Why Jordan Palmer thinks former Utah QB Travis Wilson will catch 35 passes

Travis Wilson passed for 2,095 yards and accounted for 20 touchdowns during his senior season at Utah in 2015. Now he's playing tight end for the Rams. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES -- Jordan Palmer, the younger brother of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, has the same bet going with multiple people. Palmer is adamant in his belief that Travis Wilson, undrafted as a quarterback last year, will make at least 35 catches as a rookie tight end for the Los Angeles Rams this season. And if you want a piece of the action, just let him know.

He thinks it's easy money, even though the odds seem so heavily stacked against him.

You might remember Wilson as a four-year starter at Utah, where he played quarterback from 2012 to '15, and you might be wondering what he has been up to since. Well, Wilson basically sat out the 2016 calendar year. He spent a significant part of it earning $12 an hour at a surf shop in Laguna Beach and did his best to stay in shape. He was going to move to Australia and play quarterback for a startup league on the other side of the world, but the inaugural season was postponed.

It wasn't until late December that Wilson got with Palmer, who coaches collegiate quarterback prospects at Elite 11 and at that time was working with Deshaun Watson, the eventual No. 12 overall pick by the Houston Texans. Wilson's impatience had reached a point of desperation, so they met at a high school in Dana Point, California, and made a deal: Wilson would throw to Palmer for a half hour, then spend another half hour catching passes from Palmer.

Palmer knew "right away" that Wilson needed to make the switch to tight end.

At the end of their session, he asked Wilson the essential question: Do you want to play quarterback in the NFL, or do you simply want to play in the NFL?

"He said, 'I want to play in the NFL,' " Palmer recalled. "So I said, 'Great, I think you're going to make a team as a tight end.' And, actually now, I think he's going to be a big part of the Rams' offense."

Wilson was named an Elite 11 quarterback while starring for San Clemente High School in 2011. Palmer, who also lives in Southern California, knew him then. He was always impressed by Wilson's frame, now 6-foot-7 and 258 pounds. Then he remembered what an outstanding high-school volleyball player he was, a useful skill for tight ends because, as an outside hitter, Wilson always needed to spike the ball at its highest point.

"He's 6-6, 6-7, he weighs about 250, 255, and he's faster than DeShaun," Palmer said. "And I pulled up his highlight plays from college, of his run plays, and he likes contact. He likes to hit people."

Palmer, now 33, spent several years as a backup quarterback in the NFL and knows exactly what he wants out of his receivers. He boils it down to three skillsets, outside of the basic ability to make catches: that they can stop and start, that they can elevate and get the football, and that they have the body control to adjust. He saw all of that in his initial session with Wilson, and then, at the start of the New Year, they went about laying a foundation.

Wilson spent six weeks catching about 100 passes a day under Palmer's supervision. They trained six hours a day for six days a week, their time split between the classroom and the field.

The first three weeks were spent learning catch radius and understanding body control. Wilson would stand still and be thrown passes in every direction so that he could visualize which ones he could catch with two hands, which ones he could catch with one, and which ones he needed to tip to himself. He then learned how to change directions and carry momentum through a break without using his hands to propel him. Finally, specific route combinations were introduced.

Palmer approached Rams general manager Les Snead in late February, not long before all of the NFL's key decision-makers would convene in Indianapolis.

"Look," Palmer recalled telling Snead, "I'm going to the combine next week to tell everybody about Travis. So you can work him out now, or you can wait for me to tell everybody about him."

The Rams worked Wilson out and signed him on the spot. They eventually spent their first draft pick, at 44th overall, on a tight end named Gerald Everett, who is expected to split the targets at that position with second-year player Tyler Higbee. But nothing is certain. With the Redskins last year, Sean McVay got more out of his tight ends than anybody else. And now, with the Rams, the rookie head coach is open-minded about who will receive snaps for an offense that has finished last in the NFL in yards each of the last two seasons.

McVay believes Wilson has "some natural feel in the pass game" and also "a big catch radius." Wilson's biggest adjustment, McVay said, is "learning how to play in a stance, at the line of scrimmage, whether it be on or off the ball, moving around the formations. But I do think that the quarterback perspective gives you an advantage of knowing it from that standpoint."

"I definitely feel like I'm making big strides on where I started," Wilson, a professional tight end for less than half a year, said after a recent practice. "I knew kind of how to run routes and stuff, but I'm definitely now fine-tuning the technique of running routes, along with the blocking stuff. I never really had to block, so that's definitely still a big area I need to improve on. But I'm happy with the progress so far."

Outside of quarterbacks, tight ends have the thickest playbooks to learn. They have to know all the formations, all the shifts, all the motions, all the routes, all the hot routes, all the run plays and all the blocking assignments. Palmer believed Wilson would "learn the offense faster than anybody" on the Rams, including quarterbacks Jared Goff and Sean Mannion, because Palmer said he showed him how to do so from the ground up.

He took stock of McVay's history, scanned the Rams' uninspiring depth chart, considered Wilson's size and ability, and bet anybody who would dare that Wilson will come out of nowhere to catch 35 passes in 2017 -- 24 more than what Higbee caught in 16 games as a rookie in 2016.

"I'mma win those bets, too," Palmer said, without even a hint of laughter.

"I love Jared Goff and I love Sean Mannion, and I think I hooked both of them up with a great tight end."

They haven't thanked him yet.

"They will," Palmer said. "They will."