The SB Nation NFL team sites will be doing theme weeks all throughout the 2017 NFL season. This week’s theme is: “What do they get wrong about your team?”
I’ve actually been wanting to write about this topic for quite some time but I haven’t gotten around to doing it. So this works out nicely.
I’m here today to talk about Carson Wentz and just how polarizing he is. There’s a HUGE disconnect between Wentz’s supporters and his critics.
It’s safe to say Philadelphia Eagles fans are firmly behind the team’s starting quarterback. But there are outsiders who are lot more critical and skeptical of Wentz.
The “they” I’m referring to here is apparent if you’re on Twitter. It’s a number of football writers who regularly express their Wentz disdain. It’s Scott Kasczmar, or however the hell you spell his last name. It’s Cian Fahey, who is incredibly generous when it comes to using the block button (I’m speaking from personal experience). It’s Draft Twitter — a group of people who regularly write about college football prospects and seemed to be very biased against Wentz coming out of North Dakota.
These people would all have you believe Wentz isn’t very good and likely won’t get much better.
Scott Kashmir is the reason why we all mockingly talk about “AIR YARDS.” He heavily criticized Wentz’s 2016 performance while ignoring the fact the then-rookie quarterback had no legitimate NFL wide receivers to work with, especially when it came to the deep threats.
Fahey wrote an article this summer saying that Wentz is Blake Bortles.
An even greater issue is Wentz has shown nothing to suggest he’s a great quarterback. He’s done nothing to suggest he could become a great quarterback or even a good one for that matter. Wentz’s rookie season started relatively well as he executed a simple offense against defenses that lacked talent at every level, but from that point onwards he careened off course completely. [...] Sure, Wentz could get better. He might actually turn into the generational talent he’s often described as, but there’s no rational reason to expect him to.
A good example of Draft Twitter’s dislike for Wentz is how Emory Hunt of FootballGameplan ranked Wentz heading into the 2016 NFL Draft.
1 - Cardale Jones - Ohio State
2- Dalyn Williams - Dartmouth
3 - Trevone Boykin - TCU
4 - Cody Kessler - USC
5 - Jared Goff - California
6 - Jacoby Brissett - North Carolina State
7 - Vernon Adams Jr. - Oregon
8 - Dak Prescott - Mississippi State
9 - Connor Cook - Michigan State
10 - Vad Lee - James Madison
11 - Kyle Washington - Angelo State
12 - Carson Wentz - North Dakota State
13 - Paxton Lynch - Memphis
14 - John Robertson - Villanova
15 - Christian Hackenberg - Penn State
I’m not just picking on Emory here, who we had on our BGN Radio podcast in order to defend his Wentz takes. A number of other Draft Twitter people had Vernon Adams over Wentz in their 2016 quarterback rankings. Hence the “Vernon Adams — my number one QB” meme. Adams wasn’t even good enough to warrant time on a 90-man offseason roster. He’s now a backup quarterback in the CFL.
Now, obviously Eagles fans are probably going to disagree with these critical assessments of Wentz. The Wentz critics will say that the fans are just being biased.
So let’s take the fan element out of it and see what actual NFL people think about Wentz.
This is what a number of NFL scouts had to say about Wentz before he was even drafted:
"Prototypical," one scout said. "I see everything. Arm strength. Accuracy. Toughness. Athletic ability. Smart. Great kid." "He's a genius, Wentz is," said another scout with knowledge of Wentz's 40 on the Wonderlic. "He could be really good. He's the best runner, he's the best athlete. He is off the charts." Fifth-year senior from Bismarck, N.D., who didn't start a game until his fourth year. Finished with passer rating of 105.3. "He gets away with things in that league (Missouri Valley) that he wouldn't get away with in the SEC," a third scout said. "He tries to throw in tight windows. Even in the (FCS) title game he threw two picks. The guy he reminds me of is (Blake) Bortles. Everybody was so excited about Bortles because of the height and the athletic ability, and this guy has the same thing. At least Bortles played against big-time competition. At this point I just don't see where he's that accurate of a passer." Compared by that same scout to Ben Roethlisberger. "He's big, athletic and has a freaking cannon," a fourth scout said. "Level of competition is the only thing. I'd sit him for a year and a half, two years. Then I got a real starter. He'll be shoved into the fire too quickly and it may crush him."
ESPN’s 2017 QB rankings featured commentary from current NFL general mangers, executives, and coaches. Here’s what they said about Wentz based on his rookie season:
Wentz is the lowest-ranked player considered by voters to have an especially bright future, which is why he has nearly as many Tier 2 votes (11) as all the lower-ranked players combined (14) -- despite a rough finish to the 2017 season. Multiple voters thought he could threaten Tier 1 down the line.
"Wentz, I think, is a 2 and has a chance being a 1 this year," a GM said. "What I saw last year, he is exactly what you are looking for. Toughness, movement, arm, quickness, decisiveness, accuracy. I think he is, of all the young quarterbacks in the league, the pick of the litter."
An assistant coach from the NFC East also placed Wentz in the second tier.
"I know he was up and down in the second half of the season, but I think he has a chance to be really good -- really good," a defensive coordinator who faced Wentz as a rookie said. "He can run the ball, he can get himself out of trouble, he is agile. I thought he was pretty smart and pretty poised. He did a couple things against us where he got them in and out of some plays that hurt us a little bit. I respect a guy like that, and that is as a rookie. I think it's all in front of him."
A personnel director said he thought Wentz, like [Jameis] Winston, would take off once surrounded with a strong supporting cast. A former GM said he'd take Wentz over Prescott if given the choice, even though Prescott had much better numbers.
"I think he is capable of carrying a team more consistently than Dak is because the pocket is for him," this former GM said. "The pocket isn't for all these guys, and I like Dak Prescott. You have to respect what he did."
Former Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan said he thinks Wentz is the best young quarterback in the NFL.
"I’d probably go with Wentz, with the size, I like those guys," said McCloughan. "He reminds me of Roethlisberger, the big thick-boned guy that’s got the strong arm. He takes hits and it doesn’t affect him. Guys like Goff and those types of guys, they’re thinner, which makes you nervous just about durability.
"Everyone throws the ball so much nowadays. Everyone talks about sacks. It’s not so much sacks, it’s the knockdowns. A guy might get sacked three or four times, but knocked down 10 to 12. In the NFL, over a 16 game season and the playoffs, you take a beating. You need durability and you need that guy in there."
Wentz has drawn a lot of praise from his current teammates, who have compared him to Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb. Opponent teammates have had great things to say about Wentz as well. There’s no shortage of examples.
From Josh Norman and Donte Whitner, via ESPN:
"I said this before, and I'll say until they prove me wrong, but I say Dak Prescott and Carson are above and beyond their time at the quarterback position," Norman said. "They don't make rookie mistakes. You got to think about how many rookies who have come into the NFL and haven't matched up to what these guys have done in their first year. It's unbelievable to see this transition. They are going to be playing for a long time. If their rookie seasons are going to be like anything like their 12th season, it's going to be amazing."
"He's a young quarterback, but he has all the tools," Whitner said. "He's more athletic than people give him credit for. He and Dak are going to be the next wave of quarterbacks behind Andrew Luck and all the other young quarterbacks who have come on."
From a number of Kansas City Chiefs defenders, via The Athletic:
Outside linebacker Justin Houston: “I think he’s great. He’s going to be one of the great ones in the league. He’s very mobile, he’s calm in the pocket. It’s tough to rush a guy like that who’s really mobile in the pocket and can make the spin moves and get out of tackles.
Outside linebacker Dee Ford: “He’s a great young quarterback, he’s able to make plays with his legs, do a lot of things with his feet. He’s a great quarterback. … We call him a smaller Big Ben. Carson, man, he’s going to make his mark as a quarterback.”
Defensive tackle Chris Jones: “I mean, I knew he was a remarkable quarterback. He can run. He was very hard to bring down. He’s like a bigger Michael Vick and a smaller Ben Roethlisberger. We knew it was going to be a tough challenge, but we stayed within the schemes of the defense, utilized the schemes of the defense and just played with a lot of grit.
From a Super Bowl-winning head coach who’s considered to be one of the best in the NFL, Pete Carroll:
That inconsistency didn’t stop Seahawks coach Pete Carroll from praising Wentz a day after the Eagles lost a tough game in Seattle, 26-15.
“He’s going to be really good,” Carroll told Mike Salk and Brock Huard on his 710 ESPN radio show on Monday, noting that Wentz seemed like a veteran at times in the way he looked Seattle’s defenders off.
“He was looking off on the curl routes, moving the linebackers. That’s fantastic stuff for a guy to do,” Carroll said. “He did it on the touchdown play. … That’s really advanced stuff.”
Carroll was impressed that Wentz showed so much poise, especially considering how few games the former North Dakota quarterback played in college.
“He’s going to be a great player; there is no question,” Carroll said. “He’s got everything you need. He’s got great poise, he’s tough, he’s fast, he’s strong, and he’s got some sense already. … He did a great job. He really did.”
From former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator Mike Martz, via SB Nation:
Martz is especially high on Wentz.
"Wentz ran a pro-type offense at his school and was ahead of the curve in that respect. I've never seen any young quarterback work out like Wentz did in my time with him. I saw Peyton Manning work out coming out of college. Wentz was just ridiculous, the arm strength, the overall arm.”
I could include even more examples of Wentz receiving praise but I think you get the point.
Now, just because these people are in the NFL doesn’t mean they’re correct about their assessment of Wentz. But it DOES mean they’re likely more informed about Wentz than people who simply study tape and/or analyze stats.
And that’s where I think the big disconnect between NFL people and couch scouts comes in. I think it has everything to do with being able to evaluate Wentz beyond the tape. Getting to know him in person. Getting to see how he studies and prepares for games. Getting to evaluate his leadership skills.
Here’s a telling anecdote via SB Nation.
"I invited all of the quarterbacks during training camp to my box for a concert that was in our stadium, Sam, Carson, and Chase Daniel," [Eagles owner Jeffrey] Lurie said. "Carson didn't want to come. He graciously declined. He said he had done nothing in the NFL as yet and did not want his teammates to think he deserved such a privilege. He said he believed the veteran players wanted to see young quarterbacks working extra hard, not being treated in exceptional ways in the owner's box. I respected his feelings. I was not surprised. I told him the hopes I had in him. I told him there would be a time it would be OK. This was not only the type of quarterback, but the type of person we were turning to as our franchise quarterback."
People like Fahey see Wentz’s flaws and suggest there’s no evidence he’ll get better. They only focus on his negatives. The Eagles see Wentz and know he'll work harder than anyone possibly can to overcome his flaws because they know his mental makeup. They value his special abilities.
This doesn't mean the Eagles are right or wrong, but at the very least they're making a more informed decision. The other side is completely leaving out a big piece of the puzzle. A big piece of that puzzle that might be the most important thing about a quarterback — and yet some people don’t really give any weight to it.
Another thing I don’t think gets enough weight — and is admittedly anecdotal — is how Wentz is a gamer. The tape and the stats might not always look pretty, but it’s obvious if you’re watching the game that Wentz is keeping the team in it. The recent Eagles-Chiefs game is a perfect example. Look at what PFF had to say about his performance.
QB Carson Wentz, 50.5 overall grade
Carson Wentz struggled mightily against the Chiefs defense, the only real success the Eagles offense passing game had was the last drive where the Chiefs played soft coverage and a lucky 53-yard pass which bounced off a Chiefs defender’s arm into Zach Ertz’s arms. When Wentz was pressured (10 passes) he only completed 2 passes for 10 yards
Again, this assessment doesn’t reflect the reality of what happened. Wentz, who accounted for 95.5% of the team’s total offense against Kansas City, was keeping the Eagles in the game.
I’m wary of making this “gamer” argument for Wentz because I typically think it’s a cliche that gets thrown around too much. I’m also wary of being the one to dismiss objective analysis in favor of such a subjective assessment. But there are always exceptions to the rule, and I think Wentz truly is a special case. Hence the disconnect.
To be clear, I’m not saying Wentz is above criticism. He still has a lot of room for improvement. But to essentially write him off entirely, as some have done, is ridiculous.
The statistics without context, the film analysis without perspective, the rigid personal bias without room for admitting mistake — it’s all what “they” get wrong about the Eagles, and more specifically, the team’s franchise quarterback.