nod but Wilson is not too far behind, everywhere you look.
Either way, it is clear Wilson is a coveted asset at quarterback in this draft and he should be selected somewhere in the first round, barring some drastic change between now and late April.
While it would be exciting for Wilson to be selected high in the first round especially for his financial prospects, perhaps even at No. 2 to the New York Jets, some landing spots are better than others. For his future success on the field, it might even be better if he fell a few slots to teams below the Jets who are better-suited to Wilson’s skillset and has tools around him to create a successful environment. Teams like the Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars are not places, historically, that breed successful environments for young quarterbacks.
For what it’s worth, in this scenario, the Dallas Cowboys would be an ideal landing spot but most believe Dak Prescott will return. Kirk Cousins is under contract in Minnesota until after the 2022 season, so the Vikings may not be keen on drafting a future quarterback so high.
Let’s dive into the top five destinations that Zach Wilson could realistically land. This will strictly cover teams that are drafting at least in the top 20 of the first round that may be looking for a quarterback. The criteria for an optimal landing spot is a steady, competent coaching staff and some good pieces around him such as quality receivers and solid offensive linemen to protect the signal caller.
5. Washington Football Team (Pick No. 19)
As far as competent coaching staffs go, Washington head coach Ron Rivera is as competent and likeable a man as you will find in the NFL. He built a previously 2-14 Panthers team in 2010 to a 12-win, perennial playoff contender in his third season. There is little reason to think he won’t do the same in D.C. The WFT also has one of the most productive and underrated receivers in the NFL in Terry McLaurin, who has over 2,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league, all while having six different quarterbacks throw to him in that time.
Antonio Gibson is a weapon at running back, totaling over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. He is just as much of a threat running the ball as he is catching it out of the backfield. The quarterback-turned-tight-end Logan Thomas is turning into a solid third option for Washington.
Wilson would have solid, young weapons at his disposal. Pro Football Focus ranked Washington’s offensive line as the sixth-best in football and only Brandon Scherff is set to leave before next season. Wilson would have good protection and enough time to distribute the ball to quality players. Washington ranked 30th in the NFL in total offense, so Wilson would have his work cut out for him, but with the weapons he would have and the quality coaching staff behind him, this could be a quick turnaround.
Plus, playing in a division where this same Washington team won the 2020 crown at 7-9 isn’t a bad place to start either. The only debate here is whether or not Wilson would drop to pick No. 19 and fall into the Football Team’s lap.
4. New England Patriots, (Pick No. 15)
For the better part of two decades, no organization in the NFL, nay in sports, was as consistent as the Patriots under Tom Brady. Now, they are one season removed from the Brady era and they look to still be in search for his successor after a failed year with Cam Newton. How cool would it be for Wilson to get a shot in Foxborough? The coaching staff is as decorated as it gets, with head coach Bill Belichick boasting six Super Bowl rings along with his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, being there for every one of them.
Outside of the mystique of the Patriots with their recent dynasty and their all-time great coach still roaming the sidelines, there isn’t much there as far as on-field weapons for Wilson. Jakobi Meyers was the leading receiver in 2020 with an underwhelming 729 yards after going undrafted in 2019. Former first round pick N’Keal Harry has played in just 21 games in two years with less than 500 total yards to his name.
At running back, James White looks to have played his last snap in New England after being part of three of the championship runs. Damien Harris and Sony Michel will shoulder the load in the backfield. Rob Gronkowski isn’t walking through that door at tight end. The Patriots ranked 27th in total offense and lacked explosiveness.
Where the appeal comes in is that New England’s offensive line ranked as the fourth-best unit in the NFL. Wilson would have a Hall of Fame head coach and one of the best offensive lines in football, with the unmatched tradition of winning championships. That would be an ideal place to try and build a successful career for Wilson.
3. Atlanta Falcons, (Pick No. 4)
The first thing that comes to mind is that the Falcons already have a quarterback, a former MVP even, in Matt Ryan. He is under contract through the 2023 season but there is a possible out after this coming season, meaning Wilson may only have to sit behind Ryan for year, or maybe less if Ryan struggles. One glaring hole in Atlanta’s resume is the lack of a head coach as Dann Quinn was let go and the Falcons are still searching for their next head man. That is not an ideal situation, unless they hire someone with a reputation for boosting young quarterbacks.
Dirk Koetter is currently the offensive coordinator but there is no guarantee the new head coach would retain him. Under Koetter, the Falcons were fifth in the league in total offense in 2019.
As far as weapons, few teams boast the arsenal that Atlanta has. Of course, it starts with seven-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones at receiver. However, in 2020, it was Calvin Ridley that exploded on the scene with over 1,300 receiving yards. These two are one of the most talented receiver duos in the sport.
Todd Gurley was the main running back for the Falcons this past season but his contract expires and he may not return. If he does, Wilson will have a former AP Offensive Player of the Year at his disposal.
Hayden Hurst is a solid tight end, with 571 yards and six touchdowns in 2020.
While the coaching staff may be in flux, the Falcons offer up one of the best weaponries among any team that would select a quarterback early in this upcoming draft. With this roster and also playing over half of his games indoors, as well as learning from Matt Ryan, Wilson could thrive in a Falcons uniform.
2. Carolina Panthers, (Pick No. 8)
Matt Rhule will enter his second year in Carolina in 2021 after taking on the rebuild project. Carolina is a good fit for Wilson, not because of his possible head coach, but that Joe Brady is the offensive coordinator. Brady was the passing game coordinator for the 2019 LSU Tigers team that steamrolled everyone to the College Football Playoff National Title with Joe Burrow. Part of the Heisman-winning quarterback’s astronomic ascent was due to Brady’s tutelage and scheme. Imagine what he could do with Wilson, who experienced a similar one-year explosion.
The Panthers ranked 21st in total offense this year but Brady put veteran Teddy Bridgewater in a position to succeed most of the time, with limited options and a mediocre defense.
Wilson would have more weapons in Carolina than in New England, with D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson each having 1,000-yard receiving seasons, both of whom are set to return in 2021. No other team on this list has nearly the production at receiver from 2020 than Carolina.
Oh, and then there’s this guy named Christian McCaffrey at running back. He is under contract for possibly five more seasons with the Panthers. It would be a luxury to have an All-Pro at Wilson’s disposal. Plus, the offensive line was towards the middle of the pack at 18th per Pro Football Focus and was largely not a liability.
With two 1,000-yard receivers, one of the most dynamic running backs in the entire league, along with a trusted offensive coach leading the way, Carolina seems like a very ideal spot for Wilson to become the NFL product many think he can be.
1. San Francisco 49ers (Pick No. 12)
There is no better possible landing spot for the former Cougar quarterback than the 49ers. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the most respected and brilliant offensive minds in the game today. They ranked 15th in total offense in 2020 despite playing with three different quarterbacks and being absolutely decimated by injuries across the board.
Jimmy Garoppolo is under contract for two more seasons but there are rumors that San Francisco wants to cut ties with Jimmy G. His inability to stay healthy along with his inconsistencies on the field leave much to be desired. There are plenty of rumors floating around that the 49ers are extremely interested in Wilson’s services.
It would be very fitting for Wilson to land with the same organization that housed the last great NFL quarterback to come out of BYU in Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young.
It doesn’t stop at just the brilliant offensive coaching staff and BYU football pedigree, as San Francisco has weapons aplenty for Wilson to enjoy. George Kittle is one of the two best tight ends in football. He was injured most of 2020 but between 2018 and 2019 he was selected for the Pro Bowl each of those seasons, named All-Pro in 2019 and combined for 2,430 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Deebo Samuel is one of the most versatile receivers in the NFL, so long as he is healthy. In 2019, he caught passes for 802 yards but also rushed for three touchdowns, nearly eclipsing 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
Brandon Aiyuk became one of the most solid offensive players from the 2020 draft class and filled in nicely for Samuel in his absence, with over 800 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns.
Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson also are a big threat in the run game and out of the backfield. Pro Football Focus ranked San Francisco’s offensive line at No. 9.
Shanahan and his staff made Garoppolo and his replacements look better than they actually are. With a player like Wilson, they could take it to a whole new level.
Wilson would not be short on weapons nor instruction with the 49ers organization. San Francisco may just be missing a quarterback of Wilson’s repertoire for another Super Bowl run.