The Philadelphia Eagles are sitting atop the NFC Conference with elite play from second year quarterback Carson Wentz.
Finding a franchise quarterback is one of the most difficult things to do in the NFL, that’s the first major step. After finding your franchise quarterback, the next biggest step is their progression from year one to two. Most quarterbacks who shine or have decent a season in year one take a step back in year two in what is known as the sophomore slump. But with Carson Wentz, that is not the case.
Going into the 2016 season, Sam Bradford was expected to be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Howie Roseman stated on multiple occasions, from the NFL draft throughout the preseason that Sam was their starter despite drafting Carson Wentz number two overall. That quickly changed. A few days before the regular season, the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for their first round draft pick in 2017. With this trade, Wentz was instantly the starter for the 2016 season giving him little time to prepare and work with the first team players.
Wentz shined in the first three games of the 2016 season, giving the Eagles a 3-0 record. His struggles began to start once right tackle Lane Johnson was suspended ten games for Performance enhancing drug use. Wentz was 379-607 for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns to 14 interceptions and a 62% completion percentage. Normal numbers, outside of passing yards which was a record for a rookie, for an NFL rookie quarterback. The Eagles finished with a 7-9 record missing the playoffs.
Imagine watching Carson Wentz play this year and still saying to yourself, “That’s a guy who can’t play and is average at best.” Believe me there are people out there that have uttered that statement to not only themselves but out loud to others. Five games into the 2017 NFL season and Wentz has the Eagles at 4-1, leading the NFC East and number one in the NFC Conference. His play on the field has increased tremendously, which is huge in a quarterback’s second season.
There are several things that stick out to me when it comes to improvements for Wentz. The first thing that sticks out to be is his ability to read defenses better this season. Obviously heading into his second season, he saw and studied a lot of defenses and different looks. When coming to the line of scrimmage and scanning the defense, there’s more ability and less fear when it comes to changing a play call. He did this last season as well but with less conviction.
Secondly, his confidence in his wide receivers has taken a huge step in positivity. Last year the Eagles were in the lower region of dropped passed in the league. Their number one wide receiver, Jordan Matthews was asked to take a big load and be the work horse when in reality, Matthews is a number two wide receiver at best. The Eagles were able to pretty much clean house at that position and brought in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith while still keeping Nelson Agholor. Agholor has shown tremendous improvement this season and is already having a career year. Wentz has shown no hesitation to throw to these guys because they’re actually catching the ball making plays on the field.
Another improvement by Wentz is extending drives, especially on third downs. Now let’s give some credit to Head Coach Doug Pederson and the running backs for helping in this category too. Carson Wentz is the best quarterback on 3rd down in the NFL with 6 touchdowns, 574 yards, 71% completion rate and a 137.8 quarterback rating. His performance in yesterday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals, he was 11 of 12 for 225 yards, 3 touchdowns, 9 first downs and a 91.7% completion rate on third down.
Finally, his decision making. Wentz threw 14 interceptions in his rookie season to his 16 touchdowns. He forced a lot of balls into areas where the ball should’ve never been thrown. A lot of that had to do with the result of poor wide receiver play including dropped passes. This season he has shown better decision making by cracking down on those forced passes. Something Eagles fans will have to live with is his gun slinger mentality. Wentz has a huge arm and is not afraid to show it. He will not hesitate to throw the ball deep down field especially with new found faith in his receiving core. But when it comes to those careless throws, those have been tremendously improved as he has thrown 10 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions this season in which two of those were tipped passes.
Carson Wentz is the fastest quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles history to 5,000 yards and only the tenth quarterback in NFL history to do so in the first 21 games.
The division II quarterback has answered all of the questions and doubters by his play and progression this year. That is unless you are a Cowboys fan, Pro Football Focus or Skip Bayless that still believe Wentz can’t play at a high level if at all in the NFL. But to all of us smart, football knowledgeable people, we see the progression in who will become an Elite quarterback for years to come, Carson Wentz.
Michael Bish can be reached on Twitter – @MichaelBish_