An in-depth analysis of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
The Philadelphia Eagles entered the 2016 offseason at an impasse; draft the franchise’s prospective quarterback of the future, or hand the keys to Sam Bradford in the interim and keep an eye on 2017 and beyond. Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman and company opted for the former, and effectively liquidated every expendable asset in order to make the leap from the No. 13 overall pick to No. 2 and select North Dakota States’ Carson Wentz.
Having yet to as much as partake in a rookie minicamp, the jury will long be out on Wentz’s future prospects. However, that obviously doesn’t preclude us from taking a stab at reviewing his NDSU tape, interviews, and all other available information to better understand what kind of player Carson Wentz is. I’ve long been waiting to publish my thoughts on Wentz and he’s about as divisive a prospect as I’ve evaluated.
We’ll begin with the intangibles. While Wentz’s on-field mental prowess prove a more complex eval, there’s no denying his off-field presence. It’s hard to find a friend, teammate, coach, teacher, and really anyone who Wentz has ever came in contact with, that doesn’t speak glowingly about him. In learning the details of his background, it’s easy to understand why. Carson Wentz is a guy who endears himself to everyone he meets. He’s a guy who won’t be out-worked, but most importantly, and by all accounts, he’s a leader with a special aura about him.
By now, you’ve likely heard all the stories; his 4.0 GPA, the fact that he’s never received a B in his life, and his competitive spirit. But for me, it was the interview process that affirmed to me this purported “aura” that surrounds Wentz. He’s genuine, and he says all the right things. He’s humble, but has a fiery competitive spirit that makes you believe he can succeed at the next level. Wentz is very much an alpha-male personality behind the corny, religious, mid-western boy exterior. I have very few questions about Carson Wentz fitting into the locker room culture, given his work ethic and overall disposition. He’ll quickly make allies within the Novacare complex.
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Though it doesn’t qualify as an off-field intangible, Wentz has ice running through his veins late in games. Watching his comeback against UNI in crunch-time was a thing of beauty. However, what doesn’t get talked about nearly as much is his game-winning drive in 2014 against South Dakota State. Play after play Wentz made throws only to see his teammates drop pass after pass. Still, Wentz looked unfazed as he marched down the field for the game winning score, making throw after throw and willing his team to a crucial victory. Coolness under pressure isn’t a learned trait, it’s inherent, and Wentz has it.
On the field, few other prospects have the freedom that Wentz enjoyed pre-snap. He constantly and consistently called protections, audibled, adjusted counts and made many other notable adjustments at the line, and was regularly successful in doing so. Effectively executing these responsibilities in a pro-style offense should serve as evidence enough to quell questions regarding Wentz’s ability to read NFL defenses pre-snap, and digest Pederson’s playbook. Odds are you’ve heard much of this before, so I’ll refrain from digging deeper. You get the point.
As for Wentz’s physical aspects, Carson Wentz is about as mechanically proficient a passer as one could hope for from a throwers perspective. When things are crisp and clean, which is the majority of the time, Wentz has a very natural delivery, in which he displays quick-twitch ability and top-tier arm speed. Some have opined that Wentz should add some weight to his frame, but I’d caution against this for a few reasons; one being that his arm speed could potentially suffer. Arm speed, in short, is what more or less dictates the velocity at which a passer throws. Wentz threw the ball 57mph at the combine. For him to accomplish this, his arm had to be moving at, you guessed it, 57mph, hence the term “arm speed.”
Typically, when a thrower gets too bulky, it tightens them up and compromises flexibility (in this case, arm-flexion). It’s Wentz’s arm-flexion and quick-twitch muscle fibers that allow for his arm-speed to really shine through. Moreover, Wentz’s natural arm-speed is part of what makes him special as a passer. His rhythm/timing isn’t always perfect, so sometimes he gets away with throws that he shouldn’t. A tigers rarely change its stripes, so it’s safe to say that Wentz will probably never have Tom Brady‘s rhythm and timing; so maintaining his physical gifts is prudent.
Wentz’s 57mph might not have been the highest at the scouting combine, but his quick release creates a ton of hidden velocity on his throws. Simply put, every wasted motion in a passer’s arm circle burns valuable time. To elaborate on that a bit, consider a quarterback to be, in some ways, not unlike a catcher. A catcher doesn’t reach back when they throw down to second base, they pull the ball out of the top of their glove, bring it to their ear, and get it to the bag as quickly as possible. This process is called “pop-to-pop” (measuring the amount of time that elapses from when the pitch pops the catcher’s glove, to the time that the catcher’s throw pops the infielder’s glove). This is the way that we should consider measuring a QB’s velocity; the time elapsed from when the QB makes his read, to when he breaks his hands, gets the ball out, and gets it into receiver’s hands, not pure velocity. After all, operating within the structure of a play is paramount in a league where already small windows close incredibly quickly. No QB will consistently be able to get away with wasting valuable steps on a regular basis; every wasted moment is another opportunity for defenders to gain ground.
Now, Wentz’s arm talent affords him abilities that other less physically gifted quarterbacks can’t possibly replicate. He can toss the ball effortlessly without over exaggerating his arm-circle. Throwing the ball on the run down the field and into tight windows is also well within his reach. He can also drive the ball deep from unideal platforms, maintaining velocity despite an unbalanced base. Being an effortless thrower has a ton of advantages. One thing I noticed when skipping between Wentz’s 2014 and 2015 tape was that he was much less robotic in his delivery this past season, resulting in more natural, repeatable mechanics. There are a number of basic steps involved in the throwing process, and in Wentz’s first season he was more 1—–2—–3 than 1-2-3 (resulting in a more rigid throwing motion). That wasn’t an issue in his senior season.
As previously mentioned, Wentz has quick-twitch ability, something that is particularly rare in a 6’5″ 237lb quarterback. Though he doesn’t always take advantage of it in terms of pocket maneuverability and footwork, he does possess that innate capacity. This is yet another reason why Wentz’s ceiling is perceived as being so high by coaches and front offices across the league. You simply can’t teach these inherent physical abilities; even if they aren’t always directly observable, they’re still there.
Wentz’s pocket presence and maneuverability need work, but you’ll frequently see him escaping the pocket and extending plays outside of the structure. He’s also proficient throwing on the run, as he possesses the athleticism and body awareness to pull the ball up, square his hips/shoulders, and make a mechanically effective throw. In addition to this, he possesses the speed and agility to be a threat on the read-option, as well as QB-draws. If teams don’t respect Wentz’s ability to pick up yards on the ground, he’ll make them pay (albeit not in 70-yard chunks like a Michael Vick or Marcus Mariota).
When throwing with a strong base, Wentz displays the ability to appropriately transfer his weight and drive the ball through his target. It’s touch and go, but Wentz has touch on his deep balls and can make bucket-throws. He isn’t as adept at making the occasional finesse throw inbetween the underneath and over the top defenders in the short and intermediate game like I’d prefer, but that’ll be something to work on with the Eagles staff. He can go through pro-progressions and hit any throw in the book: yet another invaluable tool for an NFL QB.
I find myself torn on Wentz’s eval because of some of the apparent weaknesses to his game. I’m not sure that any one weakness is a complete death knell, but they do make me wonder about his overall potential. After all, this is a gargantuan move for the Eagles, and if it fails miserably the franchise will really suffer. Keeping that in mind, I find it incredibly difficult to be dismissive of Wentz’s shortcomings, some of which I find to be potentially serious issues at the NFL level. Wentz’s physical talent gives him high potential, but whether or not he reaches it is entirely contingent on his ability to overcome his current flaws.
Easily my biggest issue with Wentz’s game lies in his ability to read a defense. Yes, Wentz understands coverages, protections, et cetera, but understanding what to do pre-snap and then quickly and efficiently going through progressions is another ability all together.
To be clear, this isn’t to say that Wentz is unable to read a defense. There are certainly instances where Wentz goes through his progressions and delivers a crisp ball, on time and in stride. However, there are far too many lapses to call it a consistent strength of his. Instead, it’s his biggest weakness as he tries to make the leap to the NFL. There exist many instances where Wentz stops moving his feet, stares down his receiver and throws the ball from an awkward angle or right into coverage. Many times, this completely mitigates Wentz’s ability to deliver the football with fundamentally sound mechanics, which is really a shame because his mechanics can be very good otherwise. But when you cement your feet in one direction and try to throw in another, it’s virtually impossible to get square to the target and get the appropriate velocity on the ball.
Footwork aside, there are times where Wentz simply stares down his target. More damning is that despite doing this, more times than not his timing is still poor. There are a number of comeback routes where he’s late getting the ball off and the defender has ample time to close on the play. Wentz still completes the pass the majority of the time due to his velocity, but he makes it unnecessarily close: something that won’t fly at the next level.
As previously mentioned, Wentz has all the tools to extend plays, but he doesn’t always make the most of his opportunities. There are times where Wentz escapes the pocket and runs around forever only to be sacked. Those are plays where Wentz should be finding a viable target at least some of the time, and if not, he should be throwing away the football. Instead, he absorbs needless sacks. I can honestly say I don’t recall more than a time or two where Wentz throws the ball away and lives to fight another day. He’s not incredibly smart on the fly, and I don’t know how much that will improve with time.
Wentz also doesn’t do a very good job in the pocket. He’s very quick to scrap a play and break the pocket at the first hint of pressure, rather than navigate the pocket and step up to make a throw. Now, he’s not awful in this regard, but many of the league’s top quarterbacks are extremely gifted in this regard, and Wentz is simply not. Directly related to this inability is Wentz feel for pressure. While certainly not a weakness, as I just said, he is quick to escape pressure, he doesn’t have a sixth-sense ala Tony Romo, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, et cetera. He feels the pressure but he isn’t great under pressure, nor does he escape it in an effective manner. That’s a problem.
Wentz is uber talented, and has every physical trait needed to be highly successful at the NFL level, although he often displays attributes that counteract his tangible gifts. In some ways, I doubt Wentz’s attainable potential, but there’s something about his preparation and demeanor that makes me very hesitant to bet against him. He will have arguably one of the best staffs in the NFL at his disposal in order to reach his potential. I certainly don’t think Wentz will be bad by any stretch, though. I can see a situation where he fails miserably, but a lot would have to go wrong for that to come to fruition. Ultimately, I’d say Wentz becomes a solid starter for the birds (think top 12-15 area), with the natural ability to ascend higher. I’m extremely interested to see how he progresses under Pederson and his staff.