6’5″, 237 lbs, and a cannon for an arm. That was the consensus surrounding quarterback Carson Wentz ahead of the 2016 NFL Combine. An event where the young signal caller out of North Dakota State would blow scouts away with his athletic prowess. A 4.77 40-yard dash may not sound overly remarkable, but considering his size and pro-style offensive experience, it was something worth noting for the Eagles, who would go on to draft Wentz with the second overall pick.
Wentz rushed for 642 yards in 2014, scoring 6 touchdowns in the process. While his final season as a Bison was stricken by injury, the prototypical quarterback was still able to rush for 6 more touchdowns in just 7 games, compiling 294 yards along the way. The question became, how would his raw athleticism translate to the NFL and into Doug Pederson’s West-Coast Offense?
The answer was one many expected, but few refuse to acknowledge. It was a year of development. One person who did see that however, was teammate Jordan Matthews. The team’s leading wide receiver that year opened up on just that in the first issue of our exclusive e-zine, – = +.
“Carson Wentz is a winner. He does not like to lose. I even think at the end of the season, we saw a little bit of his mobility. That was something he kinda did a little bit at the start of the season, but at the end he was breaking off some big runs. When you’re in third and long and teams have to account for that, as opposed to going man, they’re playing zone and you can easily throw vs zone to convert those plays? It changes everything for a quarterback.”
Wentz certainly became more and more comfortable in and out of the pocket as the year wore on…and the proof is in the pudding. In the first eight games of the season, Wentz rushed for 36 yards. In the final eight? Wentz rushed for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns. When you turn to the film, it’s even more exciting to see just how far Wentz has come when it comes to confidence scrambling away from the dangers of an NFL pass rush.
At the start of the year, Wentz seemed more reluctant to scramble away from danger or make a play with his legs. After making his NFL debut against the Cleveland Browns, Wentz saw his first opportunity to make something happen on the ground in week 2. But what’s important to note is the mechanical aspect. His feet were planted in the pocket as he rolled through his progression, and when eventually deciding to take off and run, the quarterback kept his eyes downfield and headed for the sideline, taking an unnecessary hit as he fell out of bounds. A bumpy first rush gave Wentz a plethora of things to work on in the coming weeks if he was to show his true potential as a quarterback who can extend plays and escape danger.
One week later, Wentz showed his ability to quickly dissect a collapsing pocket on a play-action look, scrambling outside and darting for the sideline. While that was absolutely the right decision, it’s worth noting how his rushing style changes over the course of the season and how rushes to the sideline were replaced with jukes, ducks, and a certain rushing swagger.
Against Detroit, Wentz continues to show off his ability to make plays, this time throwing on the run to find Jordan Matthews in a tight spot. His footwork was a lot lighter when navigating the pocket, and Wentz kept two hands on the ball when rolling outside for security, until his signal to Matthews to prepare for the reception. This was similar to his touchdown pass to Darren Sproles against the Steelers, as Wentz continued to find comfort rolling to his right.
His first rushing touchdown wouldn’t come until much later in the season against Green Bay. While rushing attempts were few and far between, Wentz’s ability to scan through his targets while keeping lighter on his feet began to improve. On this play-action look, Wentz not only detects the oncoming pass rusher, but instead of darting for the sideline, decided to charge forward and dive for the endzone. It was this lone moment that really turned the heat up on the Wentz Wagon. The wheels began to churn and the engine started firing on all cylinders.
Later that game, Wentz averted danger once again, not once…but twice. Carving his way through the holes remaining in the trenches as a four-man rush crumbled around him, Wentz was able to cut inside and head up the middle for a big gain. The only problem? Wentz again took an unnecessary hit. It’s something Pederson voiced slight concern about, obviously worried for his quarterbacks health. But as time went on, this was another tool that Wentz would learn to utilize.
The Packers game really was a coming out party on that front. Faking throws, juking defenders and stepping out of bounds to avoid contact…Wentz really flashed shades of the dual-threat dominance he produced at NDSU, for the first time in his career.
Wentz appeared more and more confident as the year went on, and it only benefitted his passing. When stepping up in the pocket, Wentz was setting his feet faster and getting a real feel for the pocket as it closed around him. Not only that, but the scramble option was almost becoming a natural part of his progression. Below, Wenz scans the field, adjusting his body to align it with two of the three receivers lined up as they converged over the middle, before looking left and seeing acres of space. Wentz darted forward…AND SLID!
Throwing on the run was a skill many believed to be a strength of the Pro-Style QB, and it really flourished in the latter stages of 2016. Wentz was able to pull the trigger on play-action far smoother and make throws on the run with increasing ease.
One of his biggest highlights of 2016 was the game-tying touchdown against Baltimore in the closing seconds of the game. Demonstrating his willpower, confidence and sheer swagger, Wentz scanned through his reads to see nothing but double coverage on his two go-to targets. Sensing an oncoming rusher, Wentz span outside and headed for the endzone, again juking inside a defender and extending his 6’5 frame to push the ball in for the score. It was a defining moment for the Eagles and their fans alike, who saw the makings of a truly special talent at quarterback.
Then, things got fun. A TNF showdown against the Giants was all Wentz needed to turn up the heat and add yet another element of athleticism to his game. Notice how the quarterback stays MUCH lighter on his feet when in the pocket, ready to adjust accordingly if needed. That’s exactly what was asked of him as the pressure surged through the middle, sending Wentz spinning out of trouble and into wide open space.
The next play isn’t one where Wentz uses his legs in a rushing aspect, but one that really shows how his pocket presence improved over the course of the 2016 season. If we compare what we saw in the very first GIF, to what we see here…the difference is staggering considering the amount of time between the two. Navigating the pocket instinctively, Wentz stepped up after finding a gap and dropped it in the bucket for Nelson Agholor to haul in for six.
It would have been criminal to not include my favorite play of the season….THAT Matrix level duck! Wentz evades pressure on a play-action look, but as opposed to turning and rushing outside, he ducks underneath the oncoming tackle and proceeds to dart up the remaining hole as a result. The instincts and confidence to compact his body in such a short space of time is remarkable. For those who wondered if it was intentional or not however…
…Wentz would go on to do the same against the Dallas Cowboys in week 17. Extending a play inside the 10, Wentz ducks under an oncoming tackler and is able to find Trey Burton for a short, yet crucial three-yard gain.
To put it simply, it took time for Wentz to find his feet, in more ways than one. As his confidence in the pocket increased, so did his vision to extend plays and make things happen with his legs. As he learned to slide instead of taking hits, throw the ball away as opposed to taking a sack, and unleash his athleticism at the right times, Wentz really started to shine as a dual-threat quarterback.
The development in just one season of play, giving that he spent the entire offseason practicing as the backup and missed preseason, is simply staggering. With such an abundance of outside talent, a stacked backfield, and an offensive line that could well rank among the finest pass protection units in the league, the stage is set. Sure, the big names will catch all the attention, and all eyes will be on what Wentz does with his gunslinger ability, but with so many weapons to account for…one of Carson’s most valuable, may actually turn out to be his potential to become a top dual-threat quarterback at the next level.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports