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Eagles (and every other team) like QB Wentz

MOBILE, Ala. - Carson Wentz grew nine inches and gained 75 pounds over the course of high school. He went from redshirt freshman to two-time national champion quarterback at North Dakota State. And he vaulted from Division I-AA curiosity to the marquee attraction at the Senior Bowl.

MOBILE, Ala. - Carson Wentz grew nine inches and gained 75 pounds over the course of high school. He went from redshirt freshman to two-time national champion quarterback at North Dakota State. And he vaulted from Division I-AA curiosity to the marquee attraction at the Senior Bowl.

There was little reason to believe Wentz couldn't compete against some of the best Division I-A seniors in the country. And it's almost unanimous, after a standout week, that he will be a first-round draft pick in April and be able to make the jump to NFL starter.

The 23-year-old quarterback admitted that he had to adjust to the speed of Senior Bowl practices after a career against lesser competition. But like nearly every other step he's had to climb since entering high school at 5-foot-8 and 125 pounds, Wentz didn't let the enormity of the challenge faze him.

"Everything happens fast, but . . . I feel like I'm reacting fast and playing at a fast level as well," Wentz said on Thursday. "There are just a lot of guys out here that are coming from all over the place. . . . It's really fun just to get on the same field as them."

Evaluators had already pegged Wentz as a first-round prospect with a first-round arm and first-round size (6-5, 233), but they still wanted to see how he would fare against a higher level of talent. The defensive looks he saw in practice this week weren't complex, and they won't likely be in Saturday's game. But the speed should increase a notch.

"I wanted to see how well he anticipated throws," a senior NFL scout said. "At North Dakota State, the talent around him was lacking, so he often had to wait until his guys got open before he could deliver the ball. He had some nice anticipatory throws in Mobile, but you could tell that he was still getting a feel for the speed."

There is, of course, more to playing quarterback than just making the throws. It is the position that gets by far the most attention, and NFL scouts and coaches spend mass amounts of time and money digging into whether a potential franchise quarterback can handle those pressures.

"Pressure is was it is," Wentz said. "That's created by all you [media] and the whole world. But for me, it's just take it one day at a time and try to get better."

This week was Wentz's first exposure to the NFL media glare. The Bisons, who won their fifth straight Football Championship Subdivision title earlier this month, are a big deal in North Dakota. But Wentz was clearly the most sought-after player here.

"It's kind of what I thought, kind of what I expected," Wentz said. "Obviously maybe a couple more cameras in the face. But it kind of is what it is. It's exciting. It's a good experience."

Most NFL evaluators have three or four quarterbacks who could be selected in the first round. Aside from Wentz, there are California's Jared Goff, Memphis' Paxton Lynch and Michigan State's Connor Cook. Goff and Lynch are juniors. Cook declined a Senior Bowl invite.

None of the four are viewed as slam-dunk prospects (read: Andrew Luck). But quarterback-needy teams will often press and draft higher than some quarterbacks should go against the rest of the field. And often as a result, they play too early.

Wentz, several scouts predicted, could go as early as the second pick to the Browns, and he might not even last to No. 13 when the Eagles select. A few other scouts had Wentz pegged to go late in the first round.

"Ideally, he would get a year to sit and watch and learn whatever offensive system he'll play in," said one NFL executive that isn't in the market for a quarterback. "But that probably won't be the case because he's going to be a first-round pick and possibly a top-10 pick.

"I have him slotted behind Lynch and ahead of Goff. He holds the ball a touch too long, but he doesn't panic when his first read isn't there."

The Eagles met with Wentz at various points this week, but so did nearly every other team here. They have to make a decision on pending free agent Sam Bradford first, but they could be in the market to take a quarterback in the first round for the first time since Donovan McNabb in 1999.

"I liked him," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Wentz on Wednesday. "He's got great size, good mobility, strong kid, good arm. It will be interesting to sit down and eventually talk with him and see where he's at mentally. But just by the eye, talented kid, looks like he can play in this league."

Pederson was part of the Eagles contingent that met with Wentz on Wednesday night.

"It was really good," Wentz said of the meeting. "I've had countless meetings with lots of coaches, scouts, and everything's gone well. I just be myself and talk football."

In two seasons as the Bison's starter, Wentz completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,762 yards and 42 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. He missed eight games this season with a broken wrist but returned for North Dakota State's 37-10 championship victory over Jacksonville State.

"I like the toughness he plays with," the senior scout said. "And he had a knack for playing big in big games. The one think you left Mobile with was that he looked like he belonged and his leadership skills."

Wentz said that he plans to throw at next month's combine. He's been training in California with Colts quarterback Ryan Lindley. The next few months will be crucial, but his film will be the ultimate deciding factor, and it shows that he can make all the throws.

"Out here I was just ready to cut it loose," Wentz said, "and reaffirm those throws."

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane