Carson Wentz: Blake Bortles?

It was December 2015. Jeffrey Lurie was desperate. The Chip Kelly era was coming to a close. What had begun with an offense unlike any seen prior on Monday Night Football in Washington would end with an interim head coach in New York. Kelly was supposed to be the NFL’s next great mind. He was supposed to have been a coup for the Eagles organization. Instead he flamed out fast and the Eagles were worse off than before because of it.

Lurie made a decision at that point. According to Thomas George’s book, Lurie looked around the division and decided that he wanted a new quarterback. He then decided that he didn’t want to wait. George’s breakdown of Lurie’s process at this time reeks of desperation:

It was find the right guy.

The right rookie quarterback.

A franchise quarterback.

Then to move up to the top of the draft from their No. 13 spot in the first round and swipe him.

Decidedly, mercilessly, take a bolder shot at solving their lingering franchise quarterback enigma.

Speaking publicly after making the trades to reach the second-overall pick, Lurie outlined his reason for making the move when he did. He claimed the franchise had to be aggressive in 2016 because the talent in 2017 and beyond wasn’t good. That’s an argument that might make some sense if you’re completely unfamiliar with the draft process. If you understand how the draft works, it’s laughable. Lurie’s logic was undercut by his own action. The Eagles traded up for a quarterback who wouldn’t have been on their radar 12 months previous.

In December 2014, Carson Wentz was coming off his first season as a starter at the lower level of college football. He had thrown 10 interceptions. Had Lurie looked ahead to future classes in 2014 like he did in 2015, Wentz wouldn’t have been on his radar. As if to compound the lunacy of that statement, Mitchell Trubisky became the first quarterback selected in the 2017 draft. In December 2015 Trubisky wasn’t even the starter for North Carolina. He had thrown 47 passes in nine games that season.

It appeared that Lurie had become infatuated with the idea of getting a new quarterback more so than he had become infatuated with the particular quarterback he was drafting.

None of that would have mattered if he had landed a truly great quarterback. If you ask around, it’s not hard to find people who think Wentz is that. Former Washington GM Scot McCloughan believes that Wentz is the best quarterback from his class, The MMQB’s Andy Benoit considers Wentz to be the best young quarterback in the league. Three unnamed executives echoed that sentiment to NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah.

Despite his relative inexperience, Wentz isn’t actually that young. He’s within one year of Blake Bortles, both quarterbacks will be 25 at the end of this season.

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.

Lurie emphasized intelligence as the primary attribute a franchise quarterback has to have. Wentz might be a genius on the whiteboard, it would explain why he appears to gain widespread acclaim from those within the league. He ran a fairly simple four vert offense in college and looked lost on the field as a rookie playing in a very quarterback-friendly scheme. Rookies typically struggle with their consistency breaking down coverages but Wentz wasn’t just struggling, he was constantly making inexcusable decisions.

Doug Pederson’s offense is Andy Reid’s offense which is Alex Smith’s offense.

It’s a hyper conservative system that relies heavily on hard play fakes (misdirection), screens and half-field reads. Pederson transplanted Reid’s route combinations that use three receivers to stress specific areas of the field from Kansas City to Philadelphia. Everything is designed around the concept of easing pressure on the quarterback, minimizing his impact while making it tougher for him to turn the ball over.

Wentz still threw 31 interceptable passes last year. 5.11 percent of his attempts were interceptable. 25 quarterbacks in the league were better at taking care of the ball. Not one of the seven who ranked below him threw the ball short as often as him. Four had an Average Depth of Target in the top six in the league, all seven ranked in the top 20 whereas Wentz ranked 27th. None of the quarterbacks who ranked below Wentz in interceptable passes played in an offense that prioritized taking care of the ball.

Interceptable 1 vs the Pittsburgh Steelers

This is a straight-forward interceptable pass. Wentz’s receiver is only six yards downfield but he has to throw the ball from the opposite hash. He’s not an easy passer. He’s not Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers, it takes effort for him to get the ball outside the numbers from the opposite hash. That is highlighted here as Wentz’s pass is way too far infield. Had cornerback Artie Burns looked for the ball earlier, it would have been an easy interception.

Interceptable 2, 3 vs the Detroit Lions

The first play in this gif is similar to Wentz’s interceptable pass against the Steelers. Wentz’s arm strength is an issue again as he fails to push the ball wide enough while throwing on the move. It goes directly through the hands of the defensive back to fall incomplete. The second play is the first example of a recurring theme with Wentz. When he misses, he tends to miss high, this happens a huge amount over the middle of the field. Neither of the Lions defensive backs managed to pull this ball in but the quarterback gave both a chance.

Interceptable 4 vs the Detroit Lions

Nelson Agholor received much of the blame for Wentz’s first interception of the season. That made no sense at the time. Wentz’s pass was too high and too far outside for Agholor to have a chance at it. The only way he could have even prevented the interception was by outmuscling the cornerback who always had the better positioning on the ball. This was an example of Wentz’s consistently bad deep passing where he just heaved the ball up and hoped.

Interceptable 5, 6 vs the Minnesota Vikings

Both of these plays are atrocious. The first is a routine out route to his tight end working against Eric Kendricks. Kendricks is a great cover linebacker and played this route perfectly. At best he should have knocked the ball away though. Wentz overthrew his receiver so badly the ball went straight to Andrew Sendejo. The second play is a complete coverage misread as the quarterback stares down his receiver on Third-and-11 to throw the ball into triple coverage.

Interceptable 7 vs the Dallas Cowboys

Once more Wentz fails the push the ball far enough wide when throwing to the sideline. His pass wobbles as it leaves his hand. Jordan Matthews is open but he is forced to stop and try to work back to the ball once it is in the air. The receiver never had a chance. Orlando Scandrick, the cornerback, should have intercepted it as it bounced off of his chest.

Interceptable 8, 9 vs the New York Giants

Wentz’s first interceptable pass against the Giants gives us our first exposure to his poor pocket presence. He runs out of a clean pocket, into pressure that causes him to rush his throw. Again his pass is overthrown and goes straight into the waiting arms of a defensive back. The second interceptable pass is another wild overthrow where his receiver had no chance to make a play on the ball.

Interceptable 10, 11 vs the New York Giants

Any play where the quarterback throws the ball up aimlessly, relying on luck or defensive back error to avoid an interception, is considered an interceptable pass. The first play in the above gif fits that description. It’s either a bad overthrow or a bad attempt at throwing the ball away. Wentz is fortunate the ball floats just out of the reach of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The second interceptable pass is a bit harsh but for the uniform criteria it has to be considered an interceptable pass. Wentz had to release the ball and his receiver lost on the route. An example of why everything requires context.

Interceptable 12 vs the New York Giants

Underthrowing this ball as severely as he did actually helped Wentz avoid the interception. Had Rodgers-Cromartie located it quicker after turning around he would have been able to get beneath it. If Wentz had come closer to hitting his target, the ball would have landed in Cromartie’s chest. His sheer inability to throw with precision on deep passes is a major, major problem.

Interceptable 13, 14, 15, 16 vs the Seattle Seahawks

Wentz tested Earl Thomas on the first play. Earl won. The ball went through his hands in the endzone. On the second he stared down his receiver to lead Kam Chancellor to the ball. The third was an unexplainable heave into double coverage. The fourth should have been a touchdown but would have been an interception if Steven Terrell hadn’t pulled up because of his arriving teammate.

Interceptable 17, 18 vs the Green Bay Packers

These are re-runs. The first play is exactly the same as Wentz’s first interceptable of the year, the ball even hits the defensive back this time. The second play is another wild overthrow over the middle of the field.

Interceptable 19, 20 vs the Cincinnati Bengals

On the first play he never sees the linebacker in his passing lane. On the second play he never sees the defensive end in his passing lane.

Interceptable 21, 22, 23, 24 vs the Cincinnati Bengals

First play is an overthrown crossing route that wasn’t open. Wentz led the safety to the ball and threw it right to him. Second play was similar to many we’ve already seen: An outrageously off-target overthrow down the middle of the field. The third is somewhat unfortunate but a play where Wentz didn’t see the throwing lane on a critical down. The fourth hinges on the safety not reading the flight of the ball in the air, aggressively playing the receiver running down the seam instead.

Interceptable 25 vs the Washington ________

DeShazor Everett was shaded inside the tight end from the beginning of the play. He was daring the quarterback to throw the ball outside, Wentz went inside. Easy interception.

Interceptable 26 v the Baltimore Ravens

Wentz’s feet get stuck at the top of his drop. He stares down his receiver over the middle of the field, leading the linebacker into the passing lane for an easy interception.

Interceptable 27, 28, 29 vs the New York Giants

This game was a complete disaster for Wentz. He threw the same interception twice, it was dropped the second time, before showing off more of his throw-and-hope deep accuracy during the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

Interceptable 30, 31 vs the Dallas Cowboys

A fitting end to the season as Wentz missed high wildly over the middle before making an awful decision to throw late to his curl route by the sideline.

You may disagree with one of these, you may disagree with two, you may disagree with more than a few, but go back through these plays again. How many occurred under severe pressure? How many happened because Lane Johnson wasn’t on the field? How many happened because it was his reciever’s fault? The narratives of Wentz’s season don’t hold up against this evidence.

Rookies make mistakes. Plenty of mistakes. But they typically do it in tougher situations than Wentz played in. The good rookies consistently show off highlight plays to counter their mistakes that could be fixable. Wentz rarely ever made subtle movements in the pocket and wasn’t someone hitting tight windows with anticipation throws because of how quickly he diagnosed coverages. When he got rid of the ball quickly it was generally to check down into the flat.

Much like Blake Bortles, Wentz’s greatest attribute is his athleticism and the odd play he makes passing after breaking the pocket with that athleticism. He’s not a refined passer or great technician. His accuracy was nothing short of horrendous last year.

He relied on screens more than most quarterbacks, 11.53 percent of his attempts last year were screens, the seventh-highest rate in the league. 11.29 percent of his yards came on screens, the fifth-highest rate in the league. He relied on hard play fakes and yards gained after the catch, 49.68 percent of his yards came after the catch, only seven quarterbacks had a higher rate.

Nothing about Wentz’s rookie season suggested he fit Lurie’s definition of a franchise quarterback: “someone who has the physical talent, the mental leadership qualities, and mental toughness to be a consistently winning quarterback that puts you in contention to win a championship. He has to have that ‘it’ factor. The single most important trait is the mental fortitude to handle the challenges that face a young quarterback. He has to be a smart quarterback — in today’s NFL, quarterbacks have to routinely make intricate decisions in 2.5 seconds or less.”

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.

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