Zach Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Tom Brady? Talent evaluators have some pretty interesting comparisons ahead of the NFL Draft.
Thursday night at 8:15 p.m., the Jacksonville Jaguars and new head coach Urban Meyer will have their quarterback, officially, when they choose the prize of this year’s NFL Draft class, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, but they won’t be the only franchise to come away with a difference-maker at the most important position in sports.
While the consensus inside and out of the league is that Lawrence is a generational prospect, when Zach Wilson holds up a Jets jersey and hugs NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, general manager Joe Douglas will be adding a passer who some believe will remind Gang Green of a quarterback who has terrorized the league for over two decades.
Brady is the greatest quarterback to play the game, and might be the best ever at manipulating the pocket, a skill that 2000 NFL Executive of The Year Randy Mueller believes Wilson has in spades.
“Right now, I think Zach Wilson is [the closest to Brady at manipulating the pocket],” Mueller said, during an appearance on FanSided’s The Matt Lombardo Show podcast. “He can evade rushers. He can reset his feet. THe crazy thing about him is, he doesn’t need to have his legs set underneath him to make throws. That’s why the comparison to Mahomes, Favre, those kind of guys, because they don’t have to have their feet set under them to still make all the throws. For me, that’s what makes Zach Wilson a little bit of a different cat.”
Wilson cemented his status as the No. 2 quarterback in this class following a strong pro day that came on the heels of a 3,692-yard junior season that saw him toss 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
While Lawrence is the closest thing to a finished product to emerge in this year’s class, he has had the luxury to operate from a clean-pocket at all times at Clemson while throwing to the likes of Tee Higgins, Hunter Renfrow, and others.
Meanwhile, Wilson’s time at BYU might be a more accurate barometer of the pressure he’s bound to feel in the NFL.
Lawrence will grab the headlines, and the Jaguars should be thrilled to have him as the face of the franchise. But, the Jets should feel plenty optimistic about dropping Wilson into an offense that now includes receivers Corey Davis and Denzel Mims behind an offensive line anchored by franchise tackle Mekhi Becton.
“The best part of Wilson’s game,” an NFC offensive coach tells FanSided. “Is the fact that he throws off platform exceptionally well.”
NFL Draft insight
This year, I only wrote one full first-round NFL Mock Draft projection, and it went live Tuesday on FanSided. You can read it here.
Inside, you’ll find various insight I’ve gathered from conversations with league sources in the past several weeks leading up to the first-round getting underway Thursday night in Cleveland.
Here are some of those nuggets, and additional insight learned in recent days:
- Gregory Rousseau sliding? There is starting to be a feeling inside the league that the Miami pass rusher could slide, some sources believe all the way out of Round 1. Several teams have real concern about his lack of experience, and the uncertainty over what kind of player he is after opting out in 2020 are weighing down his draft stock. Meanwhile, Rousseau’s teammate, Jaelen Phillips, is viewed by many as an immediate impact player. Look for him to be chosen earlier than most anticipate.
- Ja’Marr Chase is the prize of the receiver class: Not exactly covering new ground, but one NFC offensive coach picking in the top-10 tells me he believes Chase “has the chance to be truly special,” and various evaluators suggest he will be a far-better pro receiver than fellow LSU alum Justin Jefferson. Chase will likely be the first player not named Kyle Pitts, and not a quarterback, who is chosen. One current head coach believes if he makes to the Bengals at No. 5, he’ll fall no further, because quarterback Joe Burrow is “pounding the table” for him.
- Jayson Oweh’s stock is surging … Watch for the Indianapolis Colts: The Penn State edge rusher, who has played football for only five seasons and did not produce a sack in 2020 ranks higher inside the league than among the evaluations of media and fans. Teams see his athletic potential (4.36 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5 and 257 pounds, 39.5 inch vertical, 11-feet-2 inch broad jump). Oweh also has several fans in the Colts’ personnel department, and unless they choose an offensive tackle such as Notre Dame’s Luke Eichenberg, the Penn State edge rusher is very much in play.
- Eagles eyeing perimeter help: The Eagles added optionality for this year and next by moving back from No. 6 to No. 12. There has been a lot of talk about GM Howie Roseman moving back to the top of the board, especially if at least one of the receivers makes it past the Detroit Lions at No. 7, but don’t rule out a cornerback. Jaycee Horn makes a lot of sense in a secondary that must face Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Kenny Golladay, and Terry McLaurin twice each per season. Of Horn, an AFC scouting director tells me “[He] is a legitimate stud in the making.”
- Expect fewer trades than in past years: Talking to executives, the feeling is that the trades that are going to be made in this year’s draft, with this year’s class in mind, have already been made … Save for a team trying to move up into the top-10 to nab the quarterback of their liking who falls past the 49ers. Multiple GMs seem to prefer adding assets for the 2022 NFL Draft, when the presumption is players won’t have opted out, there will be more recent film, and more reliable medical information on the top prospects. My sense from league conversations is that teams are going to be looking to move OUT of selections, and thus the market might be more difficult than in past years, leading to fewer deals actually coming to fruition.
“I do believe I think I have an influence in it,” Murray said. “I don’t know why I wouldn’t. I think if you’ve got a guy at quarterback, you trust him and you want him to be the face of the franchise for a lot of years, I think he should have an influence. Everything is technically built around the quarterback. I think I have that relationship with Steve and Kliff. I’m excited to see what we do on Thursday.”
– Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray on whether he has influence over the team’s NFL Draft decisions, via Pro Football Talk.
Murray is undoubtedly the Cardinals’ franchise quarterback and Arizona has certainly gone to great lengths to build around him in recent offseasons; drafting wide receiver Christian Kirk, trading for All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, and this offseason signing James Conner.
However, the jury might not be out on Murray’s athleticism and the Cardinals’ short-term commitment to him, but he might be a bit ambitious if he believes that he has done enough to merit a voice over the direction the organization takes in the NFL Draft.
Unlike Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes, Murray has never won a Super Bowl. He hasn’t even finished above .500 in either of his first two seasons.
The Cardinals are slated to pick 16th in the first-round on Thursday night, so it is entirely possible that if Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater is still on the board or Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw is available that general manager Steve Keim might invest in keeping Murray upright.
However, following the departure of veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson via free agency, Northwestern defensive back Greg Newsome II or Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley make much more sense, as do any of the highest-rated edge rushers that might fall into the Cardinals’ lap.
Murray might believe that he’s in the company of Brady, Mahomes, but even Russell Wilson obviously doesn’t exert that kind of influence over the Seattle Seahawks that Murray hopes or portends to over the Cardinals.
But, to be fair, whether it is beefing up the offensive line, adding secondary help, or a difference-maker on the front-seven, Murray is the big-winner here as the Cardinals continue to build out a roster around the third-year quarterback and his high-flying weapons that hopes to crack the postseason for the first time in 2021.
Could full stadiums be on the horizon in September?
The reality here is that in a lot of ways, how we watch football this fall are in the hands … or more aptly the arms … of the fans themselves.
Tuesday, the CDC updated its guidelines so say that people who are vaccinated no longer need to wear masks outdoors … Except in public settings.
As this country continues to ramp up its vaccination efforts, with 42.9 percent of Americans now having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 29.2 percent of the population fully vaccinated, there is a very real chance that we are living what very much more closely resembles a “normal” life come September.
The daily rolling average of vaccines distributed currently sits at 2.95 million, up sharply from just 813,000 per day on January 19, putting the finish line of this pandemic in sight and in the hands of the people.
So far, the NFL has done a wonderful job expanding access to vaccines, administering over one million doses … as of March, while advocating along with other leagues for fans to get vaccinated.
So long as people continue to wear masks now and get the vaccine as soon as possible now that every American is eligible to, Labor Day weekend might see the return of the packed stadiums and frenzied crowds, masked or otherwise, that make the NFL such a spectacle.
Matt Lombardo is the site expert for GMenHQ, and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday for FanSided. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL