The NFL is lacking the quarterback talent to keep up with the pass-heavy style of play that this generation has ushered in. Not only has the standard to be a starting quarterback lowered, but there is a lack of backup talent in the league as well.
By: Derrik Klassen
The league has become very dependent on the quarterback after having developed the game for decades with less of a stress on the quarterback. The stress on the position has put a premium on quarterbacks in the draft now more than ever, and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz may be the biggest testament to that in a long time.
Wentz has talent, but a lot about him on the surface is concerning. The level of competition he faced, the broken bone in his throwing wrist and his underlying inclination to take off with the ball are all reasons to be concerned. A non-FBS quarterback has not gone in the first round since 2008 when Delaware’s Joe Flacco was taken by the Baltimore Ravens. On top of that, the last first round quarterback who did not finish their final season was Christian Ponder in 2011. Wentz faces both of those issues, but the NFL just may turn a blind eye out of desperation.
That is not to say Wentz is a bad quarterback. He is not. Wentz has the most intriguing skill set of any quarterback this year. His arm is live, showing an uncommon blend of velocity and arc control. He has no issues getting the ball to receivers on the opposite boundary, nor does he have much trouble fitting the ball through windows over the middle of the field. Wentz’s velocity often gives his receiver a tick longer to corral the ball before a defender gets there, helping minimize broken up passes. At the same time, Wentz has shown he can take off some heat in order to drop a throw in smoothly- a trait most useful when placing crossers and deep outs over underneath defenders. Wentz is quite the athlete, as well.
At any moment, Wentz is a threat to pick up a first down with his feet. On designed runs, he displays decisiveness and acceleration to work past the first level of defenders quickly. His frame and strength is more than good enough to fight for extra yards, while his shiftiness allows him to also pick up extra yards by making defenders miss in tight spaces. Wentz’s suddenness enables him to escape the pocket, as well. As soon as he takes off, Wentz separates himself from the chaos quickly and works up field, not wasting any time trying to run wide if he does not have to. Wentz had more of an inclination to leave the pocket early in 2014, but improved in that area in his senior year, opting to try to get a pass off instead.
Wentz improved as a passer in a number of areas. For one, it was important for Wentz to have pulled the reigns back on himself as a runner and try to be more of a passer. While his mobility is certainly useful, it becomes a problem if it is abused. Wentz has also expanded and sped up his mental process. A majority of Wentz’s throws in 2014 were first-read and the offense did not ask as much of him. In 2015, Wentz was asked to do a bit more reading pre-snap and be able to pull the trigger faster post-snap. Wentz took on both of those responsibilities well, showing that he can and will improve as he moves forward.
This heightened ability in the lower and mid sections of the field has become his best trait. Heading into the season, many believed Wentz to be a toolsy deep thrower, but throwing down the field is the area Wentz struggles most in right now. In the short areas of the field, Wentz has shown he can time his throws well, namely on routes such as short hitches, quick outs and slants. His velocity is a nice finishing touch to his already impressive timing. Over the middle of the field, Wentz has shown he can work crossers and seam routes well, balancing velocity and touch wonderfully to create good placement. Wentz does have a tendency to overthrow deep passes more than would be desired, but his work in the other areas should be more than redeemable enough for him to earn the time to improve on his deep passing trajectory.
Though, athleticism, arm and accuracy aside, Wentz’s best trait may be his confidence and poise. Nothing seems too daunting for Wentz. If the pocket crumbles, Wentz has no problem moving from his spot and making a throw on the move. If a long down-and-distance calls for him to make a tough throw down the sideline, Wentz fires without hesitation. In the red zone, Wentz keeps his cool and finds the best way to put points on the board. Of course, not every play is terribly chaotic. Wentz is just as confident in himself when the pocket is clean. He has no reservations taking a shot at deep comebacks, deep outs, seam routes and all the like. Wentz wants to win, and he will make whatever throw he has to in order to make that happen.
As intriguing as Wentz is, he is an FCS quarterback and should be handled with care. Quarterback is the toughest transition to the pro level as it is, let alone when nearly every player Wentz faced at the FCS level was not NFL caliber talent or particularly close to it. He is going to need an adjustment period in the NFL. That is fine. Franchises need to understand the importance of patience and instilled confidence in young quarterbacks. Wentz can be the shining example of handling a quarterback with care and turning him into a quality NFL starter. Wentz has all the makings to be a good NFL quarterback, but there must be a stable plan in place to bring him along.
Interesting Data (of 230 attempt sample):
- Wentz was 46/67 (68.66% of completion) when operating under center.
- Wentz posted 28 ‘explosive’ plays (25+ yards or a score) and just 6 ‘loss’ plays (strip/sack, interception or loss of yards on a throw).
- Wentz was 59/86 (68.60% of completion) on out-breaking routes.
- 34/230 (14.78%) of Wentz’s were screens.