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Carson Wentz: Fact or Fiction

A closer look from a North Dakota insider

Where were you when you first heard the name Carson Wentz?

For me, it was some time late fall 2013 during the closing minutes of another comfortable win by my North Dakota State Bison. I honestly don’t remember exactly when. Wentz was a nobody. He was just a sophomore backup behind star QB Brock Jensen, and he was in for mop-up duty. I wish I could say I saw something special, something different, in those rare snaps. I didn’t. I barely saw anything at all other than the 52–14 scoreline as the clock wound down on yet another playoff win on the way to our third consecutive championship.

Like Carson Wentz I’m a North Dakotan, born and bred. Rooting for the Green and Gold is in my blood. Bills defensive end Phil Hansen was a local hero, a 2nd round pick (!!) from NDSU. Broncos safety Tyrone Braxton was another favorite. Rams RB Lamar Gordon was my boy. I dreamed of a day we’d move to Division I-AA (now FCS) and maybe win a title or two. Never in my wildest dreams would I have hoped for a 1st round pick.

As you know by now, those dreams have become a reality. Last night North Dakota’s own Carson Wentz was announced as the #2 pick in the entire draft to the Philadelphia Eagles! Wentz became the highest-drafted non-FBS QB since Terry Bradshaw went #1 overall in 1970. To diehard Bison fans like me and pretty much everyone else from my home state, it still feels like an impossible dream- a dream come true.

The rest of you are still just getting to know Carson Wentz. Did the Eagles give up too much to trade up? That will be determined on the field. The #HotTake cannons have been prepared, and everyone has an opinion on a guy they’ve never seen take play. It’s time to separate Fact from Fiction…

If Wentz is so good, he should’ve been starting before his junior year.

Just because last year’s top QBs Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota started as freshmen doesn’t mean that’s the only path to success. Cam Newton transferred twice before leading Auburn to a title. Aaron Rodgers began his career at Butte College before transferring to Cal, then sat for three years in the NFL before getting his chance there too. Every situation is different.

Wentz redshirted at North Dakota State, just like 90% of the team. He then joined an NDSU roster that had just won its first ever FCS championship. Junior QB Brock Jensen led the team to two more titles before graduating.

Wentz took the job and won a championship of his own. This year he broke his wrist, and backup Easton Stick reeled off 8 straight wins. With only the title game left, after two months of rust and rehab, Wentz won the job back amidst contention and local media craze and led the Bison to a fifth straight title. He earned his job and took every snap he should have.

Verdict: Fiction

Wentz doesn’t LOOK like an NFL quarterback. Haven’t we seen enough redheads like Brandon Weeden and Andy Dalton fail already?

Seriously? No, a player’s looks do not determine his quality of play. And no, his hair color does not have the slightest bit of bearing.

Jeff Garcia had red hair and played in a handful of Pro Bowls. Redhead Brad Johnson won a Super Bowl, and Carson Palmer played at an MVP level just last season. Also maybe you’ve heard of Sonny Jurgensen or Sammy Baugh? Both of those QBs are in the Hall of Fame, and Baugh basically invented the forward pass as we know it. Red hair, both. Technically, redheads make up 7.7% of the QBs in the Hall of Fame but just 1–2% of human population.

Research from This is Your Brain on Sports shows that good looks correlate even less with QBs than with WRs or CBs. What matters more is that a player looks like a leader- that’s a greater determination of success. Carson Wentz is smart and congenial, learns quickly, and looks and sounds like a leader. The draft process is one long interview, and Wentz is crushing the job search.

Verdict: Fiction

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At age 23, Wentz has the maturity and readiness to come in and succeed quickly at the next level.

Wentz turned 23 on December 30th. And sure, a 23-year-old should generally be more mature than his 21-year-old counterpart. Wentz had 3 years to learn and grow behind a championship QB, and that is bound to help his transition.

But his age is more of a hindrance than a help in this case. Wentz is a year older than both Mariota and Winston. With most assuming he’ll sit a year or two in Philly before taking the gig, he could be 25 or 26 before he really plays. Cam Newton and Russell Wilson were 26 this last season, for comparison.

In the draft process, age is a bad thing. Is Wentz better than #1 pick QB Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams? Maybe, maybe not, it’s clearly very close right now. But Goff is almost 2 full years younger. It’s pretty reasonable to think that 23-year-old Goff will be better and more NFL-ready than this current version of Wentz.

These are formative years and, frankly, an age where young men are still growing physically too. Wentz has already progressed physically and mentally an extra year or two compared to his peers. He should be better at interviews and workouts. This is quietly the real Weeden comparison that’s a bit scary.

Verdict: Fiction

Wentz is untested in poor weather and that should be a major red flag.

This one is just silly. Yes, Wentz played all of his home games the last two years in the Fargodome. But the guy was born and raised in NORTH DAKOTA.

Let me tell you a bit about growing up in North Dakota. The snowy season extends from Halloween to Easter, about half of the year. Several times each winter, school gets cancelled because there’s a blizzard or because it’s literally too cold to go outside. And do you know what everyone does when that happens? All the boys in the neighborhood go outside. And they play football in 3 feet of snow and swirling winds and below-zero temperatures.

That’s the world Wentz grew up in and it’s where he played his high school football. It’s the environment he and the Bison often practiced in too.

Carson Wentz is untested in poor weather? Philadelphia will be paradise. He’s been tested for the better part of his life in poor weather. He’ll be fine.

Verdict: Fiction

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Wentz has never played for fans as rabid as Philly fans and will shrink in the spotlight.

Yes Philly fans are a bit, uh, zealous. And sure, Eagles fans have been known to boo on draft day or to throw snowballs at Santa Claus from time to time.

But Wentz is used to playing in front of crazed fans too. The Fargodome routinely hits over 100 decibels on game day, and fans in North Dakota are as passionate as any. These are fans that tailgate at 8am in freezing weather and tune into the nightly news for the latest Bison update in the lead news block. These are the same fans that make travel arrangements a year in advance for next year’s title game- literally there are thousands in ND that already have flights for next January to Frisco, Texas, the Bison home away from home.

Wentz has been in the spotlight from the moment he stepped onto the field. He was expected to win at every moment. He’ll be ready.

Verdict: Fiction

Wentz played in a pro-style offense, and that gives him a clear advantage adjusting to the top level quickly.

Yes, NDSU ran a pro-style offense, certainly more so than Cal or many FBS programs as more and more teams line up in shotgun and spread things out. The Bison will go five wide and spread you out too, but they’ll also go double tight end and run the ball down your throat. They’ll play the West Coast short pass game and they’ll air it out deep. There is a little bit of everything, and that exposure is bound to help Wentz.

But “pro-style” does not equal NFL offense. Wentz ran the ball a good amount, certainly more than he’ll run in the pros. He also played in an offense that was set-up to keep things simple and put him in a position to succeed. Often he would roll to one side of the field and make 2 or 3 reads, and many of his passes were to an open receiver instead of creating a window on the field. In the NFL he’ll need to read multiple blitz packages and coverages, check down through 4–6 options, and get the ball out- all in a few seconds.

Wentz took the ball under center plenty, but that doesn’t mean he’s NFL-ready. He’s got plenty to learn still just like Goff or anyone else.

Verdict: Fiction

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Some of the most prominent scouts are grading Wentz as the best quarterback in his class, and that matters.

Mike Mayock made waves this week putting Wentz atop his draft board (Goff was 10th), and other scouts say he’s the best of his class too. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but it’s no guarantee of success either. In the NFL, Wentz will need to be among the best in the league, not just his class.

Does being the top QB in a draft class matter? Well, here are the (subjective) top two QBs from each of the past ten drafts:

2015 — M.Mariota, J.Winston

2014 — D.Carr, T.Bridgewater

2013 — G.Smith, E.Manuel

2012 — A.Luck, R.Wilson

2011 — C.Newton, A.Dalton

2010 — S.Bradford, T.Tebow

2009 — M.Stafford, M.Sanchez

2008 — M.Ryan, J.Flacco

2007 — K.Kolb, D.Stanton

2006 — J.Cutler, V.Young

In the past decade, only two drafts saw a franchise-changing star QB taken. In four or five more drafts, a team at least got a very solid reliable starter. In three of the ten years there simply wasn’t a good QB in the entire draft. Yikes!

The first QB drafted was actually the best only half of the time. The second QB taken was a top-2 QB from that draft class only half of the years too. Over the past decade, Flacco and Mariota are the only two second-drafted QBs you’d really want leading your team.

Scariest of all, 11 of the 20 top-two-drafted QBs were busts- J.Manziel, E.Manuel, G.Smith, R.Griffin, J.Locker, T.Tebow, M.Sanchez, J.Russell, B.Quinn, V.Young, and M.Leinart all qualify. That’s over half!

Scouts don’t know everything.

Verdict: Fiction

Carson Wentz lacks the big game experience of other top prospects like Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch.

New Broncos QB Paxton Lynch went 22–16 in three years at Memphis. What big games exactly did he play in? Do you mean daunting conference foes Tulane and SMU? Or perhaps Lynch got his big game experience in the Birmingham Bowl or the Miami Beach Bowl? Yeah, not so much.

Goff didn’t play in big games either because his teams stunk. Despite being in the Pac-12 where nine of twelve teams routinely make a bowl game, his Bears made just one- and in 2016, 80 FBS teams (out of 128) played a bowl game.

Goff had two game-winning TD drives in his career, both against a vaunted Washington State team that has made just 2 bowl games the past 13 years. In three rivalry games against Stanford, his Cal team lost by a combined score of 136–52. Don’t kid yourself; Goff has no big game moments.

Carson Wentz has played in and won 5 FCS playoff games. That includes two playoff-winning TD drives, including one in the final minutes of a national championship game. He was the MVP in both title games he played in.

Verdict: Fiction

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Ok but Goff played at a Big Five school, not some FCS school in the Dakotas. That has to be better preparation for the next level.

Yes, Goff played at Cal, but his teams were losers. Goff went just 7–20 in the Pac-12 in his career and 5–21 against bowl opponents. His teams were outscored by 200 points cumulatively over his college career. Sure he was a starting QB in a big football conference, but he lost, and he lost A LOT.

How many NFL QBs can you think of that were perennial losers in college? Is all that playing from behind and losing really good preparation for the NFL? Goff had nine more losses than Wentz had interceptions. If you’re looking for a college loser that was a successful QB in the NFL over the last 30 years, your best examples are Jay Cutler or Drew Bledsoe. Good luck with that.

Carson Wentz’s teams have outscored opponents by over 400 points in 23 starts. The Bison play in the Missouri Valley Conference, basically the SEC of the FCS. Their 10 teams (out of 125) routinely grab 3–4 spots of the 24-team playoff field. Remember how Goff was 5–21 against bowl teams? Wentz played an FCS playoff team in over half of his games and went 9–2.

Every snap Carson Wentz took in college was as a defending national champion, the ultimate target on his back. That’s not NFL preparation?

It’s silly to think that a QB from North Dakota State can’t be successful. What about Joe Flacco from Delaware or Tony Romo from Eastern Illinois or Kurt Warner from Northern Iowa or Ben Roethlisberger from Miami Ohio?

In the past decade six QBs were first-round picks from non-power schools. Five of them have been good NFL starters, and two are Super Bowl MVPs. Go back another decade and you can add Steve McNair, Daunte Culpepper, and Chad Pennington to the list. Dig further and you find Super Bowl winners Phil Simms, Doug Williams, and Terry Bradshaw.

Honestly, small schools have a much better hit rate than big ones. If a QB can play, he can play. Those skills will translate from any level.

Verdict: Fiction

Fine, I get it. You’re a homer, Carson Wentz is the bomb, and he’s a definite NFL superstar just waiting to happen.

No way. This is the NFL draft, and there are no sure things. There are a million reasons a player may or may not succeed, including a lot outside of his control- injuries, teammates, depth charts, coaching and development, etc.

There are a lot of reasons to like Wentz. There are many reasons to be cautious too. There’s his mediocre completion %, even lower under pressure. He also started only 1.5 seasons. Both of those areas often translates to success. Two QB-desperate teams, Cleveland and LA, already decided he wasn’t their guy, and the team likely taking him has gutted their roster and will add just one other player from the top 100 in this draft and just one again next year. Wentz will have his work cut out for him.

So is Carson Wentz worth all the fuss? Is he a superstar in the making? That’s to be determined on the field. Like anyone else, there are still questions to be answered and plenty to overcome. But many of the important questions have already been answered, and the answers are largely positive.

North Dakota’s own Carson Wentz is a Philadelphia Eagle and he’s coming soon to an NFL stadium near you- whether you like it or not.

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