In case you haven’t heard, first-year quarterbacks are 11–2 this season, throwing 15 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Carson Wentz is leading the revolution in Philadelphia with his 3–0 start. Dak Prescott is 2–1 in Dallas, and neither he nor Wentz has thrown an interception in 201 combined attempts. Heck, even Cody Kessler had a solid debut with the Browns.
To hear some tell it, this is the second coming of the 1983 draft class. Canton’s tailor should get started on these gold jackets, right?
When the bubble bursts on these rookie quarterbacks, it will be much greater than a chewing gum bubble. Even greater than a helium balloon popping at a birthday party. Indeed, when things take an inevitable turn for Wentz and Prescott, it’ll be like a weather balloon bursting in the sky and mercifully falling back down to earth.
The hype that has been heaped on these two rookies—Wentz especially—through the first three games of the season is something only the NFL can do. Fans are literally shouting Wentz’s name in the streets in Philadelphia. Doug Pederson is comparing him to Peyton Manning. Even Joe Biden is trying to recruit President Obama to hop on the bandwagon. Meanwhile, in Dallas, there are apparently questions about whether Tony Romo will get his spot back when he returns to health.
Look, I love a good story as much as anyone but this is ultimately not it. Why have we clung onto this narrative so strongly, so early? It’s because, quite honestly, the on-field action thus far has yet to give us very much else to talk about. The biggest story in the league today is the national anthem protests, but in terms of the games themselves? Not a lot to focus on. There hasn’t been an officiating controversy in the final minute of a primetime game. Cam Newton’s head got banged around to start the season, but it was forgotten about once the new batch of games began a couple of days later.
Despite Pederson’s claims, there is no Peyton Manning in this league. Tom Brady is still suspended. Newton hasn’t returned to his MVP ways. Aaron Rodgers looks to be back to normal, but he had a slow start. So who else do we have to turn to but the young kids slinging it?
There’s no doubt Wentz has played very well so far. No one is arguing that. He’s making 65% of his passes, not turning the ball over and only taking about a sack a game.
But just like Prescott has benefitted from the best offensive line in football, Wentz plays with a defense that has allowed a total of 20 points this year. He’s also not taking many chances on his throws. Wentz is averaging 6.86 yards in the air per pass thrown, according to Football Outsiders. Last week, his two passes that went longer than 20 yards in the air fell incomplete, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Twelve of his 23 completions against Pittsburgh came at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Of course, none of this really matters, because as long as the Eagles keep winning, that Carson Wentz hype train will keep rollin'.
Is it possible that this kind of success for a rookie was bound to happen? Fourteen of 36 quarterbacks taken in the first round of each draft since 2004 have started in their first game. From 2004 through 2007, most had to wait for at least the better part of a season before getting a start. But things changed in 2008, as our friend Albert Breer of The MMQB points out. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco each got the start in Week 1, and now since 2008, more first-round rookie quarterbacks (14) have started in Week 1 than not (10).
A rookie going 3–0 like Wentz or 2–1 like Prescott isn’t exactly like a 16-seed beating a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament. For a long time, we didn’t know how rookie quarterbacks would fare immediately because starting them right off the bat just wasn’t the way the league worked. So in that sense, a statistic like Wentz being the second rookie quarterback since the merger to start 3–0 is closer in feasibility to saying the L.A. Rams just scored their first touchdown since 1994.
Here’s a little exercise for you: A rookie quarterback who was drafted to back up the established starter on one of the most controversial and talked-about teams in the NFL is elevated to a Week 1 starting role when the actual starter is injured during the preseason. Through the first three games of the season, he passes for 801 yards, rushes for 78 more, accounts for four touchdowns and has his team at 2–1 going into Week 4. Who is he?
This might sound like Prescott, but it’s really Geno Smith from 2014. Look how that worked out.
All of this is not to say the excitement for both teams, particularly Philadelphia, isn't understandable. It’s been 15 years since the Eagles started that four-year run of NFC Championship Game appearances. Since 2011, they’ve played in and lost one postseason game, had three different head coaches and are on their sixth starting quarterback.
The Eagles are flying high with Wentz, and Prescott is helping the Cowboys stay in it while Romo is out. But let’s pump the brakes just slightly before someone ends up with a Super Bowl LI champions tattoo they might regret in February.