With the 2016 NFL draft exactly two weeks away, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.
The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class, and why they're slotted as such. As we move through the top 10, we'll be doing more comprehensive single player reports, and we continue with a small-school quarterback who seems to have a very big future ahead of him.
With the Rams’ blockbuster trade to move from No. 15 to No. 1 in the draft order, Wentz could very well take a major upswing in visibility overnight, as early reports indicate that he’s the target for Los Angeles.
7. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Height: 6' 5" Weight: 237
Bio: Nobody wanted Carson Wentz out of high school. He was a zero-star recruit who played receiver and linebacker until his senior year, and on top of that, he was dealing with injuries from baseball. Central Michigan was the only FBS-level school to give him an offer, but he decided to stay close to home and play for the Bison—which worked out well for both sides.
After backing up Brock Jensen in 2012 and ’13, Wentz became the team’s starter in ’14 helping the Bison to their fourth straight FCS championship with 228 completions in 328 attempts for 3,111 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Wentz also added 642 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 138 attempts. Wentz’s senior season was derailed by an injury to his throwing wrist, but he still completed 130 of 208 passes for 1,651 yards, 17 touchdowns and four picks despite missing two months.
With strong performances in two FCS championships (both of which NDSU won) and a really good week at the Senior Bowl, Wentz has started to dispel the notion that he’s just a small-school star feasting on sub-level talent in a scheme that isn't attuned to the NFL. When you watch North Dakota State tape, you see a more complicated and variable offense than you might expect—and that has fallen on Wentz to execute.
“At North Dakota State, we were pro style, under center quite a bit,” he said at the combine. “Huddle up. Over the last couple years, we got really multiple with that. We ended up doing a lot of different stuff out of the gun. Still stayed true to our power football, play-action pass. But then there was more of me running the ball a little bit as well. I think that will help me tremendously going forward. I was in charge of a lot at the line of scrimmage, changing plays, run checks, all sorts of fun stuff with that. But obviously there’s going to be a jump. The NFL playbook is probably twice the size of what we did, or more. I’m excited for that. I’m a student of the game.”
It took people a while to see what Carson Wentz could do as a quarterback... but as they say, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Of all the quarterbacks in this class, he looks to have the most obvious potential to fit into several different NFL schemes and possibly find success sooner than later.
Strengths: Played in an offense that’s more complex than many imagine—Wentz played in shotgun, pistol and under center, had to execute multiple play-action and read-option concepts and made pro-style reads. Has a plus-plus arm with the ability to make every throw with minimal effort. Uses his lower body well to create torque and releases the ball from a consistent slot. Quick release allows him to make a read and get rid of the ball right away. From the pocket, he has the best consistent accuracy in this draft class when throwing intermediate and deep passes; Wentz will consistently throw to the shoulder away from the defender, will throw his open receivers when able and times throws to allow his receivers to jump to catch.
Wentz isn’t afraid to throw into small windows. Touch is an underrated part of his game—Wentz can take heat off the pass and complete timing throws even when he’s not optimally set mechanically. Excellent play-action quarterback who can draw linebackers and safeties in, and throw over and around them. Can excel in boot-action concepts because he’s a big, mobile player who can run for legitimate yardage. Understands and exploits the mesh point. Worked in some designed runs as well. Runs to throw unless it’s a designed run. Is still learning pocket awareness, but has developed a nascent ability to move around rushers without bailing out of the pocket entirely.
Weaknesses: Though he carried himself well and looked like a major-college prospect during Senior Bowl week, strength of competition is a legitimate concern for Wentz. He didn’t face a ton of complex defenses, nor did he have to deal with defenses loaded with top NFL prospects. One could argue that this is mitigated by the talent on Wentz’s own team, but it’s an issue nonetheless. Wentz isn’t a consistent thrower on the move because he doesn’t always turn his shoulders to the target, and may lose accuracy and velocity. Needs to refine his footwork on under-center dropbacks. Tends to lock onto his eventual targets for too long, which will lead to converging coverages at the NFL level. Needs to be more sudden and accurate on deep throws at times, and his read quickness is an issue.
Conclusion: Now that the quarterback position is in play with the No. 1 pick, it’s entirely valid to ask if Wentz is worth that kind of capital. Based on what I’ve seen, and given his developmental curve, I think the answer is yes—based on the proviso that if you see your franchise quarterback in the draft, you move heaven and earth to get him. I think Wentz has more of those top characteristics than Jared Goff—he’s more pro-ready, his flaws are entirely correctable and the upside laps any other quarterback in this class.
If you question Wentz’s ability to perform in the NFL with just two years as a starter at a smaller school, consider that he was once a 5' 8", 125-pound high-school afterthought just looking for an opportunity. He’s proven that he can match whatever competition he’s given. Though I think he’d benefit from a year holding the clipboard in the NFL to get the hang of more complex defenses and an entirely different level of field speed, I don't really have any questions about his base attributes, and how they transfer to NFL success in the right scheme and under the right circumstances—two things that every quarterback needs.
Pro Comparison: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (first round, 2004, Miami of Ohio)