Part 5 of a weekly series previewing the NFL draft.
The Carson Wentz pick watch is nearly finished.
With Wentz’s Indianapolis Colts playing the New England Patriots on Saturday night, the Eagles are less than a quarter away from securing the first-round pick tied to the quarterback’s snap count.
When the Eagles traded Wentz to Indy in the offseason‚ the conditions on the pick they got in exchange were as follows: They’d get the Colts’ first-round pick if Wentz played 75% of the team’s offensive snaps, or just 70% if the Colts made the playoffs. If not, the pick would convey as a second-rounder.
Wentz is at 854 snaps played, which is 98% of the Colts’ offensive plays. Even if Indianapolis sees an uptick in the 67 plays per game it has run this season, Wentz should surpass the required number of plays sometime in the first quarter against the Patriots as long as he stays on the field.
As the Colts’ record and Wentz’s snap counts would suggest, Wentz has rebounded a fair amount in Indianapolis. He’s not the player he was in 2017 or perhaps even the one who led the Eagles to the playoffs with four straight wins in 2019, but he’s cut down on his turnovers and has completed 63% of his passes, up from 57% last year.
The Colts have been mostly centered around running back Jonathan Taylor, but Wentz has played competently. He’s ranked 20th in yards per attempt and has 22 touchdowns passes to five interceptions.
Especially with the Eagles’ Sunday schedule abruptly cleared after the NFL postponed the team’s game against the Washington Football Team because of a COVID-19 outbreak affecting almost two dozen Washington players, Wentz’s game the night before should be on the calendar for Eagles fans.
The Colts’ first-rounder is projected to be the 21st pick in the draft, but that’s mostly subject to whether they make the playoffs and how far they make it if they do.
If they fail to make it to the playoffs, the worst their pick can be is 18th. If they get a wild-card spot but lose, the pick will be between the 19th and 24th picks. If they make it to the division round, it can range between 25 and 28. If they make it any farther, Eagles fans would have to watch the pick plummet toward the 30s while Wentz chases a championship.
Will Indianapolis make the playoffs, though? At 7-6, the team goes into the weekend sixth in the conference, good for the second of three wild-card spots. The Browns, Bengals, and Broncos are all 7-6 on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, so the Colts will have to play well down the stretch.
The Colts’ next two games could very well determine whether they’ll be able to hold on. After Saturday’s game against the 9-4 Patriots, they’ll play the 10-3 Arizona Cardinals on the road. They have the Las Vegas Raiders the following week before finishing the season against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
Looking ahead to the draft
Bowl games to watch
Eastern Michigan vs. Liberty, Saturday, 5:45 p.m., ESPN
There aren’t droves of highly touted draft prospects during the first weekend of bowl games, but Liberty quarterback Malik Willis headlines the early slate.
Willis has the physical traits to be a first-round pick if not a top-10 prospect, but his lack of consistency, particularly against iffy competition, makes him hard to project. Considering his arm strength and running ability, it probably won’t take much for Willis to entice a team to take him early next spring, and a big game against Eastern Michigan could help cement that.
With the Eagles likely weighing their quarterback options, watching Willis in game-action is a constructive use of time. He at least has a chance to become one of the first quarterbacks off the board this spring, and Saturday’s game will be a major factor in that.
Louisiana Tech vs. Marshall, Saturday, 9:15 p.m., ESPN
Once you watch Wentz surpass his snap-count threshold, catching some of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ game would be worthwhile for offensive-line fanatics.
Louisiana Tech offensive tackle Max Mitchell (No. 74) is projected to be a Day 2 pick and has the versatility to play both tackle and guard.