Skeptic to believer: Steve Young bullish on Zach Wilson, New York Jets

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Steve Young doesn't think the New York Jets are a quarterback graveyard anymore, which is why he believes former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson can flourish in Gotham.

"Look, I mean, if you asked me a year ago the bottom five places for a quarterback in the NFL, I would've picked the Jets as one of them," the Pro Football Hall of Famer said on ESPN's "Flight Deck" podcast. "But there have been significant changes."

Young said coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas are building an infrastructure that will allow a young quarterback to thrive. In a recent interview with a San Francisco radio station, Young didn't sound so upbeat about the Jets, hinting that Wilson might be better off with his old team, the San Francisco 49ers.

The former BYU quarterbacks have become close in recent years, although they didn't meet in person until last week at Young's charity golf tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona. In a recent conversation, Young -- who is also an ESPN NFL analyst -- told Wilson and his father that the Jets, who hold the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday's NFL draft in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN all), are on the upswing.

"I said to Zach and Mike, all the things that you could ask for to happen over the last four or five months, every move seems to be a real positive one to make that place a great place for a quarterback," said Young, who suspects Saleh -- a former San Francisco assistant -- will bring the 49ers' way to the Jets.

In the interview, Young touched on Wilson's potential and how he sees some of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes in his game. He also acknowledged that BYU's soft schedule -- no Power 5 opponents in 2020 -- creates a variable that makes Wilson a tougher evaluation than other top prospects. Young commended Douglas for an "incredible amount of due diligence" during the pre-draft process.

"My sense is where he really sold Joe Douglas was in those [Zoom] sessions, where they could put him under the gun and see his love and passion for all the aspects of the game," said Young, who first heard about Wilson through his old college teammate, Jim Hermann, a coach at Wilson's high school in Draper, Utah. "He's a baby-faced kind of kid, a 21-year-old, but he has a grit and toughness to him, especially mentally."

A few of the highlights from the Young interview:

On whether he believes Wilson is a lock at No. 2: "In the NFL draft, nothing is truly set until you put the name in, but short of some terrible review or something that comes out that changes the nature of what they've underwritten for Zach, it feels like there's no question he's their guy. They've had him locked in for quite a while.

"That's through a lot of rigor. Joe Douglas doesn't play the fool. The man is very intent. He's got rings on his fingers. He knows what he's looking for. He knows this is kind of a defining moment for him. I think he's done whatever he possibly can to vet this situation and it became pretty obvious to me that they've locked in on him."

On BYU's schedule: "It makes it hard. It's the greatest challenge that Joe Douglas had in trying to figure this out, because you want to see him play Texas or Alabama or Ohio State. You want to see him on a big stage. You have to interpolate it. That's the challenge of scouts and coaches. ... Can he really do it? You've watched the bodies thrown against the rocks through the years of people who thought they could and can't."

On Wilson's arm talent: "The way he throws is somewhat like Aaron Rodgers. ... And then his off-platform stuff we talk about a lot, it's really in many ways reminds me of Patrick Mahomes. I don't say these names because he's going to ... you still have to go do it. As far as what he's shown, those are the physical traits."

On the young QB's breakout 2020 season: "It's who he is and he got a chance to show it. The more he showed it, the more the rest of us were like, 'Holy crap, he does things you're not supposed to be able to do until you get in the NFL.' ... It was amazing what he put on tape. There were times I watched him and it was like, 'Is this kid for real? Can he really do these things?' He did it week after week."

On his ceiling: "Every generation has a handful of guys that define the position. He's set up to be one of those. Now, can he go get it? Can he go do it? There are a lot of filters and a lot of hurdles and a lot of things you have to go through to get there, but I think he's the No. 2 pick for the Jets because of what that looks like, because of his potential."