Think Eagles' Carson Wentz is good now? He could see even more explosive growth in the future | Marcus Hayes
Carson Wentz is an MVP candidate in just his second season, but both owner Jeffrey Lurie and coach Doug Pederson see the potential for him to explode down the line.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said this on Sept. 7, three days before the Eagles' second season with Carson Wentz commenced:
"My expectation with Carson is, he'll be better in Year Two than Year One; he'll significantly be better in Year Three than Year Two; and he'll be significantly better in Year Four than Year Three."
Good Lord. What if Lurie's right?
What if Carson Wentz is just scratching the surface?
Wentz leads the NFL with 28 touchdown passes in just 11 games, which means he has five more chances to break the antique team record of 32, set by Sonny Jurgensen in 1961, when the Bay of Pigs ruled the news.
Wentz has thrown just five interceptions all season. His 104.0 passer rating is fourth in the league, but he trails Alex Smith and Drew Brees by just five-tenths and one-tenth, respectively. He leads the league with a 117.9 passer rating in the red zone, where he has thrown 20 of his touchdown passes and none of his interceptions. He is the biggest reason that the Eagles are atop the NFL with a 10-1 record and could clinch the NFC East with a Cowboys loss Thursday.
Imagine: What if Lurie is right? What if the Wentz Wagon hasn't really gotten rolling yet? What if there's a developmental explosion coming in 2018, and 2019, and beyond?
His coach thinks that it's coming, that Wentz is still taking baby steps. Giant, terrific baby steps.
"We wanted to see that incremental increase with Carson in his development and his growth, and that's what you're seeing," Doug Pederson said. "Is there room for improvement? Yes. Yes, there is."
It seems impossible, but Pederson is right. You ain't seen nothin' yet.
"There's still things that show up on tape where he can make a better decision, playing the quarterback position," Pederson said.
This is to be expected. Wentz has played just 27 games. He remains mechanical with his motion and methodical with his reads. This will change with time.
"I use phrases like 'You've got to know where every bone is buried offensively,' " Pederson explained. When it comes to "understanding fronts and coverages, I want Carson to know where everything's buried. I want to know that when he gets 'this' coverage, he can go back-side on a particular route combination. That's where he can continue to grow as a quarterback."
If that sounds like some sort of indictment, it's not. It's objective analysis. It's how good players become great.
Pederson on Monday also used the phrase, "Winning masks a lot of things," so Wentz's shortcomings, such as they are, should be unmasked. And he has shortcomings. He has 10 wins, which is the most important quarterback stat, but he has shortcomings, too.
That's why — and this might be a cold-water bath — despite popular sentiment in Philadelphia, Wentz might well not win the MVP award. Maybe he shouldn't.
After all, Tom Brady leads the league in passer rating, at 111.7; in passing yards; in yards per attempt' and in interceptions, with just three. He is the defending Super Bowl champion, the reigning Super Bowl MVP and the biggest reason the Patriots are 9-2, considering their defense is third-worst in the NFL. Also, Tom Brady is 40. Clearly, he drinks unicorn blood.
The Eagles defense ranks seventh overall and No. 1 against the run and is headlined by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins, so this isn't completely the Carson Wentz Show. It would be no slight if Wentz loses an MVP award to the greatest passer in history. Besides, as Pederson said, Wentz is still growing. He might one day make Brady's accomplishments seem pedestrian.
In the nine wins since the Eagles lost at Kansas City, Wentz has a 108.6 passer rating, but he's not even completing 60 percent of his passes in that span, partly because he throws some of them at Torrey Smith. Wentz also is averaging just 7.68 yards per attempt, ninth among passers who have played at least eight games.
His true genius, however, lies in his aversion to error. He has thrown three interceptions and lost just one fumble during the winning streak. He has fumbled only four times in those nine games, and he hasn't fumbled at all in the last four.
That's largely because he has taken just 16 sacks, or fewer than two sacks per game. This, in turn, is partly thanks to good protection. It is partly thanks to astute play-calling, which is designed to have him get rid of the ball quickly. But, mainly, it's because it's hard to bring down a nimble, alert, 6-foot-5, 237-pound 24-year-old. He sees pressure, or he senses it, and he avoids it, and he runs.
Of course, running isn't always the best action.
As Pederson noted, Wentz does not always instinctively realize that receivers he's not looking at might be open. He often fails to quickly abandon a primary or secondary target, to then change his field of vision and dump the ball to the running back or tight end who is serving as the outlet on the play.
Great quarterbacks such as Brady and Aaron Rodgers find the outlets fast. In fact, according to one quarterbacks coach, they sometimes use the primary and secondary targets as decoys, with the intent of throwing to the outlets all along. That's some next-level baiting.
None of this is meant to diminish what Wentz has done; rather, it is meant to amplify how good he can still become.
Donovan McNabb is the greatest quarterback in team history, but only once did McNabb have more than 28 touchdown passes. That was in 2004. Terrell Owens caught 14 of them. Wentz has no T.O.
That also was McNabb's sixth season.
Imagine what Wentz might be four years from now.
Imagine what lies deep beneath this surface, ready to explode.
Get insights on the Eagles delivered straight to your inbox with Early Birds, beat writer Zach Berman's newsletter for Eagles fans. Click here to sign up.