The Jets already had done much of the legwork on Zach Wilson and had a good feeling for the young quarterback.
They pored over game film from his BYU career, thoroughly impressed by how he emerged as a junior. They talked to his coaches and people who knew him well. They had Zoom meetings with Wilson to get to know him and how he’s wired.
The Jets were leaning toward taking Wilson with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Then general manager Joe Douglas, new head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur made the trip to Provo, Utah, for Wilson’s pro day in late March.
Wilson impressed them with his throws. His arm strength, accuracy and ability to throw on the move assured the Jets that he was the right man to lead their team.
"The pro day really helped solidify the decision," Douglas said. "Ultimately, that pro day really, really cemented it."
The Jets went in believing Wilson was a good fit for the offense that LaFleur is bringing with him from San Francisco. BYU runs a lot of the principles of the wide-zone scheme, and Wilson excelled in it. He threw for 33 touchdowns and ran for 10 more last year.
At the pro day, Saleh saw the BYU receivers running some of the same routes from the system that LaFleur adopted from Kyle Shanahan. He also saw Wilson just dropping it in there no matter where he was on the field or which way his body was turned. It clinched the Jets’ decision.
"You can see him making all those throws," Saleh said. "You can see the deep-bench routes to the sideline, you can see the over-the-middle throws, you can see the boots, the play-action pass game, you can see all of it.
"During his pro day, they ran a lot of the routes that we run. He made all those throws, so you can see him have success in our system. There’s going to be some carryover."
The Jets truly believed that or they wouldn’t have traded Sam Darnold to Carolina 10 days after Wilson’s pro day. They’re trusting the 21-year-old from Utah to do what Darnold and so many others before him couldn’t — make the Jets a perennial winner.
But it wasn’t just Wilson’s physical tools. The Zoom meetings with LaFleur, passing game specialist Greg Knapp and quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese also were significant factors in choosing Wilson over Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota’s Trey Lance, other quarterbacks who went high in the first round.
"A big part of it was watching his tape with him and detailing and outlining all the intricate details of his offense in that specific play," Douglas said. "Zach really stood out with his recall, his focus, his intensity, his passion. It all stood out."
The Jets have been down this road before with quarterbacks who had all the tools to become stars — or so they thought.
Mark Sanchez never lived up to the hype after being drafted with the No. 5 pick out of USC in 2009. Darnold, another USC product, also proved to be a disappointment after the Jets took him third in 2018. There were numerous others before them.
Wilson comes from a school that isn’t a national power, and that raised some pre-draft doubts about him. That only motivates him.
He has a "prove them wrong" mentality and wants to show the Jets were right in trusting him to be their quarterback.
Wilson plans to be the same person he was at BYU, the one who grew into being a leader and one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
"When I got there my freshman year, I was all about grinding as hard as I could," Wilson said. "Me, working on me all the time. Then junior year, I figured out how important it is to elevate those guys around you and to build emotional connections with those guys and push them to be something special.
"Once I get in that locker room, I get to really know these guys, I really get to show them I’m giving them my all, that’s where leadership starts to build. They know that this kid’s dedicated, he’s going to give everything he has. That’s where it starts to grow together because we’re all generally here to win some football games."