As the summer has progressed, the same names have been getting thrown in the fire over who are the top, draft-eligible quarterbacks headed into the 2015 season. Christian Hackenberg, Jared Goff, Gunner Kiel, Connor Cook, and Cardale Jones are the prospects receiving the majority of the attention right now, but there’s another prospect that’s just as (if not more) talented than this crop of quarterbacks: Carson Wentz of North Dakota State University.
Wentz may not receive the same amount of attention because he’s at a smaller school, but that shouldn’t deter people from ranking him among the top tier of quarterbacks in this year’s class. Wentz has the requisite tools you look for in a quarterback, plus a little more.
The first trait that pops out about Wentz’s game is his arm strength. He has the arm to make all the throws and has the ability to zip it to the far sideline on deep outs, which is one of the harder throws to make. His ball placement along the sideline is very impressive and he puts the ball in spots where only his receiver can make a play on the ball more often than not.
Wentz’s ability to operate within the pocket is excellent. While North Dakota State doesn’t run the most complex offense, he shows the ability to progress through his reads and find holes in zone defense. Notice how Wentz looks to his first read on the left before snapping back to the middle of the field and hitting the tight end on the seam route for a touchdown. Wentz is going to be forced to conduct an offense with multiple reads in the NFL and its nice to see him have the ability to go through reads when the situation demands it.
One of the most important traits a quarterback can possess is poise under pressure. When facing heavy pressure Wentz stands tall, keeps his eyes downfield, and climbs the ladder while avoiding pressure. His timing and anticipation in moments of chaos is among the tops in this class. Quarterback play in the NFL is extremely chaotic and Wentz has the ability to stay calm (and more importantly be accurate) when he’s forced to move off his spot.
Another reason to like Wentz is the offense that he plays in. A lot of his passing concepts are single read, but he routinely takes snaps under center and goes through three, five, and seven step drops. In this aspect, he’s a bit ahead of the curve as opposed to quarterbacks who operate out of mainly shotgun systems. Wentz should translate smoothly to the NFL as it’s not a skill he’ll need to add to his repertoire.
When breaking down Wentz’s accuracy, there’s a lot to like. He’s not necessarily a “surgeon” with the football, but he shows nice ball placement at all levels off the field and flashes the ability to be hyperefficient in the short game when he gets into a rhythm. On deep throws Wentz gives his receivers chances for a 50/50 balls, but at times his balls will sail overtop or be slightly underthrown. Oddly enough, Wentz’s most accurate throws are to the sideline. Even with defenders trailing his receivers on comeback routes he shows the touch and ball placement to put the ball into small windows along the boundary.
Wentz has also shown the ability to be accurate on the run, even to his non-dominant side and across his body. When North Dakota State rolls him out he still shows good arm strength and accuracy along the sideline. The majority of his rollouts to his non-dominant side were short, dump off passes, but when rolling out to his right he shows superb arm strength, touch, and ball placement.
In addition to this arm strength, Wentz is a very good athlete and a natural runner in the open field. When plays break down, he has the ability to some serious damage on the ground. Not only is Wentz fast, but he shows some natural elusiveness and displays the field vision to set blocks up for himself downfield to increase potential yardage. Out of the draft eligible quarterbacks he’s on par with Trevone Boykin and Josh Dobbs in their ability to run in the open field. This trait is truly remarkable when you take his size and frame (6’5″, 222lbs) into account.
While there’s a lot to like about Wentz as a quarterback prospect, he does have one flaw to be wary about: ball security. Wentz has a fumbling issue in the pocket and when he tries to get aggressive to make plays down the field with his legs. He had a handful of fumbles in the three games that I’ve watched; it’s a large area of concern heading into 2015. Part of his fumbles issues can be accredited to his willingness (at times to a fault) to hang in the pocket while his receivers get open. He takes a fair amount of sacks; if he can get the ball out a bit quicker his fumble rate should be able to improve. There have been players to reduce their fumble rate before heading to the NFL (i.e. Ameer Abdullah) so this is definitely a fixable issue. If Wentz can be a little less reckless with the ball as he stands in the pocket and utilizes his athleticism, it’ll shore up some inhibitions that teams will have in spending an early round draft pick on him.
Where does Wentz rank among draft eligible quarterbacks?
A few weeks about I posted my top five draft eligible quarterbacks, but I need to amend that list now that I’ve gotten a good feel for Carson Wentz as a draft prospect. Wentz is one of the top quarterbacks among this year’s crop of draft eligible prospects deserves to be ranked accordingly.
Here’s how I rank the quarterbacks that I think will end up throwing their names into the 2016 NFL Draft:
1. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
2. Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
3. Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
4. Cardale Jones, Ohio State
5. Jared Goff, California
6. Connor Cook, Michigan State
7. Jeremy Johnson, Auburn (elite skill set, but sample size isn’t there)
8. Cody Kessler, USC
9. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
10. Trevone Boykin, TCU
Who does Wentz compare to?
This may seem like a bit of an odd comparison, but Wentz’s style is reminiscent of Cam Newton in a way. Wentz doesn’t quite have the arm strength or athleticism that Newton does, but their playing styles are similar in the way they operate inside and outside the pocket. I grappled with comparing him to Joe Flacco, but ultimately I feel like his athleticism can be utilized in similar ways as Cam Newton at the next level. Wentz is an exciting quarterback prospect and he has all the tools to be an effective starter in the NFL. If he can make strides this season or play at a similar level, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him be an early round draft selection next April.